"Youth what? Why would you sponsor a TechCamp in the Pacific region, where Internet connectivity is not widespread?"
That's the question many of my colleagues asked me when I told them the State Department, in collaboration with PasifikaNEXUS and BrightPath, was going to launch "Youth TechCamp Fiji." And, my answer to them was, that's exactly the reason it should be done. The Department of State, along with our partners, recognized the value in enabling future leaders of the Pacific Islands to contribute to policy development, spur local content creation, and leverage connection technologies to make a positive impact in their communities and around the world.
From November 21-28, approximately 80 youth participants from Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands met in Suva, Fiji, for the first Youth TechCamp in the Pacific.
The first session of the TechCamp was held at the University of the South Pacific and focused on Internet governance. Access to information and communications technology (ICT) has been identified as an enabler for economic growth. Put simply, more broadband access has been shown to increase economic output, create jobs, and raise the standard of living. In the Pacific region, however, access to the Internet can be costly and slow. Without access to the Internet, Pacific youths can miss out on economic and educational opportunities, as well as the chance to connect with family and friends around the world. Salanieta Tamanikaiwaimaro, the Fiji based Director of PasifikaNexus who is also an alumna of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), led the sessions on Internet governance which included discussions on intellectual property rights and freedom of expression. As young people tend to be frequent users of the Internet, it's important that they have a voice in the policy conversations on Internet governance. As one of the participants aptly stated, "Youth are the ones that know their context and therefore should be the ones that determine what they need in terms of Internet access."
The second session was led by Bevil Wooding, BrightPath's Executive Director and technology and development expert, who focused on the creation of mobile apps. Before Youth TechCamp Fiji, none of the participants held any experience in developing apps. Five days later, all of the participants had actively taken part in creating a mobile app. Bevil inspired participants to develop ideas for apps that they wanted to create. The participants were then split into three major groups: the content team, the design team, and the coders. At the end of the workshop, the participants proudly launched five apps ready to be downloaded on Android phones: Ika Fiji -- helps identify local fish, Food 4 Thot -- works as a handy local restaurant guide, What's on Sale -- provides information on the latest supermarket specials, Cure Fiji -- a guide to herbal and local medicine, and Road Signs -- improves road safety by educating young drivers on road signs and road rules.
Alzima Bano, a participant of the TechCamp, described her experience as truly life changing. She said, "This has been one of those rare, once in a lifetime opportunities that I can confidently say has changed my life. This workshop truly empowered me, and the facilitators from day one had faith in us to complete the app in a week."
The Youth TechCamp Fiji participants will use this new knowledge to create, innovate, and harness the power of the Internet for the future.