Empower Girls; the story of a young Syrian coder

If you think that coding is only for boys, Aya from Homs is going to prove you wrong.

Lina Al-Qassab
A girl on her laptop
UNICEF/ Syria 2018/ Abdulaziz Aldroubi
10 October 2018

If you think that coding is only for boys, Aya from Homs is going to prove you wrong.   

At only 11, Aya has already won two national programming awards and aspires to become an information technology expert.

Last year, Aya started attending a UNICEF-supported centre in Homs, where youth and adolescents receive vocational, life skills and entrepreneurship training depending on their interests. They also learn about social cohesion and civic engagement through participating in youth-led initiatives, with thanks to a generous contribution by the EU. It was at the centre that Aya was first introduced to programming and found her passion.

While taking part in an “innovation lab”, an interactive session where youth discuss new ideas and interests, some of Aya’s peers suggested that the centre launches a course on programming.

I was always curious to know how things worked, but never knew what programming was!


 In response to popular demand, the UNICEF-supported centre launched a course on “Scratch”, a child-friendly programming language and platform, in which Aya eagerly enrolled.

Only two months later, Aya was ready to take part in a national programming marathon, where she competed with 37 other children from across Syria and won the first prize.

“When they announced her name as the first winner, we were all so pleasantly surprised, including Aya herself who broke into tears!” says Aya’s mother with a proud smile.

As an award, Aya was invited alongside her father to attend a regional programming competition for adults in Egypt, supported by UNICEF.

I got to meet older programmers who inspired me to keep working hard to become like them when I grow up


This year, Aya started learning to code in C++, a more complex coding language. She qualified for another national programming marathon where she competed with 35 other children, and finished third.

“It saddens me that only a few girls pursue programming jobs” says Aya who took the matter into her own hands by encouraging her two older sisters to sign up for programming courses.

Aya spends all of her free time developing games, sharing them on the platform and interacting with young programmers from across the world.

Having lived through years of conflict and despite her young age, Aya is already thinking about ways to help her community through programming.

A girl with her trophy
UNICEF/ Syria 2018/ Abdulaziz Aldroubi

Through programming, we can build robots that are able to detect mines and save peoples’ lives!


With a group of her friends, Aya also is working on converting learning materials into interactive applications to help out-of-school children access education.

In 2017, UNICEF-supported around 105,000 youth and adolescents in Homs through 23 centres and multiservice platforms, helping youth reach their full potential.