Youth TechCamps Amplify the Digital Power of Alumni Social Activism
iEARN-USA is not only a proud membership organization serving K-12 teachers and students across the United States, we’re also proudly part of a unique global network for which each week is a celebration of innovative teaching and learning. This week, we’re celebrating our iEARN peers in Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have just finished hosting their first Youth TechCamps, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the US Embassies in Dhaka and Islamabad, respectively. The three-day Youth TechCamps build on the series of TechCamps hosted by the State Department around the world over the last two years to increase the digital literacy of civil society groups. Last August, Mozilla’s Hackasaurus team helped host the first Youth TechCamp in Washington, D.C., and provided hands-on training in open source Internet design and development to 21 Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program alumni representing 11 countries. The Pakistani and Bangladeshi Youth TechCamps likewise involved 70 more YES program alumni and, to no one’s surprise, generated a ton of excitement.
On the US State Department’s blog, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock summarizes:
“By the end of Youth TechCamp Bangladesh, participants had learned tangible skills that would carry over into whatever professional field they choose. The young people were empowered to code their own websites, establish a successful presence on Facebook, and tell stories effectively online. They left inspired to use their new skills to, in the words of one participant, “build bridges between communities in order to make them work as one, and develop networks between citizens.”
Like iEARN, the TechCamps aren’t as much about the technology, as about developing networks and building bridges. The glue that has held iEARN together for nearly 25 years is its guiding principle that all participants and projects should not only contribute to others’ learning in the network, but that everyone contributing to others’ learning builds and sustains the network; in fact, it’s iEARN’s raison d’être. As a result, iEARN has developed into a unique global model of autonomous and indigenous national networks that serve local needs. The localized, distributed management—structured as either as an NGO or under the auspices of a Ministry of Education, university, or United Nations program—keeps iEARN inclusive, adaptable, and conducive to local ownership. This approach also allows teachers and students from countries in conflict and with poor relations to collaborate virtually, conduct physical exchanges, and build bridges of mutual respect and trust where other organizations sometimes are not able to.
The Bangladeshi and Pakistani Youth TechCamps are a reflection of this iEARN approach to local ownership, inclusiveness, and relevance to local needs. The YES program alumni in Bangladesh and Pakistan designed and facilitated the TechCamps themselves, a DIY, learn-by-doing approach well-suited to the overall goals of the TechCamps and the YES program. Each camp was designed to leverage on-going YES alumni efforts in each
country. In Bangladesh, active YES alumni conduct frequent community service activities, such as the Removing Day-Darkness Project. In Pakistan, YES alumni run programs such as summer camps for orphans. The TechCamps provided additional tools and resources to help promote, scale and replicate these types of service projects.
In times of strained relations, the TechCamps also will continue the positive US diplomatic impact of YES program in Pakistan.In October 2011, the Christian Science Monitor article examined the “quiet diplomatic drive that has been working since 9/11 to build positive ties between the US and Pakistan” noting that the largest US cultural and educational exchange program of any US embassy in the world is run from Pakistan. Two of the largest and most successful of these efforts, English Access Microscholarship Program and the YES program, are managed by iEARN-Pakistan. The Youth TechCamps offers to increase not only the “bright side” of US-Pakistani ties, but also US ties in the 40 other YES countries, where alumni are eager to contribute to better bilateral relations.
As Pakistani camper, Hameer, reflects,
Techcamp has shown me a whole another world so far… The world of blogging and digital-storytelling; it made me realize the effectiveness of social-activism as I felt the goosebumps on my arms while watching this beautifully done digital-story.
For the team at iEARN-USA, the opportunity to help inspiring young men and women in Bangladesh and Pakistan use new technologies to build strong ties bridges between our countries gives us goosebumps.