This Spring I applied and was accepted to the Django Coding Workshop in Accra. It’s a two-day free programming workshop for women to learn how to build their own website using the Django framework. This framework is a free and open source web application framework, written in Python. The weekend was organized by the global ngo, Django Girls that hosts these workshops around the world. I saw an advertisement on my Facebook news feed posted by iSpace. iSpace is a coworking/event space located in Labone, a nice, safe neighborhood in Accra and reminds me of the co-working spaces back home (U.S.A). Anyways, I applied in April for the program and was accepted in late May. I received an email notifying me that I was invited to travel to Accra in June for this two-day workshop. I am pretty comfortable with using new technology, but don’t know much about coding or programming so I thought this would be helpful. I have experience with WordPress, which is what I use for this site, but coding seems a bit more involved. I figured it would also be a good way for me to meet new people in Accra and from around Ghana. There was funding available to cover travel and accommodation expenses, which made the trip much more feasible for me since the workshop took place from Friday- Saturday cutting into the work week. My accommodations were fully covered and my flight to Accra and bus back to Tamale was also covered by Django funding.
E-introductions were made to our coaches a few days before the event. Participants were assigned two to a coach who would walk us through the workshop and provide any support. The largest obstacle might be that you need to bring your own laptop to the event, hardware is not provided. I think this is a reasonable request, since one of the goals of the workshop is for participants to return to their homes and work on their websites independently. I was impressed that the organizers of this event were from Nigeria and hosted an event in a location they hadn’t scouted before. They took several buses all the way from Nigeria (a 12+ hour bus ride) to Accra to come plan, organize and execute this event. Shout out for organizing a great event to Opetunde and Elizabeth!
About 30 women were accepted to the event and a handful were no shows. I arrived on Friday afternoon to rainy Accra. I was a bit frustrated taking a taxi to iSpace, since my driver had no idea where I was headed from the airport. This is to be expected, as Accra has awful traffic and bargaining with taxis is a pain. When I called the organizers for directions I kept on getting different people telling me to just take an uber. Yes I would have taken an uber if it worked on my phone (my Ghana phone is glitchy and the Uber app just kept closing on me). Having people attend this event from various parts of the country I think the organizers could have been more understanding that not everyone might be familiar with Accra or expected to use Uber. Uber is non existent in Tamale, so I rarely use it. In case you are wondering how to get to iSpace just tell your taxi that you are going to Labone to the Bosphorus Turkish Restaurant (near Coffee Shop) and iSpace is around the corner from there (a 1 minute walk on Emmause Lane) or if you are more familiar with the Cupcake Boutique that’s another nearby landmark too. Friday afternoon was the “Install Party” which allowed us to meet our coaches in person and make sure we had Python and Git installed correctly, so we would be ready to getting working on the Django framework on Saturday. My coach was Rexford and we had connected on whatsapp prior to the workshop, which was reassuring before flying down to Accra. Rexford was really nice and an extremely patient coach.
Now two weeks before the event we were sent a Django pdf tutorial via email that walked us through the installation of Python. With the tutorial pdf we were instructed:
I will suggest that you start your learning from now so that you will not find it confusing that day (Don’t get scared.. it can be fun too). So I have attached the tutorial to this email. Please go through it and ask your coaches questions when you are stuck.
From that language, I did not realize that we could start working on the entire workshop by ourselves well before the event. The pdf was 112 pages long, so I found it hard to believe that people would review the entire tutorial. Boy was I wrong. Upon arriving at the event, it was mentioned that the first three participants that completed their website before the end of the workshop on Saturday would get a prize. I quickly came to realize that if you had started coding (working through the tutorial) before the event you were at a huge advantage. I was working from my Chromebook and my teammate had a Macbook, which made things a bit more complicated. Django wasn’t cooperating with our machines at first. My coach, Rexford tried his best to figure out how to fix the glitch on my computer but since I am not a competitive person I didn’t sweat it. Halfway through Saturday afternoon when it was obvious our team wasn’t going to win, I walked over to the Cupcake Boutique and ordered myself an Oreo cupcake and milkshake. The break was totally worth it. Food was provided throughout the event, but I needed a bit more sugar to keep me going. Had I known that the tutorial could have been completed at home, I am not sure I would have understood the point of traveling all the way to Accra in person. However the encouragement from coaches that know what they are doing and more context around coding was worth the trip. At the end of the evening on Saturday everyone received a certificate for attending the event, took lots of photos and received t-shirts. I met up with a friend afterwards and hung out over Ivorian food before heading back to the Salvation Army hostel, where I was staying.
Overall I thought it was a great weekend. The event was mostly on time, which in Ghana, is a big deal since things are chronically delayed. The organizers seemed to have had a lot of fun, which was nice to see. Lots of photos were taken and even videos from the organizers. I met some new people, but no long lasting relationships were made. All the participants seemed eager to learn and were serious about coding. One detail I found troubling was that I was the only participant there from the Northern Region. Not a single woman was from Upper West, Eastern Region or Northern Region. I could be wrong about this, but there might have been one woman or no representation from Kumasi, which is 6 hours north of Accra in the Ashanti Region. Having representation from all parts of the country would have been important to me if I was organizing the event. Ghana is about the size of the United Kingdom (which has 37 million more people) and slightly smaller than the state of Oregon in United States to give you an idea of how big it is geographically. With an estimated population of 28 million (as of 2016 according to the World Bank) making sure every woman interested has a chance to attend such an event would have been a significant goal. Due to space, I realize there were enrollment constraints. Also considering this was a self selecting group of women, if women in Northern Ghana aren’t interested in coding or learning new tech skills, then that’s on them, but if women didn’t know about the event and therefore didn’t apply to attend, then I think the organizers could have done a better job marketing the event. It’s areas like the Northern Region of Ghana that need more well organized events like this to create better access to learning new skills and networking. Organized events of this caliber are far and few between in Tamale, the capitol of the North, so making sure those who want to attend, can, would be important.
I hope the organizers host again in Ghana soon. There was another Django Girls event in Ho (small city in the Volta region) in September and one in Kumasi back in April which was promising to see. The North really needs spaces like this where women can explore without judgment their potential and interest in an emerging field like coding. As an web application framework, Django isn’t horribly challenging- it’s similar to learning a new language, but I am going to stick with using WordPress for my own website. I can customize the back end pretty easily using html and it’s just much more efficient for my needs. However, feel free to get in touch if you have questions about Django or thinking about attending an upcoming Django event. I would encourage any women who are interested in getting their feet wet in coding to try it out. You really have nothing to lose.