As part of my recent trip to Tanzania, I had the privilege to experience the impact of two Yidan Prize laureate organizations on the ground, PhET Interactive Simulations and CAMFED.

With relatively few resources and nearly half of the population under 15 years old, Tanzania faces very significant challenges in education. But the young people I met participating in CAMFED and PhET are full of hope and ambition. They are building lives their parents could only dream about.

In the township of Handeni, Fatuma’s life seemed to change forever when her mother made a wrenching decision to send her to Dar es Salaam to work as a housemaid. She was just finishing primary school when her father died. “What could I do?” her mother asked, “I couldn’t feed my children.” When Fatuma did not show up for school the next year, a teacher came looking. Negotiating her way out of the family that ‘employed’ her took some cunning, but Fatuma eventually ended up back in school with CAMFED’s support.

Today, the girl who would have been a housemaid is a woman that is everywhere—brimming with confidence as she runs her shop, sets up a second business, advises the town council, teaches a life-skills curriculum to students at her former school, and even runs a successful chalk factory with other CAMFED graduates. Her mother beams as she shows us the new tin roof and electricity Fatuma is installing in her home, and wipes tears away when she talks about the past.

Fatuma is guiding a new generation of poor girls with dreams of their own: Khautar wants to be a teacher and change her family’s living conditions. Zainab wants to be a civil engineer, and makes her first project to fix the road to her town. Aeysha also wants to be an engineer—to build housing for her poor and elderly neighbors, and “a beautiful building where children can learn.” As CAMFED grows, so do individuals and communities. Potential is unlocked.

Further down the road in Tanga, we visited a STEM park that was helping to transform teaching and learning. The park is situated in the middle of a cluster of schools in one of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, and full of interactive learning displays. It’s staffed by young volunteers and packed with children.

And on the computer screens—PhET simulations. We found students (whose science labs at their schools are practically empty shells) eagerly crowded together to do experiments online. We met teachers who were being trained on how to use PhET in their classrooms, and to download simulations on their phones. Juliet was one of those teachers—so proud to have just won a national award for women in STEM. Her second reward that day came from the joy in her students’ eyes as they figured out how to build a circuit on PhET…

The teachers, students, and education leaders we met on this trip were remarkable. CAMFED and PhET are giving them the tools to work at a higher level, to go further and faster than they thought possible. Let me end with an image of Innocent—a young man who was forced by poverty to drop out of secondary school. He made his way across the country to the STEM park, got back into school, and now at age 20 is an irrepressible evangelist for STEM education. Here he is showing off his award-winning inventions at a national trade fair. The smile says it all.