Palestinian Girls Will Pitch Their App to Silicon Valley

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Four Palestinian high school friends are heading to California this week to pitch their mobile app about fire prevention to Silicon Valley's tech leaders, after winning a slot in the finals of a worldwide competition among more than 19,000 teenage girls.

For the 11th graders from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the ticket of admission to the World Pitch Summit signals a particularly dramatic leap.

They come from middle class families that value education, but opportunities have been limited because of the omnipresent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, prevailing norms of patriarchy in their traditional society and typically underequipped schools with outdated teaching methods.

We are excited to travel in a plane for the first time in our lives, meet new people and see a new world, said team member Wasan al-Sayed, 17. We are excited to be in the most prestigious IT community in the world, Silicon Valley, where we can meet interesting people and see how the new world works.

Twelve finalists

Twelve teams made it to the finals of the Technovation Challenge in San Jose, California, presenting apps that tackle problems in their communities. The Palestinian teens compete in the senior division against teams from Egypt, the United States, Mexico, India and Spain, for scholarships of up to $15,000.

It's a life-changing experience for al-Sayed and her teammates, Zubaida al-Sadder, Masa Halawa and Tamara Awaisa.

They are now determined to pursue careers in technology.

Before this program, we had a vague idea about the future, said al-Sayed, speaking at a computer lab at An Najah University in her native Nablus, the West Bank's second largest city. Now we have a clear idea. It helped us pick our path in life.

The teens first heard about the competition a few months ago from an IT teacher at their school in a middle-class neighborhood in Nablus, where IT classes are a modest affair, held twice a week, with two students to a computer.

The girls, friends since 10th grade, each had a laptop at home, and worked with Yamama Shakaa, a local mentor provided by the competition organizers. The teens did everything by themselves, with very few resources, Shakaa said.

The team produced a virtual reality game, Be a firefighter, to teach fire prevention skills.

Source: Voice of America