BEIRUT: To provide an alternative to exploitative work through tech education, CodeBrave, Lebanon’s first vocational coding and robotics program for underprivileged, links young people living in shelters and informal schools with real work experience.
It all started when both the co-founders Clementine Brown and Steven Wilbur were volunteering at a shelter for homeless youth in the suburbs of Beirut and one of the kids found a book about coding and asked them to learn how to code. This moment sparked the initiative and pushed Brown and Wilbur to consider tech-education.
“These kids become trapped in a cycle of poverty and exploitation, as they don't have the opportunities or marketable skills to secure decent work and break that cycle,” said Wilbur. “Our mission is to provide these young people with an alternative that is relevant to the 21st-century job market.”
Last year, CodeBrave was able to provide tech-education for 63 kids. This year, they are planning to expand even more and reach out to more children.
“We have been working with several informal schools and shelters in Bekaa, Anjar, and Kahhale,” Wilbur added.
One of the projects they worked on was in Saad Teeneyal in collaboration with KAYANI where they introduced 20 girls to basic coding skills such as creating a website, budget planning, and so on.
From small projects based on concepts of coding to physical computing and programming, CodeBrave has developed the appropriate curricula for different age groups (six years old to 18 years old).
The program aims at building a foundation towards real marketing skills that are in demand in the 21st century. It also works on linking students with internships in local tech companies or provides them with the opportunity to work with international employers through the online job market.
According to Brown, the tech sector is needed for the economic development of the country.
“There needs to be a generation of tech-savvy people for this country to be able to keep up with the region and the world,” said Brown.
While many programs work on professional skills only, CodeBrave aims to provide both technical and soft skills.
“CodeBrave’s program is not just about teaching the kids technical skills, it is about helping them integrate into society,” said Brown.
CodeBrave has taken it as a mission to provide the children with their first chances to interact with the outside world, communicate in a professional environment, practice working in a team, and showing up on time. It is also a chance for them to be seen and treated as contributing members of society.
Brown believes that the need for coding skills will rise dramatically in the coming years, but the demand for soft skills such as leadership and communication skills is needed as much.
“Soft skills are usually forgotten but that is the focus of our program,” Brown said. “That's what makes businesses thrive.”
In the long term, CodeBrave plans on providing vulnerable youth with tech-education across the region while promoting healthy relationships and a sense of self.
“We want to graduate individuals who don’t just bury themselves in a computer but are prepared for the job market while being able to deal with emotions and the complexity of human life,” said Wilbur.
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