Algerian Youth are Defying Stereotypes in the First Global Challenge.

“[Millennials] … as a group, tend to be highly educated, love to learn, and grew up with the Internet and digital tools in a way that can be highly useful when leveraged properly.” – Kathryn Minshew.

As an Algerian millennial, you would grow up hearing the exact opposite of Kathyrn’s words. Algerian elders tend to believe that our generation might have been the worst thing that has happened to our world.

Labels such as “lazy” “money-crazed” “ignorant” and “irresponsible” are stuck with us like a pin-the-tail game in a party full of drunk adults: random, reckless, and absolutely INACCURATE.

To prove that, I’ve had the honor to sit down with a group of brilliant minds, aged 15 to 18, who will take part in the First Global Challenge, as Algerian representatives.

But hold on, what is the First Global Challenge (FGC)?!

In their own words: The First Global Challenge is an annual robotics game that seeks to highlight the greatest challenges facing our planet, including the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering identified by the United States of America’s National Academy of Engineering. Each year, a different Challenge will take center stage as the theme of that year’s FIRST Global game, which will be held in a different nation each year.” [x]

Algerian Youth Are Defying Stereotypes in the First Global Challenge.
Left: Amel – Right: Soumia

Soumia, the team leader explains the challenge for this year: the processing barge contains three goals. the first is at 5cm, then 18 cm, then 1m15cm. our task is to build a robot that has to score big and small balls into this processing hub. the challenging part is that the robot cannot exceed 15 c.m. while the goals are higher, so we have to make a robot that can extract itself to reach the goals. Mainly, we have to make it move, it collect the small and big balls and make storage for them in order to store them. (you can learn more about the challenge here)

In other words: It’s a big deal.

In order to be a part of the team representing Algeria in the FGC, one must first apply online and write a short motivational essay as to why they want to be a part of the team.  Out of hundreds of applicants, only twenty-one members are chosen to undergo an intensive training program at the World Learning Center. This program includes training on Robotics, Mechanics, and everything else concerning the STEM field. For fifteen days straight, the applicants are tested on their soft and technical skills, and by the end of the training, a Hackathon is held where twelve members are picked by their mentors to join the FGC team. The World Learning Center also makes sure to develop the members’ soft skills (that include communication, teamwork…etc) by putting the members in random shifting teams in different workshops. More on how this helped the members as the article goes on.

Meet this year’s First Global Challenge team:

Algerian Youth are Defying Stereotypes in the First Global Challenge.
From the middle, clockwise they are Omar-Karim, Maxene, Nassim, Soumia, Mouadh, Yacine, Fanel, Hana, Dalia, and Amel.

Each one of the members has an incredible story puts together their role, past and challenges into one bright image that makes the team so complete.

Maxene Eldjoun, 18, currently an Architecture student whose role in the First Global Challenge team is Community Manager, told EMPOWER “the first time I came here, I saw that the [2017 FGC] team was building a robot and thought to myself “I’ll never be able to build something like that” [but] then after a year in the STEM center, and after learning some basics of robotics, coding…etc I began believing that it was possible” His role in the team positively affected his school work in university. Being an architecture student, involves a lot of designing which Maxene is apart of in addition to being a community manager. It has helped broaden his vision and give him a step ahead of everyone else.

I learned from the other members, that most of them had difficulties coping with the first couple of days, due to stress, shyness, overwhelming new experience, you name it! However, thanks to their welcoming mentors, Riad Bougerra, Yousri Kenouna and Abdelrahim Chernai, the environment in which these brilliant young men and women worked in made them at ease.

