Kids that code: Championing digital literacy in Nairobi

Kids that code: Championing digital literacy in Nairobi with Code Yetu, Antler in Kenya, and Alphathesis.

Antler in Kenya

May 1, 2023
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At Antler, we believe tech and innovation has the potential to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. Entrepreneurs are the problem solvers who will make this happen.

From left to right: Tekla Lemoir, Margaret Njoki, Angela Chepkoech (volunteer), Grace Wangoi

Nestled in the vibrant startup hub Nairobi, Antler in Kenya brings together founders from all walks of life to build and invest in companies tackling some of the most ambitious challenges in Africa. Sometimes that means starting from the very beginning—by lifting young people in our region and providing them with the tools to drive the world forward. This time, through code.

Asha Makana (CodeYetu) and Ashish Patel (Alphathesis)

Meet Ashish. Ashish Patel is the founder and CEO of Alphathesis, a platform that enables companies to hire technology talent in Africa. As a previous entrepreneur-in-residence at Antler, he built Alphathesis because he saw a growing opportunity for Africa’s young and ambitious population of engineers.

Given the flatness of the global economy, Ashish believes that tech talent in Africa should have access to world-class engineering teams. Not only does this enable local engineers to build their careers, but in turn, global companies can also fill gaps with talent across the African continent. 

As Ashish put it, “Everyone should be afforded the opportunity for success regardless of their circumstances.”

As part of his journey building Alphathesis, Ashish partnered with Asha Makana, founder of CodeYetu, a community-based organization whose mission is to inspire and support young people in children’s homes across Kenya, by teaching them how to code. CodeYetu has built a strong community of volunteers, running weekly classes to quickly uplift the kids.

From left to right: Peter Kinuthia, Stephen Edwin, Faith Ngetich (volunteer), Goeffrey Kahura

Recently, CodeYetu and Alphathesis held a Kids Coding Event at the Antler offices in Nairobi. Sixty kids attended, diving head first into Make Art and Scratch, the world’s largest free coding community from MIT.

These events allow students like Kevin Njuguna to further develop their coding skills. Kevin is part of a children’s home in Kawangware, a small neighborhood outside of Nairobi. At the early age of 13, he started coding alongside Asha and her team. Very soon after, Asha quickly realized that he was a natural. 

Kevin Njuguna 

Kevin started out writing basic algorithms on a Kano computer, a ready-to-build PC preloaded with educational and interactive software. Over the years he then graduated into building basic applications using Python. 

As a promising student within CodeYetu, both Asha and Ashish felt that he could benefit from having his own laptop so they gifted him a donated Microsoft Surface laptop, which he now uses for his own projects.

But this is just the beginning of the partnership between CodeYetu, Alphathesis, and Antler. 

Asha explains, “Antler’s support giving us this space to host the kids [allows us] to take in more numbers. The vision I have for CodeYetu is to give an opportunity to these unprivileged kids from children's homes who don't have access to digital literacy at all.”

From left to right: Nicholas Mwaniki (volunteer), Joseph Kamau, John Ruto

The enthusiasm for Asha’s vision is certainly shared by Antler. Marie Nielsen, Antler Partner in East Africa explains, “we’re proud supporters of CodeYetu, and would love to do what we can to help this tremendous initiative grow in scale and reach.”

Just like Marie said, we couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of their journey. 

To learn more about how you can contribute to CodeYetu, including volunteering or donating an old laptop for more kids to get started, please reach out using the following email: donate@alphathesis.co.

Apply to join the Antler residency in Kenya.

Watch to learn more about CodeYetu’s story below. 

Video Transcript: 

Asha Makana, Founder of CodeYetu: CodeYetu is a community-based organization that focuses on teaching kids from unprivileged communities how to code. We started it as a small coding club in 2018 where we go to the children's homes every Saturday and teach the kids. From beginner level to advanced Python level on programming.

So at the moment, we have about 103 kids that are actively enrolled in the program from the various students' homes that we teach.

Our curriculum entails coding from beginner level. We use Make Art. So we introduce the kids to programming using art. So they create art and they're coding at the same time. While they're doing that, they learn elements of programming at beginner level, so they're able to do variables, loops, debugging and all that.

Once they know that, we move them to blocks. In blocks, they get to create Scratch games. They get to tell their stories using Scratch. And then after that, they move to web development. They develop websites using HTML, CSS, and then they move to Bootstrap. And then after that they do web, they do mobile applications, using tools like Thankable and MIT app Inventor.

And then once they're comfortable with block coding, they now migrate, they move to Python.

Kevin Njuguna, Student, CodeYetu: I started coding when I was 13 years old. We started with Make Art, where we learned algorithm functions and variables. We then moved to Scratch and in Scratch, I was interested in making games and I've made a couple of games in Scratch. Then after that, we moved to website, where I included my games that I made on Scratch.

I posted them on the website. And then after that, right now I'm doing Python and I'm on recursion. So thank you to [the] CodeYetu team for the wonderful sessions that you offer out to us each and every day.

Asha Makana, Founder of CodeYetu: We had about 60 kids here. We only had 10 computers, and at the moment, only three trainers. Volunteers are committed to the program, doing it every Saturday. So if they get more computers, I feel like they progress faster and they enjoy classes. 

And then another thing, connectivity. So when we do the program in the homes, we usually hotspot using the volunteers' devices. And if we are able to get packages where they, these kids, have the places we go to have internet access, then that will really help us. 

And like, just spaces like Antler giving us this space to host the kids, it gives us convenience to even take in more numbers. The vision I have for CodeYetu is to give an opportunity to these unprivileged kids from the children's home who don't have access to digital literacy at all.

If we try and also give them an opportunity to contribute to their digital space, then they'll be very, very well placed to help solve some of the challenges that we face in the world today with technology.

Antler in Kenya

Based in Nairobi's vibrant startup hub, Antler in Kenya brings together entrepreneurs from different backgrounds to build companies that move the world forward. Since launching in 2019, Antler in Kenya has supported over 270 founders and has made 18 investments.

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