Quito, May 17 (EFE).- Ten girls between the ages of 9 and 15 and coming from vulnerable situations in different parts of Ecuador will fulfill their dream of visiting the NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas, thanks to an initiative sponsored by several foundations.
Called “She’s an Astronaut,” the program was started by the She Is Foundation in Colombia with the support of Ecuador’s Women Without Limits Foundation, the Global Women Foundation (RAW) which is headed by former Ecuadorian President Rosalia Arteaga, and UN Women.
The girls earlier in May began taking part in the program’s activities by attending virtual classes with experts in aeronautical space administration and they are scheduled to visit the NASA installations in Houston in person in August.
Nadia Sanchez, the founder of She Is, an organization that began operations in Colombia in 2016 and last year sent about 30 girls, mainly Ecuadorians, to NASA, said that the Ecuadorian girls selected come from all over the neighboring country, including in the Amazon region.
More than 1,200 Ecuadorian and Peruvian girls applied to join the program, which included a rigorous selection process based on a dozen criteria, including being in the 9-15 age range, performing excellently in school, being from vulnerable family circumstances and having significant leadership ability.
The program runs for four months during which the girls take virtual classes three times a week with a Spanish-speaking NASA teacher, along with sessions with experts from the associated organizations that include inspirational chats, along with discussions about leadership, teen pregnancy prevention, mental and menstrual health.
In parallel, “all the girls who enter must create an entrepreneurial project to be presented at NASA,” Sanchez added.
On Aug. 19, the participants are scheduled to travel to Houston for a week, where they will continue their training with nine hours of academic activities each day along with other events and meetings with NASA astronauts, scientists, doctors and engineers.
In addition, they will learn firsthand about building robots, virtual simulations, the building and launching of space rockets and other special NASA programs like Artemis, which is slated to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and explore Earth’s satellite like never before.
The aim of the program is for the students to be able to become part of the NASA Alumni program and gain access to higher educational scholarships, as well as to replicate the projects in their communities in Ecuador.
One of the participants, Samay Raiz Benitez, a 15-year-old from Quito, thanked the sponsoring organizations for the chance that she said is fulfilling a dream of “all Ecuadorian and Latin American girls.”
“We’re discouraging ourselves, we’re putting our own limits on ourselves by saying: I live in Latin America and I can’t open the way for myself to all those things,” she said before telling girls “Don’t stop dreaming, don’t leave your curiosity by the wayside.”
Meanwhile, the representative of UN Women in Ecuador, Ana Elena Badilla, told EFE that the initiative has an important “inspirational” and “symbolic” value, given that it puts within the reach of its participants a program that, at first glance, seems as unreachable as the stars.
“This is like telling them: We have no limits, let’s not put limits on ourselves and not let society put more limits (on us) than those that already exist,” she said.
Referring to the situation in Latin America, the UN Women official said that “Women and girls significantly lag in getting access to education and we need to open up these opportunities.”