Soumia Ould Rouis, 18, the leader of the team confessed that her first few days in the World Learning Center generated so much anxiety within her and that most days, she would return home and cry all night. She joined the World Learning Center three years before everyone else, which gave her a great deal of experience. It was only then, after a long journey of continuous learning, that she was able to make it to the team in 2019. “My first year, I was super shy. I wouldn’t talk or do anything. And that’s why I wasn’t chosen in the first edition.” She tells EMPOWER, “I was the youngest and everyone I worked with were attending university and already learning about the stuff we’re doing at their school. Not only were they more experienced, but also older.” This obstacle, however, did not push Soumia away. Thanks to her team members and mentors, she was able to step out of her comfort zone. “the good thing,” she says, “about this center, is that you come here and meet people who may have the same experience as you. They give you several opportunities and give you the chance to improve yourself. Through that experience, I learned how to communicate and not be shy to ask questions.”

Algerian Youth are Defying Stereotypes in the First Global Challenge.

In addition, Soumia is one of the three girls on the team (after the fourth one dropped out). She is also the team leader. Besides the fact that her area of expertise (robotics) is considered a male-dominant field in Algeria, that did not stop her from learning and progressing to lead her team to represent the country later this month in Dubai. According to her, it didn’t make any difference that she’s a girl. Everyone regards her as equal thanks to her abilities and her passion for robotics and mechanics.

From this point onwards, I learned that other members faced other hindering issues when they first joined the team. Mouadh Metrouh, 18, a member of the Building team, said that before joining the World Learning Center, he was unable to form a correct sentence in English – which was quite unbelievable considering that now, after less than a year there, he was having a full interview in English! This opportunity offered young men and women the chance to defy themselves, to challenge their minds and to step out of the prejudged idea the Algerian society imposed on its youth.

The World Learning Center and the FGC also offer kids as young as fifteen to take part in this journey. For example, Omar-Karim Elouaret, a fifteen-year-old high schooler, joined the Center when he was thirteen years old. According to him, the Center helped shape his personality, as he was surrounded by older members, who were there to guide him and answer his questions along the way. the Center also helped him feed his growing curiosity since the age of five, which involved a lot of screwdrivers and breaking toys to see how they worked! In other words, the Challenge helped him break out of his shell, and feed his love and passion for robotics.

Left: Nassim, Right: Mouadh

The same case goes for Nassim Kaddouri, an 18-year-old programmer, who admits that he was a shy person, but learned to overcome it through basketball. The latter involved severe trash-talking as a way to express himself, however, he soon realized that this persona is merely an act. “I ended up attacking people, but it wasn’t really me, it was a character I put up that helped me somehow socialize with people. But now, my character evolved. I became nicer.” He tells EMPOWER. His socializing skills were not the only part of him that grew. When he began the intensive training program, Nassim’s sole goal was to develop himself. He never believed that out of hundreds, he would be chosen to represent his country. Yet now, he is a part of the building team and is the programmer that helps put everything into place.

The First Global Challenge is a first-time experience for most of the members. However, it does not apply to Hadj Ahmed-Chikh Dahmane, a 16-year-old who is a part of the Building Team. This young man is not only a part of the Algerian Muslim Scouts but has traveled all around the world, from Lebanon to the USA to represent Algeria in different seminars and competitions. Although he’s enjoying his work with the team, Ahmed Chikh says that he is still exploring different fields to find the one he most loves. However, the work he’s doing with the FGC team remains exceptional.

I have thought of many ways to conclude this article about this amazing group of people, who offer so much to the country and still go unnoticed. So I thought, why not end it with Omar Karim’s words that left a remarkable impact on me.

He summarized all of life’s hardships in a few words that I will ponder on for long.

My first time here… I didn’t even know how to put on a screw, it took me so many tries to learn how to use a screwdriver correctly. Because there are many details, sometimes you build everything, and when you go back to building something on the inside or maybe fix any mechanical issue you realize that you may not have just one screw inside, and that tiny details ends up breaking down everything you’ve worked hard on. It takes a lot of effort and energy, but if you have a good idea, a good design, you’ll know where everything goes, and you’ll just need to start working.”

The First Global Challenge will be held on October 24th in Dubai, and the members still don’t know who will get to go. It couldn’t matter any less though, because according to them, the robot they’re working on is teamwork and those who will go there are merely representatives.

Until then, you can follow their progress on their Instagram page, keep up with their work until d-day, and wish them luck.

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