Introducing UX, UI and interaction design at an ICT Camp for Girls in Vanuatu

Being in the right place at the right time has never been as applicable as when describing how I got involved with being able to teach at the SMARTSistas ICT Camp for Girls. This camp is an initiative that has been in the works since 2014, from a former volunteer who did most of the leg work, but her time was up in Vanuatu before the camp was fully planned and funded. Thankfully, Peace Corps people are the best and there were willing volunteers to pick up with the committee right where she left off. The SMARTSistas ICT Camp for Girls is part of a wider Peace Corps initiative, Let Girls Learn.

What is Let Girls Learn?

“As part of the U.S. government’s commitment to Let Girls Learn, First Lady Michelle Obama and the Peace Corps have formed a powerful collaboration to expand access to education for adolescent girls around the world. Educating girls is essential to healthy and thriving communities but, globally, 62 million girls are not in school, and barriers to adolescent girls completing school are particularly significant. In some countries, fewer than 10% of teenage girls complete secondary school.

This program will address that challenge by empowering local leaders to put lasting solutions in place. Peace Corps Volunteers who live and work at the grassroots level will serve as catalysts of community-led change, and every American can get involved and make a difference.” —Let Girls Learn website

Having the opportunity to participate, even in the small amount that I did, in a Let Girls Learn program is something that is really meaningful to me. After living in a few developing countries, there are trends about gender roles and inequalities that are a little more in your face than they are in the states.

The projected short term outcomes of the SMART Sistas Camp are to increase self-esteem, develop skill set knowledge of how to develop and master information communications technology related careers. The long term outcomes include increasing the number of women in the ICT field, long term skill development, closing the gender gap for IT positions and increasing knowledge to reduce poverty.

Vanuatu Specifics

It is estimated that only 6% of schools in Vanuatu have internet access which puts approximately every 205 students in competition for every one computer. While the need for digital literacy is high, the availability to learn these skills is low. It’s estimated that 80–90% of households through out all 84 islands in Vanuatu have access to at least one mobile phone. However, according to the National Republic of Vanuatu, Vanuatu is the first government in the world to have a detailed report for a MGOV (Mobile Government), meaning there is a specific plan in line for the national government to dive into mobile communication technology.

While most islands do not have access to computer labs at schools, most homes have smart devices. The SMART Sistas ICT Camp for Girls allowed 10 girls, 5 from the Shefa province and 5 from the other provinces, to travel to the capital of Vanuatu with her parent. They attended 24 hours of ICT technical training through theTechRocket.com curriculum, 12 hours of leadership and gender empowerment training, and 4 hours of career exploration in web design, networking systems and telecommunications, totaling in one full week of learning. They were introduced to HTML/CSS, Python, graphic design and web design. It also happened to fall during the national ICT Days in Port Vila, celebrating the opening of the new convention center and discussions about the realities of ICT in Vanuatu.

Schools across Vanuatu are categorized in to 3 ICT categories:

Level 1 — The minority, schools that have a working computer lab for students, with an average of 10 desktops, all secondary schools (about 20/514 schools or 3%)

Level 2 — The minority, schools that have no lab for students, but a few computers for teachers and admin (about 50/514 schools or 9%)

Level 3 — The majority, schools that have no computers or ICT capabailities at all (about 445/514 or 89%) *The Republic of Vanuatu

This is what makes SMARTSistas ICT Camp for Girls essential in the development of ICT literacy through out the provinces. I was asked to teach a session during the web design and development day of the camp, accompanying a local developer’s sessions on HTML5 and CSS3. With the target audience of this presentation being girls from 9–14 years old, with a different cultural background than my own, I was a little nervous. I have never taught anyone this young web design before and I was a little nervous I wouldn’t be able to get the general ideas of UX, UI and interaction design across to girls who had little to no knowledge of web design before.

I decided to put my presentation together (presentation on SlideShare), presenting in English but having a majority of my slides in Bislama, the national language of Vanuatu. While the participants in the camp all could speak English, I wanted to have a frame of reference just in case something was missed. I also tried to give real life, and easy to relate to examples to ideas like UI design. I provided the definition to UI design the followed by questions about a book on fish. I asked the girls if they were create a book cover for a book on fish what would go on the front of that book? Would that book cover change if it was a children’s book about fish? Would that book cover change if it was a book teaching you how to catch fish? I found examples like this really made some light bulbs go off and allowed for them to translate these new ideas surrounding web design and relate them to things they already knew about.

Closing ceremony SMART Sistas ICT Camp for Girls — Port Vila, Vanuatu

After leaving the session I was a little uncertain how well it was understood or perceived. As I was walking out of the door, one of the Peace Corps Volunteers in charge of the camp came up to me and said “they want to know more, can you make a hand out or something for them to take back?” Now, if that isn’t good feedback I don’t know what is. I almost felt a little stupid not thinking of doing something like that in advance, of course they’re going to need a hand out, the majority of them will not have easy access to internet when they go home.

The experience was humbling, uplifting and overall amazing to see girls that wanted to learn about development and information technology communication. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that was 8,200 miles away from home.

I am posting on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, hopefully different content but no promises. These thoughts and pictures are mine and in no way reflect the views or opinions of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.