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Adolescents and youth

UNICEF’s ‘Story Jam’ looks to expand outlets for youth communication

© UNICEF/2008/Herr
A developer at 'Story Jam New York' collaborates with virtual participants from all over the world using UNIWIKI technology.

By Anwulika Okafor

NEW YORK, USA, 10 April 2008 – A talented group of computer programmers, designers, content developers and hardware experts recently gathered at UNICEF headquarters for ‘Story Jam New York’, a three-day event focused on developing new outlets for youth communication.

Virtual participants from countries around the world were also able to take part in the event via streaming video and chatrooms, as well as through UNICEF’s UNIWIKI platform – a set of tools that allow people to connect and participate on the Internet through mobile phones, radios and televisions. 

“I am impressed by the enormous possibilities of the worldwide connection amongst the children of the world, which promotes mutual respect, peace and development,” said Ecuador’s Ambassador to the United States, Luis Gallegos, who visited the Story Jam.

Open platforms to share ideas

In its work for child rights, UNICEF consistently stresses the importance of making children’s voices heard as a way to shape government and social policy. Through programmes such as the web-based Voices of Youth, UNICEF has given children across the globe the opportunity to share their opinions and get involved in issues that directly affect their lives.

Story Jam participants sought ways to further expand UNICEF’s vision of global communication for development in today’s evolving technological environment.

Workshops focused on building and implementing free, open-source tools (in which access to programming code is available to everyone) to collect and spread children’s stories. The platforms involved ranged from mobile phones to the ‘XO’ – a textbook-sized laptop computer from the non-profit organization, One Laptop per Child.

‘School In a Box’ goes digital

One of the most talked-about projects at the Story Jam was the digital version of a UNICEF mainstay, ‘School In a Box’, a kit that contains enough supplies to support a class of 80 students and is a standard tool in UNICEF’s response to emergencies.

Building on the success of these kits, workshop participants worked to develop schematics for a Digital School In a Box.

Housed in rectangular cases measuring two metres high, these computerized kits would provide students and teachers with extensive educational materials on a variety of subjects, without the need for physical textbooks.

Radio and SMS

Developers worked to expand on previously existing projects such as 'ROSCO – Radio on the Go', which turns a computer into a fully functional ‘radio station’ via a USB memory stick. Discussions also centred on RapidSMS – a web-based platform for receiving text messages, which allows for fast and efficient communication in regions with very low cellular connectivity.

Developers also worked on ideas for providing power – and thus Internet access – in areas that lack reliable electricity. Solar panels, hand-cranked generators and long-lasting batteries were all on the drawing board.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, a lot of things to be made and a lot of things that didn't get done at all,” said Story Jam organizer Mel Chua. “But one of the advantages of having a ‘Jam’ is that it brings a lot of people from the external community, which is really important for open-source projects like the ones we're working.

“Let's share things with the community,” Ms. Chua added.



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