Think Big, Dream Wild, and Start Small

Aug 28, 2008

How did our program (or story) start?
We, 20 people from around the world and different backgrounds, met each other in SEALNet Project Vietnam 2008. Our team worked with the 15 May School, a school for disadvantaged children where I had worked for more than 1 year as both a volunteer and a member of staff, to build a sustainable Computing Program, a Competition Day for the kids in the English Program that Project Vietnam 2007 started, and workshops on Service Leadership for students from top-notch highschools in Ho Chi Minh City. I was co-leading a sub-team of six people: Chris, a Redmond Alumni; Matt, a UPenn freshman majoring in Computer Science; Caroline, a recent Stanford graduate majoring in Economics and a would-be Boston Consulting Group employee; Rongkun, a recent graduate from Beijing University who is doing his Master of Evironmental Policy at American University; Nary, a very kind-hearted sophomore from Cambodia's Internation University Pannasastra. All of them are wo nderful and working with them has been the most rewarding experience I've ever had. But on top of that, we've build a long-lasting friendship and even more. As the project moved along, we encountered an increasing number of obstacles and solving them was really an interesting part of the project.

One day, I came across $30,000 grant for projects that bring innovative technologies and internet applications to make positive change in the Asia Pacific region. Since then I began to work on the brainstorming of the project as my teammates were coming back to their normal life and taking charge of new challenges.

But Matt remained with me as it is one of his dreams to work for a non-profit or become an entrepreneur to make positive life. Both of us were really excited about this wonderful opportunity to do what we really love to do.

So, this is how it all started.

Where is the program standing right now?
After days of thought and discussion, we have come to the following final ideas:

Firstly, our program's focal point is personal development. It means we concentrate on the skills that the children can acquire after they "graduate" from our program and empower them to feel special about themselves. Kids deserve the right to feel special about themselves :)

We will use Linux, or to be more specific, Edubuntu, as the platform. I was constantly seeking answers as to why Linux is better than Windows and here are some brief ones:
- It's free, and it works :)
- Children have the opportunity to explore something different from Windows.
- Even if children have to use Windows when go to work, the learning curve will be much shorter, as mastering Linux gives them a much more advanced level of computer usage.
- Eventually Linux will take over the corporate world (it seems have been doing that), and having mastered this particular OS will be an advantage for them to get a good job.
- It teaches them the sense of freedom.
- Edubuntu has a lot of educational applications that no other OS has to offer at this stage.
- It's all about humanity (I hate Microsoft, sorry Bill!)
The entire curriculum will be web-basde, with applications ranging from Google search, IM, Google Docs, etc. All of these will provide kids with skills that they need for a better future. Even though the focus is about personal development, children can still work well in a coporate environment: they know how to use a computer, do word processing, send emails, communicate online, share and collaborate, do research and look for information and they can blog too.

What needs to be done now?
Initially we wanted to work with a local NGO to get the grant. But it turned out NGOs are not really in favor of technology and thus we decided to do it ourselves.

We will build a website for our program, from which we can promote our ideas and raise funds for our projects.

For a project to be implemented, we need to find a specific school or location that serves the needs of disadvantaged children. So this is where we Start Small :)

Dream wild and think big?

Everyone I've talked to think this program is very scalable and can be applied everywhere in the world. So that's why we've changed it from Project to Program, which basically means we have a program with different projects at different locations.

So, our dream is to make this as big as possible and cover as many locations as possible.

The realistic questions is HOW? Well, we will implement the pilot project first, either by:

- Identifying ourselves as a Student Group at UPenn and promote the project, then come partner with SEALNet to bring the program to South East Asian countries. SEALNet has the available resources to make that happen, and as it is Stanford-based, many of the members have expressed their interest in bring modern technology to SEA.

- Identifying ourselves as a Computing Project under SEALNet and work directly with them. Each year when SEALNet comes to SEA to carry out a project, our program can be added as a bonus. Since we've already had the model, implementation can be easier.

Even if this sounds Big and Wild, it is indeed very practicable. But first, we need to solve the puzzles :)