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CODING FOR REDEMPTION

A first person account of how going through the Uncommon process made an impact on not just one person, but her entire family.

AUTHOR | Tanya

It’s cold now in Zimbabwe and I’m wearing a hat with big “USA” letters written on it. I won it in a week long Sudoku challenge, a game I had never played before. It’s something to be proud of, I know, but it almost feels like a painful consolation for larger, missed opportunities.

On my lap is my nine month old baby, Dwayne. I’m reading to him. A book called, ​Quantum Computing for Babies.​ If it looks like Dwayne is enjoying the colors, words and shapes in between the covers, don’t be fooled, he really just wants to eat the pages.

Not long ago, everything was different. I was just halfway through secondary school, when I stumbled into a new, after-school computer coding program that had popped up in my community, Dzivarasekwa – a small, low-income neighborhood in Zimbabwe. I didn’t know anything about programming and had hardly even held a computer in my own hands, but coding came naturally to me.

Although I was a late addition to the class, I was helping to tutor the older boys just a few days after joining. My instructors must have taken notice because before long I was encouraged to apply for a position in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion program in New York City.

When you’re sixteen and come from a poor town in a poor country in a poor part of the world, the idea of studying in is hardly even a dream. You don’t know anyone that has been to America, let alone New York City. But when you’re sixteen, you do what your teachers say and go along with it, even if you’ll forget about the application the moment it’s submitted.

Sometimes it’s just easier to make people happy.

But sometimes crazy things happen too. Sometimes, dreams do become reality, and you get accepted. No, not just accepted, you get ​invited​ to America, to New York City, to spend the summer coding with girls your age from all over the country. That moment is indescribable, so it’s hardly worth trying.

The days after finding out I was accepted were euphoric. Until they weren’t.

When you’re sixteen and find out that you’re pregnant, you get scared. Just a few days earlier you were living a dream but then, reality, as it does, comes crashing down. Telling your parents is one of the hardest parts. After I did, I ended up running away for three months to live with my boyfriend’s family.

I desperately wanted to keep the baby, and there was no way I wouldn’t. Just like me, my baby boy represented the future. For Zimbabwe and for the world. So began the sacrifices.

My decision meant giving up my dream of going to America, and leaving school and the coding class I loved behind. Zimbabwe is not an easy place to live. The country has been cut off from much of the world for years and record hyperinflation has left the economy in shambles. Today there is over 90% unemployment. Even public school isn’t free. Although I had to put school aside, I was determined to create a better life for my soon to be born son.

The next few months were intense and scary. I was just a child preparing for childbirth. But there was an undeniable resolve inside of me, perhaps it was Dwayne, that pushed me forward, despite the questions of how our little family would survive.

Not long after Dwayne was born, I was hit by a stroke of good luck. My instructors had been looking for me. It had been months since we last spoke. Embarrassment, fear, heartbreak, stress, priorities – there are countless reasons why. But hope was not all lost. They asked me, when I was ready, to join the program again. This time as an instructor.

Again, I felt overcome with euphoria. This was an opportunity I wouldn’t miss for the world. This was an opportunity, not just for me, but for Dwayne.

Today, I have my own computer and phone and I earn a monthly stipend to help support my family. I’m managing a team of four Instructors and am currently building a website for the school we teach at: the elementary school I went to and the place where I first learned how to code.

Life still isn’t easy, but it’s full of hope and potential. I wake up early every morning to build a fire and prepare breakfast for Dwayne, my husband having left before 5am to head to work. I drop my son off with my mother or mother-in-law then continue the walk to work. In the mornings I study web development and work with my team of instructors on how to improve the job we’re doing in the classroom. Then, in the afternoon, we head out to teach our classes.

My dream is to become a talented software engineer and build my own company here in Zimbabwe. It is hard to deny that my country has its fair share of problems, but within each problem there are so many potential solutions. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by opportunities. My goal is to leverage the skills I’m learning now to provide for my family and build towards a brighter future. I wish to be an inspiration to young mothers everywhere. I hope they’ll find hope in my story – a story which has only just begun.