The Markoding Challenge

Incubating ideas, innovation and inspiration

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06 July 2020

The interview was conducted at the beginning of March before the state of emergency was declared in Indonesia.


In a bright and airy room in downtown Jakarta, the smell of freshly brewed coffee compliments the quiet buzz of young people engaged in changing the future. Information is power” declares 16-year old Abyan as he relates how the Markoding Challenge, supported by UNICEF, has taught him to “create something out of nothing.” As the culmination of their efforts approaches – the so-called “Demo Day”, the energy is palpable and infectious, as bright young minds help shape a better future.

In a quiet voice, Abyan explains how the workshop fills a gap that is not taught at school. His interest in both reading and technology was noticed by his teachers and this led to him being selected to join the Challenge.  The sessions have improved his communication skills and he says he is “no longer shy because I need to speak to others.” Teamwork is an additional benefit of this process as he now understands how team members complement each other. ’When there are difficulties, I first listen and then we find common ground and work towards a solution” he explains with growing confidence.

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“This Challenge has taught me to make something out of nothing” says Abyan

Abyan sees litter as one of the biggest problems in Jakarta hence he created a waste management app called “From Rubbish to Point”. The user has to collect the trash and separate between plastic and paper. They then bring the trash to the nearest trash bank and the app then guides the process of separating the trash between organic and non-organic as it gives step by step instructions.  Abyan is proud that the app is online-already and hopes that people all over Indonesia use his app “so that it becomes part of their life”. He is “nervous but excited” about the upcoming Demo Day because he has to speak in front of so many people but is also “happy to speak about something that will change people’s lives.”

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“This is a rare opportunity” says Jeje

Encouraging more young women to do coding is a goal of 16-year old Zelita who is also known as “JeJe”. Confidently moving between English and Bahasa Indonesian, Jeje attended a vocational school where she majored in skin care hence coding is new to her. She laughs while recounting that her friends are impressed that she has given up her weekends to work on this.   “Through these sessions I learned about practicality, time management, logical and analytical thinking and I have learned that it is important to have good communication between the teammates because we will not get the proper result without this” Jeje explains. Her teachers and headmaster are very supportive, and she says she is managing her busy schedule so far because the Markoding Challenge “is a rare opportunity.”

Jeje and her team are developing an app for mental health issues which involves building a platform to encourage people with such issues to write a journal. “Many of us know people who have such issues and we need to let them know that they are not alone and that we can help,” she explains. Together with Jeje, another young woman committed to addressing mental health issues is 16-year old Kanadiyya who admits that she initially wanted to quit the coding sessions as it is very different to the courses in beauty and massage that she is enrolled in. Her attitude quickly changed she says because “it became fun and everyone was really patient and kind”.

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Kanadiyya wants to challenge traditional gender norms and toxic masculinity

The app that Kanadiyya is working on focuses on mental health because of the number of young people who she says, “feel like they are alone.” She is particularly keen on challenging what she terms “toxic masculinity and self-diagnosis” as well as problematic gender norms such as “boys don’t cry”. The app lists emergency numbers including suicide hotlines focusing on domestic violence, sexual abuse and suicide. The app encourages users to write a journal (a ‘mood tracker’) and has reminders for medication.

There is also a group chat called ‘Safe Place’ through which psychologists will respond. “It is like an AA meeting on a digital platform” Kannadiya explains. The app asks the user a series of guiding questions – as it reads the mood of the user - and “encourages a move away from negativity. Kanadiyya eloquently speaks of the ‘fake lives’ that some of her peers lead on social media but, she notes, “when off-stage, they are all alone.” With passion and intensity, she speaks of the “pressure that previous generations put on us to do better than they have” while sometimes forcing their children into academic and career choices against their will. She is thankful to have a supportive mentor and open-minded parents and teachers who continue to support her journey.

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“My dreams can be realized” says Lukman
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“My dreams can be realized” says Lukman

The positive impact of a mentor is evident in the qualities of Azhary who, in a reassuring and calm manner, explains the satisfaction of seeing the young participants encouraging and teaching each other. He expresses the joy of seeing how apps are created by the participants and how they begin “to think like a computer” while learning critical thinking and finding creative solutions.  Azhary views the Challenge as a means to contribute back to his community while helping open future opportunities for the participants. “I want them to learn critical thinking so they can perform well in whatever they do” he explains, while noting that he is now “more patient” since he began mentoring.

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“I want to contribute back to my community” says Azhary
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“I want to contribute back to my community” says Azhary

Looking dapper with his blue shirt inscribed with his name on it, 16-year old Ode is the leader of his team. Speaking of the skills he has gained through the Markoding Challenge, this Grade 11 IT Major concedes, with a shy smile, that this is “the first time that I have the opportunity to be a leader.”  Passionate about the need for tolerance and understanding, Ode noticed how some of his fellow students would tease and insult each other’s religions and ethnic backgrounds. He believes it is critical to encourage his generation to be more tolerant and to help each other despite the differences and to understand that “we are part of the larger society and world”. His app is titled “Hero Story” and focuses on teamwork whereby users get more points if they help people who are different. The app focuses on avoiding all forms of violence and destruction while promoting values of togetherness.

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"We should look at what unites us and not what divides us," says Ode
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Krishna (L) is inspired by the young people he mentors

Ode’s and his peers’ passion has inspired software developer Krishna Rowter as he sees young people “learning to solve problems” which he, as a mentor, can support.  Hearing-impaired and using a walker, Krishna is encouraged that some participants are focusing on mental health.  “Today many young people have a smart phone and a computer, so these coding skills are critical because they help give us solutions”, he explains. Having experienced first-hand the challenges faced by differently-abled people, Krishna is working on app for people who do not understand sign language as well as on an online disability platform.                                            

 For 15-yearold Lukman, the Markoding Challenge combines his two passions, namely gaming and apps. With a ready smile and bright, alert eyes, he enthusiastically explains his quirky-named app called “Tractor Chicken Trash.” The game has bright cheerful graphics with a yellow chicken which he, as student of Multimedia, designed. The Challenge sessions have taught him the value of communication, how to use creative approaches to find a solution as well as the importance of teamwork. Being allocated a mentor, he says, “is like having a big brother and friend” and this is evident when observing the rapport between Lukman and his mentor, Kevin. He focused on refuse collection because of the excessive litter in parts of Jakarta and he hopes to encourage young people in particular to get involved in ending littering and promote recycling.

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Participants in action at the Markoding Challenge

For Lukman and his peers, this has been a life-changing journey. Thanks to the Markoding Challenge, he now plans to study Programming at university and attributes his motivation and passion to the fact that “my dreams can be realized through this programme.”


>> Read more about the programme here.