How These Kids Beat The Odds And Won The Opportunity To Showcase Their Ideas In The US

They are set to go to Silicon Valley, San Francisco in December.

Cover image via Nigel Sim / Teach For Malaysia

Some of the country's brightest young inventors may soon put Malaysia on the tech map, as they will be heading to Silicon Valley to learn from industry experts in the San Francisco tech hub

Ten students aged 15 and 16 years old were selected to go to Silicon Valley out of 33 participants from MDEC's recent Digital Maker Global Exchange (DMGX) programme, a 3-day accelerator lab for budding Digital Makers to be mentored by industry leaders as well as to showcase and pitch their inventions to a panel of judges.

For seven of the selected kids, this is more than just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It is proof that their hard work and perseverance have paid off despite the odds stacked against them due to their challenging backgrounds.

The seven Arus and Chumbaka kids holding up their mock flight tickets to Silicon Valley, San Francisco.

Image via Teach For Malaysia

All seven are students of after-school spaces Arus and Chumbaka, both of which are formed by Teach For Malaysia alumni and aim to give children meaningful learning experiences through STEM-based education.

Most notably, Arus and Chumbaka primarily serve students from underprivileged communities i.e. they go to high-need schools or do not have as much access to opportunities due to family circumstances or where they live.

In a blogpost, Arus co-founder Alina Amir expressed her indescribable pride for two of the Top 10, Gayatri - whom she called "one of the cleverest students her age" - and Badrul, who once "insisted he cannot speak in front of people"

Gayatri (left) and Badrul (right) with their invention at DMGX.

Image via Digital Maker Hub Facebook

"There are no words to describe how proud I am of my Arus kids today for always going above and beyond with every challenge we throw at them," Alina said.

"To Gayatri, the most hardworking student I know, who does well in everything she chooses to do because of the amount of effort she puts in, one of the cleverest students her age, congratulations on being selected to go to Silicon Valley! I have never doubted your ability to achieve anything you put your mind to. Your confidence and perseverance is beyond what I could ever muster when I was your age.

To Badrul, the boy who has changed so much since I first met him, the one who one time got angry at me and sent in a blank exam paper for Sejarah (the subject I taught him) as a sign of protest, the one who insisted he cannot speak in front of people, is now the same boy who discusses ideas with me in English, who tries extra hard when perfecting his projects, who has pitched his inventions in front of hundreds of people. I hope the trip to Silicon Valley in December will inspire you to do more!"

The other five are students of Chumbaka Cyberjaya, four of whom worked closely with co-founder Nigel Sim. He recalled how they stuttered a lot when they first spoke in English in front of an audience, but have now become the talk of their kampung for their achievements.

Shi Qi (second from left), Min Han (third from left), Kok Wei (third from right), Guan (second from right), the four Chumbaka students selected to go to Silicon Valley.

Image via Nigel Sim / Teach for Malaysia

"I still remember how they were when I first met them two years ago. They were your typical 13-year-old kids. Young and bright. But life for them was a mundane cycle of school, tuition, homework and exams. Deep down inside I knew that they deserved much better and could do more... and I was right," Nigel wrote.

"Ever since their first outing out of their comfort zone, they got addicted. Addicted to learning (and winning of course!). Yes, I pushed them really hard and at times they pushed back. Yes, they stuttered a lot when they first tried to speak English in front of people but they kept trying and never once did they give up.

Fast forward to today, their hard work paid off and are now recognised among the country’s top 10 makers!

Their journey is really an inspirational one and has become the talk of the town (like literally). My students told me that the whole kampung knows that they are going to the United States now! Everywhere they go people are talking about them! It’s crazy to see how they managed to inject some sense of possibility into the greater community with their journey!"

Kok Wei (left) and Guan (right) working on their project at DMGX.

Image via Digital Maker Hub Facebook

Chong Zhi Xiong, another co-founder of Chumbaka Cyberjaya, credits Top 10 finalist Dakshayanie for motivating him to establish the social enterprise with her perseverance

Chong (left) with Dakshayanie (right).

Image via Chong Zhi Xiong / Teach for Malaysia

"I still remember the first day I met Dakshayanie, coming into my robotic class, begging to be a part of the team, but I just left her there with Python on Codecademy. The following week she came back and showed me her work on JavaScript," he said.

"She is certainly my reason to initiate Maker_Ed and my motivation to turn it into Chumbaka Cyberjaya.

Fast forward 2 years now, she just went through the Digital Maker Exchange Challenge organised by MDEC, with 32 other top young inventors in the country. And she is going to Silicon Valley, San Francisco this December! Imma proud ‘father’!"

The teens will be heading to San Francisco in December, where they will be attending a week-long entrepreneur camp and presenting a pitch in a Dolphin Tank

The young makers will be expected to come up with a new idea, fabricate and execute it, as well as to pitch their invention to a panel judges with a business model at a Dolphin Tank session (similar to 'Shark Tank' on TV). Not only that, they will be mentored and evaluated by some of Silicon Valley's industry leaders during the duration of the camp.

Good luck in San Francisco and keep making us proud, kids!

Image via Screen Gems

These brilliant schoolkids are also making a name for themselves in the global front:

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