When 32-year-old Hannah Zarma lost her lecturer job at the University of Science and Technology in Gombe State, she was first confused about what to do next. “I was sitting and thinking about what way forward, and the idea came in.”
A computer science graduate, Zarmah had always had a knack for inspiring young people into STEM, and she felt this was something she could do. So, “I started working towards my vision of an organisation supporting and promoting STEM education,” Zarma told Prime Progress.
Zarma called the initiative Bloom Innovations or Bloom4STEM, and she said the goal is to promote and inspire young people, particularly girls aged 6 to 15, in the North Eastern region of Nigeria.
Zarma held that due to a shortage of female tech professionals in the region, “Bloom’s major goal is to train more female tech professionals,” as she noticed “that there is a gender gap when it comes to female tech professionals from the region.”
And Zarma is correct; despite making up half of the total population, only 22% of STEM graduates in Nigeria are women; this is despite the vast potential that the sector holds.
A 2021 African Union Development Agency report showed that countries that invested in STEM reaped enormous rewards for it.
In the United States of America, for instance, Gross Domestic Product or GDP, increased drastically to 50% and 85% within 50 years due to the advancement and growth of science, technology, and engineering products.
Also, compared to Africa, the USA, China and Germany are said to have invested up to 4% of their GDP into scientific and technological research. It states that these economies have recorded rapid growth compared to other countries with limited investment in STEM.
Zarma believes that her initiative will steer the curiosity of young girls in this region, giving them a chance at a successful life while contributing to the growth of society.
After establishing an online presence through a dedicated website and various social media platforms, Hannah Zarma embarked on a mission to educate schools and parents about the purpose and significance of Bloom Innovations for their children.
Through her persistent efforts, coupled with the support of her loved ones and a group of dedicated volunteers, Bloom transitioned from concept to reality.
Amongst other things, Bloom Innovations visit schools and introduce coding to them. Also, the organisation holds a Coding Clinic designed to teach young individuals about robotics, web development, and mobile app creation.
Additionally, the initiative offers mentoring sessions tailored for girls aged 5 to 15, fostering personal and educational growth. Establishing STEM clubs in schools fosters a collaborative and enjoyable learning environment for students.
The organisation further facilitates school competitions, serving as a platform to assess students' skills and aptitude in STEM-related domains.
In 2021, the organisation reached more than 1000 girls through their various programs.
To fund their activities, Zarna said Bloom creates customised software solutions that cater to the specific operational needs of clients. They also offer consultancy services while collaborating with other organisations to reach their target population.
Zarma's organisation forms valuable partnerships with entities such as the Association for Professional Women Engineers, the Lead 360 initiative, the Center for Micro Enterprise Development, and numerous schools within Gombe State, where the initiative is headquartered.
But despite their work, Bloom still faces challenges.“We have the problem of acceptability. Getting and convincing parents and schools to key into our vision of promoting STEM careers among young people is a big challenge for us,” Hauwa Ali, a volunteer since 2021, stated.
In addition, the organisation, which is mostly manned by volunteers, struggles with programming, especially when the volunteers are unavailable.
Despite the challenges, Huwa is confident that the organisation's goal of expanding to other states in the region is achievable and within reach.
The road taken
Bloom's impact on the lives of both attendants of its program and volunteers has been immense.
Edna Ezra was one of the participants in the first edition of the bloom mathematics competition.
Edna said the competition and the conversations there steered her curiosity for the sciences and cemented her resolve and confidence that she, too, could study medicine.
“I was in SS3 when I participated in the competition. I was there with a friend and another student from SS2. It was an amazing, challenging, and fun experience for us. We were unsure how the competition would go, but we won,” said the 18-year-old.
Today, Edna is studying to become a doctor at Gombe State University and carries with her an underlying love for mathematics.