During the recent Africa Code Week in October, a colleague introduced me to the amazing story of a young man who made a very unique contribution to this initiative, which, at its core, aims to bridge the digital skills gap on the African continent.
Born and raised in Cape Town’s Gugulethu township, the musician “OhGooch” – also known as Owethu Okuhle Mtya – has combined his love of music and science to inspire South Africa’s youth.When OGooch first learned about Scratch, he immediately saw how similar it was to the music he creates. In both cases, he muses, you are creating your own world with its own rules. There are no limits to what you can create, and you are bound only by your imagination.
OhGooch performs an experimental sound he calls ‘Digital Hippy’. This stems from listening to the sounds of the township. His musical journey started with a technique called “kapping”, which is to make a drum groove with your hands by repetitively knocking your hands on a hard surface to simulate drum patterns. He became so well at it that he soon joined the choir and flute class at his primary school. O, as his friends call him, discovered that he has a talent for hearing the sounds around him so deeply, that he can hear the emotions behind them. This eventually led him to enroll in a sound engineering course after he graduated from high school.
OhGooch is now a qualified sound engineer, singer, producer and musician. He is also deeply passionate about science and education. O was introduced to the Cape Town Science Centre when we was only 10 years old and started going to the Centre with his aunt, Busi, on weekends and after school. By wandering off and exploring all the exhibits, he grew to know the Centre so well that by the time he was 13, he was officially the youngest volunteer.
His interest in coding started after watching ‘The Matrix’ for the first time and was fascinated by the green numbers on the screen which, someone explained to him, was coding. Due the his lack of access to computers, his interest lay dormant until he was invited to be part of Africa Code Week in 2015, when he realised the potential of coding.
OhGooch has trained more than 1500 students over two years as part of his work for Africa Code Week. About 400 of those students had never worked on a computer before. He becomes inspired, knowing that coding, in many instances, opens a whole new world of possibilities to participants. In the township, many of the kids’ role models are gangsters. Introducing them to coding at a young age shows them a different perspective and help them to visualize a better future.
He was also offered the opportunity by Africa Code Week to contribute his music to this year’s initiative. His composition came to him during a trip to Botswana, where he was struck by the beauty and mystery of the country’s famous salt pans.
O’s lyrics are always about challenging your own paradigms to enable mental, physical and spiritual growth. In his own words he believes that:”…once you apply this in your life, you will get closer to where you want to be: the point where you feel like you’re flying. Ultimately the universe will guide you to where you need to go, you just need to listen to the signs and keep moving forward.”
**Africa Code Week is a continent-wide initiative aimed at sparking the interest of African children, teenagers and young adults in software coding. Spearheaded by SAP in 2015 as part of its social investments to drive sustainable growth in Africa, Africa Code Week (ACW) is the story of hundreds of schools, teachers, ministers, community centers, code clubs, NGOs, businesses and non-profits getting together to give birth to the largest digital literacy initiative ever organized on the African continent. In October this year, thousands of coding activities were organized across 30 countries and online. The aim was to train 150,000 youth from three different age groups (8-11; 12-17; 18-24) all over Africa. The more ambitious long-term goal is to empower more than 200,000 teachers and positively impacting the lives of 5 million children and youth within the next 10 years.