By Steve Johnson
San Jose Mercury News.
Among the legions of tech-savy millennials who are launching Silicon Valley start-ups and websites at a feverish pace, it’s hard to find one more inspiring than 17-year-old Suraya Shivji.
After teaching herself to program iPhone gaming apps and get them posted on Apple’s app store, the Fremont teen is using them — along with a crowd-funding campaign she began this year on her website, Rizikitoto — to raise money for African orphans so they can become self sufficient.
So far, Rizikitoto — which she says combines the Swahili words for “self-sustenance” and “child” — has generated about $1,300 for the children, with money from each app designated for a particular child. Supported by Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit group that seeks to close the gender gap in technology and engineering, Suraya’s efforts have deeply touched Penny Baziga, director of programs at the Ugandan orphanage, Bright Futures Home.
“I would write a book if asked to about Suraya together with her family about the love and strong relationship they have with Bright Futures Home,” Baziga said in an email to this newspaper.
In the tradition of many entrepreneurs, Suraya envisions taking the concept much further. She talked about her plans in an interview, which was edited for length and clarity.
Q: What prompted you to want to help these children?
A: I went to Africa a couple years ago, and my sister and I volunteered at an orphanage in Uganda. I taught them basic stuff, like arithmetic. Most of the ones I worked with were 10 and 11, but they range from 6 to 17. It was really great. I just saw the need. The orphans were really talented and really bright. A lot of them could paint. A lot of them had aspirations. One of them wanted to be an engineer. Then in April this year, I became interested in micro-loans and micro-finance. I kind of liked the idea that anyone like me could help, that I could give money to someone across the world.
Q: So you thought about partly financing that with your gaming apps, which I understand you created after learning the C, C++ and Objective-C programming languages?
A: Yeah, I taught myself how to program a few years ago. I don’t know why. I probably was just bored. The apps are great. But I kind of wanted them to be a little more useful. I didn’t want them to just sit on the app store as stupid games. And then I thought of connecting each one to a kid at the orphanage I worked at. So that’s kind of how it started. I figured that the money from each application could go to that child’s aspirations.
Q: How many apps have you created?
A: I have five currently on the store and I have ten others made. I just have to submit them.
Q: Is the way you make money from the apps by having people pay to download them?
A: A couple of them are paid and the rest are free with advertisements. The initial ones were free, just because I wanted to get things rolling. But I’m pretty sure from now on I’ll have them all be paid, because it’s more scalable. One of them is connected to an orphan named Catherine, who is 13. She wants to become a teacher. So the money it generates will buy her books and things like that. That’s like a basic example.
Q: How much money have you raised?
A: From the apps I’ve raised around $500 or so. But another source we use is crowdfunding. A lot of the orphans have made bracelets out of paper, really unique things like that, which you can’t really find here. They build them with their limited resources and I’d like to sell them here or online, because I figure a lot of people would like them. The crowdfunding is to generate money to sell those things here. It’s raised $795 right now. But I want to generate more so we can ship a lot of their things here.
Q: How would you like to see Rizikitoto evolve?
A: I could see it being pretty big. I want other kids to program apps for the company, so its not just myself. So I’m trying to reach out to other groups. And I’d like to work on more projects like this. I’d like to have a big foundation. That would be good.
Title: Creator of Rizikitoto, a website that raises money for African orphans
Education: She’s in 12th grade at Harker School in San Jose
Family: Her mother is Mariam Shivji and her father is Alnoor Shivji, CEO of Azure Biosystems and a general partner at Global Asset Capital. Her sister Zahra is 19 and her brother Jameel is 13.
Five facts about Suraya Shivji
1. She loves hiking
2. She has a trampoline, where she is learning to do a variety of tricks
3. She describes herself as a green-tea addict
4. She regrets not reading much, noting that “I spend way too much time on the computer.”
5. At college, she plans to study computer science and psychology
December 22, 2014 at 6:37 am
Very inspiring, Suraya!