UNESCO empowers South Sudanese youth to launch an App encouraging a peaceful co-existence

18 November 2016

Students from the University of Juba launched an App aiming at educating South Sudanese youth on the process of building a peaceful and literate nation, as the result of a joint initiative between UNESCO’s YouthMobile, UNDP and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

From the 24 to 28 October 2016, sixteen students participated in a “Peacebuilding and Literacy through Tech Innovation Bootcamp” in Juba, South Sudan. The set goal was to design and develop a mobile application to explain to their fellow youth how ordinary citizens (Mwathinin) could actively engage in the national peace building agenda. This “PeaceApp” would describe the terminologies related to conflict, violence as well as its impact on daily life interactions. It would offer practical steps to peace and reconciliation and allow the users to share relevant messages and make personal commitments to the peacebuilding process.

A participant demonstrates some of the features his team have presented. © UNESCO

With guidance from Web4All, an ICT company based in Kenya, the students went through a hands-on training on the development process of the App. This included lessons on User Experience design (UX), an Introduction to Object Oriented Programming with Java, and the basics of Android Studio.

The training included several case studies to learn from and exercises. In one of them, students were taught the importance of user experience and how to develop an App of high usability, matching diverse user profiles.

As a practical example, the participants were asked to develop a prototype for a phone which would be used by visually impaired individuals, a challenging task where the developers need to focus on what the user needs and how to ensure the App has all the right features in place, e.g. adding a voice feature that will read through the contact list; a keypad with keys that can be felt when pressing; or a screen that voices the icon the user is touching.

In addition to technical aspects, the students were also given lectures on the growth of Mobile Technology in Africa, as well as an introduction to revenue-generation modules for Mobile Apps.

At the end of the Bootcamp, the PeaceApp was released for testing and published on Google Play Store for download and use.

“It was my privilege to attend the past trainings which were full of new things and experience in the field of technology,” said Dennis Vuciri, one of the participants who had attended previous trainings. “I had been hearing about mobile applications and I saw them installed on different mobile phones and tablets, but I never had the chance to be involved in development of an app. I never even imagined how it was done. But today, I am happy to say that the first and second [YouthMobile] trainings which were held in 2014/15 gave me the knowledge and experience to develop the Android Apps of my choice. This will help me solve some of the problems in my country.”

In order to give some visibility to the App and ease the download, the App has been made available through a dedicated website: www.thepeaceapp.org. Social media will also be very instrumental in encouraging the young people to download and use it.

Word of mouth from users will be also a key in encouraging more people to download and use the App as they already have a feel of the App.

Radio could also be used to encourage more people to get on board and use the App. It is expected that this will in turn encourage more people to spread the message of peace.

This Bootcamp was the follow up to a series of previous UNESCO YouthMobile workshops which have involved some 43 young South Sudanese students since 2014 on mobile Apps development.

Previous trainings were facilitated by trainers from the Dev School, a Nairobi based software development training programme, run by a team of enthusiastic youth with the aim to give every young person in Africa the opportunity to learn how to code. Zain South Sudan, a mobile telecommunications company, provided Android mobile phones with prepaid data access, and contributed as well to raise awareness about this initiative.

Following the first workshops, the students felt that an App is something that would help them champion for peace in South Sudan: this makes them feel instrumental in the peacebuilding process.

UNESCO’s Office in South Sudan highly appreciated this initiative, as the impact of conflict is something everyone in South Sudan has witnessed, for the country to become a prosperous nation and have a peaceful future, there is greater need for each person to take peace building as a personal initiative.

Just because conflict is a part of the past it does not mean it should be part of the future. The young people of South Sudan deserve a better future. It is very important to embrace the ideas that young people bring forth because they feel that they represent them and address their needs in a way they can relate with.

Participants of the Peacebuilding and Literacy through Tech Innovation Bootcamp. © UNESCO

In organizing the Bootcamp, UNESCO paid special attention to encouraging and empowering girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields where women are, in general, vastly underrepresented. Poni Wani Sule, a female graduate student of Juba University who participated in previous UNESCO YouthMobile trainings, said she stopped app development for a while, and that this bootcamp motivated her again. “I'm willing to improve the app developed by my group, called South Sudan Map Puzzle,” she said.

Through its global YouthMobile Initiative, UNESCO and its partners strive to provide young people with high-level skills and confidence to develop, promote and sell locally relevant mobile apps that solve issues of sustainable development and provide employment. Recently, it supported the 2nd Africa Code Week, which took place in October 2016 in 30 African countries.