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Adolescents and youth

In the virtual world of Second Life, teens tackle real children’s issues

© UNICEF video
The ‘avatar’ of Mariel Garcia, UNICEF Voices of Youth representative from Mexico, at the World Fit for Children Festival in Teen Second Life.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, USA, 24 January 2007 – Voices of Youth, UNICEF’s own online forum, recently helped reach hundreds of children from around the globe with a groundbreaking project in Teen Second Life, the under-18 corner of the increasingly popular virtual world, Second Life.

In December, Voices of Youth supplied information and helped to educate Teen Second Life participants in a week-long creative festival based on the ‘World Fit for Children’ declaration on child rights. The declaration was adopted at the 2002 United Nations Special Session on Children.

Designed by children and organized by the New York-based non-profit Global Kids on their island within Second Life, the cyber-festival centred on a competition to build virtual structures in response to issues raised by the declaration: HIV/AIDS, education, health and child exploitation and abuse.

Voices of Youth representative Mariel Garcia of Mexico – communicating through her Second Life ‘avatar’ – was on hand to answer participants’ questions in various settings, including a teen forum and even a virtual dance party.

© UNICEF video
A banner in Teen Second Life during the UNICEF/Global Kids World Fit for Children Festival, which engaged hundreds of teens in an online setting.

‘Good for the community’

Some 50 teenagers joined over a dozen teams to compete in the online building challenge. Their designs included an HIV/AIDS hospital, various school environments and a safe play area. Each entry included interactive information points, where participants could play games or simply click to learn more about issues facing the world’s children.

Three boys from Finland won the first prize of $200 for the school they built, which included virtual post-it notes featuring content from the UNICEF Voices of Youth website. The financial incentive undoubtedly helped to draw almost 1,000 teens to the World Fit for Children competition, but money wasn’t the only appeal.

“I think it’s very interesting, because you wouldn’t think teenagers would take time to do this,” said Nafiza, a 16-year-old participant from New York. “But Second Life is basically a virtual reality game, so they are combining world issues with something we like. It’s like a mental challenge, as well as learning to do something good for the community.”

Voices of Youth’s Mariel hopes the main message the teens have taken away from the week is how to translate their energy into action in the real world.

“I think that many of the children will make donations to organizations they support and start to raise awareness in their schools,” she says. “You don’t have to become a really big organization to fight poverty. You can just try to do something at a local level.”

© UNICEF video
Juho Kuisman and Atte Aderdeen from Finland won $200 in Teen Second Life for building a school in a competition inspired by the ‘World Fit for Children’ declaration on child rights.

A hands-on approach

Global Kids uses the innovative Teen Second Life community as a forum for engaging youth in activities that develop their leadership skills on global issues, both online and in their daily lives.

“What we find in Teen Second Life is a group of young people who, by the very nature of being there, are learning to take responsibility for their own environment,” says the Online Leadership Programme Director at Global Kids, Barry Joseph. “They literally create the world around them. They create the textures that they walk across. They create the objects, the clothes that they wear.

“Young people in Teen Second Life are ready to help shape the world but don’t have a way to focus it. So what we’re able to offer them is an opportunity not only to meet youth from around the world but also to pull out the issues that they’re all engaging with,” adds Mr. Joseph.

"The workshop and contest on Teen Second Life, in collaboration with Voices of Youth, was a great success,” notes Voices of Youth Assistant Coordinator Kim Baker. “By taking place in virtual reality, it allowed young people the unique opportunity to learn about the World Fit for Children commitment through a hands-on approach."




24 January 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on UNICEF’s collaboration within Teen Second Life.
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