#STEMWOW WEEK 90
Meet Redeat Gebeyehu, Research Intern at Doctors Without Borders
Redeat was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and lived there for the most part of her life with her wonderful parents and two brothers. While she was in high school, she received a scholarship to attend African Leadership Academy (ALA), which is an institution that seeks to transform Africa by identifying, developing, and connecting the next generation of African leaders. Currently at Stanford, she is majoring in Human Biology with a Public Health concentration and minoring in Global Studies with a focus on African Studies.
Redeat was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and lived there for the most part of her life with her wonderful parents and two brothers. While she was in high school, she received a scholarship to attend African Leadership Academy (ALA), which is an institution that seeks to transform Africa by identifying, developing, and connecting the next generation of African leaders. Currently at Stanford, she is majoring in Human Biology with a Public Health concentration and minoring in Global Studies with a focus on African Studies. She sees herself working in the Public/Global/Community health sector and helping build a better health system for the majority of people struggling in the developing world. She would also like to invest in creating a platform where health professionals and stakeholders discuss a way to come up with a concrete medical doctor’s retention to help decrease the rate of brain drain. On a larger scale, she would like to establish a continental network of NGOs which advocate for reforms that broaden access to medical care and services. Besides that, she would like to work on various women empowerment projects.
Why did you get into STEM?
Tackling STEM subjects is a combination of several things. Of course, passion is a huge aspect of it, and I have always loved my Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology classes. Nevertheless, looking back, what really drew me in to work hard in these STEM subjects is the discriminatory attitude towards girls and women. In my country, Ethiopia, girls are constantly reminded of the things they are not allowed to do. Their identity is forged as soon as their family and society limit their opportunities and declare them second to boys. From the day they are born, girls are constantly reminded of the things they are not allowed to do. Some of the girls can’t help but feel inferior when everything around them tells them that they are worthless than boys. Their identity is forged as soon as their family and society limit their opportunities and declare them to be second rate. A combination of extreme poverty and deep biases against girls creates a remorseless cycle of discriminations that keeps girls in developing countries from living up to their full potential. Studies show that there is a direct link between a country’s attitude toward women and its progress socially and economically. The need is clear, and though the obstacles to ending gender discrimination are high, they are not insurmountable. In a few years’ time, I want to change this reality, and I can clearly see how STEM can be used as a weapon to fight this system. These girls can’t defend themselves against physical and sexual abuse until they have the authority to speak against it without fear. Knowledge gives them the authority.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
Not particularly greatest achievement per se, but the one that made a huge impact as a young person in a STEM field was the time I was selected to travel to Rwanda to attend WiSci Girls STEAM Camp where I learnt more about women empowerment and new skills such as coding and marketing. The aspect of learning and tackling STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics) issues for the summer with brilliant girls and women from eight countries in Africa and the US was very exciting for me at that age.
The idea of WiSci was to bring 120 international students together with an aim to empower young women with the knowledge and skillsets to be competitive with their male counterparts by providing them with access to high-tech resources, like-minded peers, impactful business connections and inspiring mentors. In my opinion, it did much more than that. WiSci gave me a visual and actual representation of just how much young girls can do if given the chance as their boy counterparts. The girls at the camp were independent, motivated and ambitious individuals who inspired me to the core. This camp was a confirmation for me that education was the tool that can help break the pattern of gender discrimination and bring a lasting change for women. Most importantly, at the end of my time at WiSci, it was clear that the full potential of women in the STEAM studies and work force has yet to be tapped.
At the end of the camp, my team and I won the Entrepreneurial Award for our invention and as well as an appreciation letter from The White House signed by Michelle Obama on completing the WiSci Girls STEAM Camp by working with other passionate and young ladies. After returning back to school, I co-founded the first Girl Up club in South Africa, which was based at my boarding school with the same mission and vision as the international UN Girl-Up organization. In my senior year of high school, I was selected among the 120 participants of the WiSci Girls STEAM Camp to represent the vision of the Camp at the 9th UNESCO Youth Forum in France, to speak about my initiative and inspire other girls to follow their passion. The interactions I have had on such occasions have pushed me to network and build long lasting relationships.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
I remember when I was 13 or 14, I partook in a science fair where I came up with potato-batteries. But I remember during the fair, a group of older boys came into my stand where my prototype and poster were and started taunting me. They said things like “why don’t you take those potatoes and help your mom cook, you know you are probably much better at that”. While I was fairly used to such statements, the continuous spite from the boys was very hurtful to me at the time as I already felt that I was a minority as a female competitor. After three days of competition, to the boys’ dismay, my project was selected to compete in the National Science Olympiad with vast encouragement from renowned judges. At that moment, this recognition was a validation of my work and my capability, which heartened me to go in-depth into developing my initiative.
Using the potatoes, I used old wires, plastics, and metal-rods to run radios and charge phones. This was extremely exciting for me because of the vast possibility this project provided. For example, it had great potential to provide electric power in rural areas and it is very cheap and accessible which made the project sustainable. Women and men who work in the agriculture business could easily grow and harvest potatoes and the potatoes could be re-used as fertilizers once they are drained of their phosphoric acid. In the end, because I chose to work hard, and avoid naysayers who tried to bring me down, my project went very far in the competition. I ended up winning the Silver Medal Award and was given the honor by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes that I always go back to whenever I feel like I need a little push from within to achieve the goals I have set for myself.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.