Originally founded in 2017 by Cynoc Boahene ’20, Code Afrique has reopened this semester. Forced to shut down in spring 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the student-run organization can now continue its mission of introducing computer science and Python coding to high school students in African countries.
Based on his experiences in Ghana, Boahene’s primary focus in founding the organization was to raise awareness of computer science as a career path for students there.
“Basically, all parents were opening options for their kids to become doctors, lawyers or civil engineers, and computer science was not one of the options,” said staff member of Code Afrique Prof. Robert Van Renesse, computer science.
What started off as a simple idea by a Cornell student transformed into a student-run organization that has sponsored two international trips –– one in January 2019 to Ghana and another in January 2020 to Eswatini. About 30 students from Cornell and Duke University were involved in these trips as teachers to roughly 250 high school students in Ghana and Eswatini.
“The students get to solidify their computer science skills at one end and also paint an image of how they can make an impact,” said Interim Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Prof. Hakim Weatherspoon, computer science.
However, after the members of Code Afrique returned from their last trip to Eswatini in January 2020, the organization was forced to go on hiatus due to COVID-19.
“Was it hard? Yes, very disappointing, but clearly the right thing to do,” said Van Renesse.
The break in the program was a disappointment not only for the students who received instruction in computer science, but also to the program tutors.
“It is a good argument of who benefits more between the high school students we are reaching out to and us, their mentors, but it definitely goes both ways,” Weatherspoon said.
Code Afrique’s next scheduled trip is planned for the winter break of 2023. To prepare, the club plans to launch fundraising efforts to attain hardware and sponsor computer science clubs for the students they will teach.
In addition, the organization plans to provide opportunities for Cornell graduate students to teach an undergraduate course in African universities and conduct research for several weeks with the aim of sparking interest in computer science among young people.
So far, the group has left an impression on those it has impacted.
“I was basically in tears leaving because I saw how passionate the students were to expand their knowledge in computer science,” Chinasa Okolo, grad said. “It was a great experience and definitely something I would want to do for the rest of my life.”