VJing: Engaging Ugandan Youth
A new model to engage youth in technology for development
Venas shouted into the microphone, “UNICEF na ki?” and then a response from the crowd came bellowing back, “Na lo!”
At a youth center in the slum area of Kamwokya, Venas was performing a live dubbing of media content in the local language over a microphone. This is a style of entertainment popularly known as VJing in Uganda. VJs, short for Video Jockey, are professional performers that translate and narrate over foreign films in makeshift shacks all over the country.
But instead of Hollywood movies, youths at this youth center were VJing to re-narrate a UNICEF cartoon.
Venas used an electronic device called weDub, which enabled him to interrupt the video’s audio and insert his own voice over the media shown.
Tapping into a local phenomenon
As a designer studying at Art Center College of Design’s Media Design Practices +FIELDprogram, I developed weDub, an electronic device that brings the technology behind VJing accessible to youths like Venas.
During weeks of fieldwork and ethnography in Kampala, I recognized the social impact of the VJ culture. With the help of Pius Kadapao, a youth mentor at TLC Youth Center, weDub was developed as a platform for youth voices and as an entry point for learning and making electronics.
One end of the device connects to a TV or computer and the other end connects to a speaker. With a push of the lever downwards, the audio input of the video is silenced, thus enabling the VJ to speak into the microphone and over the media content. The weDub project generates three key outcomes:
- Youth-created content
- Youth-to-Youth engagement
- Knowledge acquisition of how to make the weDub in a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) manner with locally sourced technology
The reason why weDub is successful in the community in which it serves is because it was developed, made, and used in the very same context by the people that use it. This is a huge shift in how large organizations approach designing technology for a community.
Because there are a number of UNICEF’s previous designs present at the youth center, my collaborators were able to assess why the imported pieces of technology fall short on creating exciting and lasting impact. We asked: how could we utilize resources and innovate to make them even better?
As a student, I presented weDub to the team at UNICEF Innovation Lab in Uganda as a project that could enhance their thinking around their current project in development known as the MobiStation, a multimedia box. It was a good opportunity to have the MobiStation interface with weDub as it became clear that delivering technology is not enough; the need to recognize and utilize local innovations is paramount. It was a good learning experience!
A new model for Tech4Dev
The youths at this particular center are accustomed to receiving pieces of technology that are designed without a deep understanding of their lifestyle and identity. Designers need to be careful not to create projects with products that are inaccessible and unapproachable. Rather, they should champion a collaborative process with local non-designers to investigate the needs and desires of a community through designed ethnographic exercises.
With a microphone in one hand, and weDub in the other, the youths amplified their voices over media traditionally impressed upon them. By adding his own interpretation of UNICEF Chile’s Cartoons for Child’s Rights, Venas and his peers were able to talk back to the media, and break the cycle of passive media consumption.
weDub extends far beyond a performance; it opens up more opportunities for youths to make technology instead of consuming it. What other circuits would the youths make after making their first electronic device? That’s an exciting question!
Instead of passively consuming technology, youths wanted to actively make technology on their terms, and define their own interactions with others. This is the reason why weDub is so powerful.
weDub asks the question: how can technology be designed to generate a process that supports youths in creating their own content and engaging one another?
I think weDub is a step towards answering that question.