Global Emerging Leadership in Action: OHBD CS Graduate in Ethiopia Supporting LJL Founded by High School Junior in Seattle

I am  an incoming High School Junior, founder of Linguistics Justice League (LJL) and a Youth Board Member of Invest in Youth. I have been working at the intersection of Data Science, NLP and ML, earning a Society of Women Engineers Next (SWE) STEM in Action award, National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) award and a publication in the Journal of Student Research.

I volunteered at several local nonprofit organizations offering STEM after-school programs. I  observed that only a fraction of the kids could take advantage of the programs I offered because of a lack of English skills. I noticed the acute impact of language barriers on refugee assimilation and their economic outcome. With the onslaught of the pandemic this issue got worse with the lack of engaging language learning opportunities for people who spoke low resource languages and dialects.

At the same time many students and professionals were unable to find opportunities to build their technical skills as internship opportunities declined. I saw an opportunity to bring these two together in building language learning products that can be delivered at scale for people who spoke low resource languages across the world. I founded the Linguistics Justice League by leveraging my technical skills and engaging volunteers from across the world on this hard to solve problem.

LJL is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated towards bringing awareness and technology solutions for low-resource languages. We are working on a variety of projects like EduLang, SimiLing, FlashLing, PuzzLing, which all aim to help individuals learn English. These projects are multilingual games and services that individuals can use to aid their language learning.

I came across Ellenore and the OHBD organization through a common friend. I was quite impressed by the work that is being done at OHBD. OHBD’s mission to increase literacy, innovation, leadership and inclusion to impact the future of children in Ethiopia resonated with LJL’s vision of improving children’s prospects through language earning. At LJL we focus on bringing awareness to low-resource languages and also provide educational content for young kids.

I was super impressed by the amount and quality of work that is being done at OHBD. The recent milestone that OHBD reached- 100 unique titles published and 300K copies distributed with content and illustrations that resonate with Ethiopian learners is a testament to the hardwork and dedication of the team there. My conversations with Ellenore have always been insightful and educational. I saw a lot of synergies in the two organizations’ mission and vision and felt that collaborating with OHBD would open more doors for us to reach the population we are serving and also empower youth by hiring volunteers from Ethiopia. There are a number of areas that LJL will be collaborating with including providing volunteer internships for OHBD CS Boot Camp Grads.

From our collaboration with OHBD, we met with Lealem, one of our volunteers. Volunteers at LJL work on a variety of educational and engaging tasks that both enrich the community and their own skills. Most of our volunteers work on either frontend or backend development in Python, React, JS, HTML, and CSS languages. Volunteers can choose which projects and roles they would like to work on, and they engage in project meetings to debrief and work on various tasks. Volunteers learn effective time and team management skills, and practice coding and development as a result of working on some real world projects.

Lealem has been an amazing asset to LJL over the past few months! He is our only volunteer based in Ethiopia.  He has ably supported the team remotely and brings a new and valuable perspective. He has worked extensively on building the front-end of LJL products, like SimiLing and PuzzLing. He has built these using HTML and CSS and integrated them into the backend with the help of the team. He is also learning React now and plans to help with building a user interface that adapts to any form factor.

Lealam is soft spoken and very approachable. He collaborated with other team members to move projects forward and has connected with local families to share the short stories initiative. Lealem has also been an active participant in weekly and project meetings where we discuss progress updates and help resolve issues faced by our volunteers.  We are excited to have more volunteers like Lealem from Ethiopia in the future.

Written by Subha Vadlamannati