Sophie goes to Banja Luka

humming…. pen-pineapple-apple-pen…

I never thought a 6 hour bus ride could be so enjoyable (in hindsight it was partly due to the curasáns from the bakery). To be honest, if you had told me a few years ago that I’d be travelling that long for an IT training I never would’ve believed you. But here I was – on my way to the beautiful city of Banja Luka with 2 Microsoft student trainers and Erma, Aleksandra, Lamija an Armina from the IT Girls team for what became one of the most memorable weekends of my seven month experience in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

As we arrived at the ICBL training center on Saturday morning, I was eager to meet the 12 young girls who had signed up for our last IT Girls training of the year. To my surprise, many of the girls spoke perfect English (amongst other languages) and we immediately started chatting. They were confident, bubbly and full of energy – ready to take on their 3rd day of coding. As I watched them <code> away, I was amazed at their teamwork skills, the way they took on a new challenge and most of all, their know-how. Rialda and Džana, 2 of our 4 trainers who have gone on tour to give trainings in Doboj, Srebrenica, Mostar, Drvar and now Banja Luka, seemed even more at ease than usual and I was truly in awe at the way the young girls admired them.

After wrapping up that afternoon we reminded the girls of the diploma ceremony the following day and encouraged them to invite their families and friends. On our way to do some sightseeing in Banja Luka, we discussed the logistics of our final event. After a beautiful stroll on the main pedestrian street, we visited the Kastel Fortress and saw the Safikada site (my newly adopted nick-name). We then decided to have a famous soufflé at the beautiful restaurant of Mala Stanica and the team was ready to call it a night… and get a drink at a local pub!

castelPart of the IT Girls team in Banja Luka with Rialda and Džana doing some sight-seeing! – Missing Ena, Arijana and Jeremy (October 22nd, 2016).

After some unsuccessful husband-hunting, the team laughed it off by discussing the successful year. I didn’t know – but we were actually celebrating the one year existence of the IT Girls project! Older members of the team (you know who you are) reminisced about the excitement they felt receiving the news from the UN that their project had been awarded and they would get funding to implement it! Now, a full year later to the day, sitting around a drink, they had the girls’ faces in mind and could really see the impact they had made in the lives of 73 girls in BiH.

But these emotions would also carry on to the next day. Our dearest communications expert, Aleks, delivered a short presentation on public speaking and self-marketing to the teenagers before they published their final products – websites on movies, fashion, photography and the empowerment of women. They then presented these to a captivated group of parents and friends, who proudly took pictures of their daughters and commented to the team the value that such training brought to them. Even after joining the team on a mostly ad-hoc basis, it was hard to contain my emotions and I could feel the energy and optimism in the room.

14813175_10154265892769340_1148377048_oMicrosoft student trainers, participants, Aleks and Erma during the diploma ceremony (Banja Luka, October 23rd, 2016).

As difficult as goodbyes are, the 6 of us took the bus back that night and I could feel that we were all extremely satisfied. More. Girls. Had. Been. Trained. In. Coding. In. BiH! Girls learned how to create their own websites, parents backed-up the idea and *spoiler*alert* some even suggested possible ways to further scale up the project, but most of all – girls’ confidence was strengthened and they finally felt supported!

As we now discuss the next steps of the project, I am sure of one thing – Sophiekada will never forget this inspiring weekend (also because of all the jokes and great memories!). It gives me hope that incredible women, parents, IT companies and girls believe in the future benefits of coding and understand that trying something new and being challenged can bring about lasting change in the lives of girls and women around the world.

(</code>… right?)