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“We want our project to show others that you do not need money or social presence to be heard. All it takes is passion and the will to help others. We want our project to light a fire in people’s hearts.”

Focused on allowing students to address global issues, facilitate authentic service, and harness international-mindedness from home, our Virtual CAS Conference structure is built on fulfilling the 7 Learning Outcomes and encouraging collaboration between students and global organizations as they work through the CAS Stages in a Charity Hackathon.

Over the past several weeks, we concluded our 2021 Virtual CAS Conference series by hosting two weekend-long events tackling one of today’s most pressing global issues: mental health and wellbeing.

In addition to providing a platform to compare ideas, with discussions following keynote speakers from leading global organizations, the conferences challenged students to work together in a Hackathon format to develop a long-term solution-focused Service Project in response to a charity’s urgent, authentic need. 

After reviewing all proposals, a charity-led panel selected the winning team from each conference. These students are now empowered to realize their project in collaboration with the local charity and assisted by a financial contribution from CAS trips. Here are the winning projects!

Asia-Pacific Virtual CAS Conference Hackathon for Inala Mental Health Foundation

For our Asia-Pacific Virtual Hackathon, students cooperated with Inala Mental Health Foundation. Based in Mowbray, Cape Town, they provide mental health intervention methods with a family-centered approach to have a more impactful and sustainable change effect.

Of course, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on mental health in South Africa. South Africa has one of the highest percentages of mental health problems in the world, and only about 5% of its health budget goes to mental health. During the pandemic, the need for mental health services further increased because of lockdown measures and due to around 3 million people losing their jobs.

Students were tasked with helping the organization find ways to further their commitment to community empowerment, diversification, and education—while adhering to its primary focus of reaching communities holistically and increasing their impact. 

Two winning teams! 

In a CAS Virtual Conference first, we had two winning teams take the title for this hackathon. The charity said, “The two teams were chosen because their project ideas speak creatively to our mission and vision. The project ideas did a great job of bringing together vital connections—by creating healthy environments, we create healthy communities and healthy minds. We look forward to merging the project ideas these two teams came up with.” 

Team Alpha 23

Composed of Roberto Baccolini, Rindhiya Vishnu Shankar, Ritesh Sivaraman, Saanvi Jiteendra, Reema Gharbiya, Tharun Senthilkumar, and Rajiv, Team Alpha 23 came up with a project entitled The Nature-Nurture Initiative. With access to Inala’s team and resources, they plan to allow youth to establish their relationship with raw and clean nature, eventually allowing them to create their own small garden, which will become their responsibility to take care of.

The team felt that giving youth the chance to spend time in rich, unpolluted nature will both aid mental health and help emphasize the importance of preserving the environment. Furthermore, as farming is a collaborative activity, it will enhance wellbeing by reducing the rate of depression caused by loneliness. To get a bit more insight into their project, we had a chance to ask the winning team some questions: 

How do you feel your project can impact Inala and engage your communities?

Firstly, we feel so honored and grateful to Inala for giving us a chance to make an impact! Our project primarily focuses on revitalizing youth mental health in South Africa by establishing a hands-on connection with the lush nature around them. We hope that our project will be able to distract the minds of the youth for a moment from their busy schedule while working as a team. In addition, we aim to spread awareness of the significance that nature has on the health of our minds through our project. 

What was your team dynamic like during the Hackathon process?

Our team definitely had a strong sense of understanding and compassion for one and another. We were all open to absorbing new ideas and constructive feedback from our peers to continuously improve our project proposals. Despite the time constraints during the Hackathon, we were able to balance the thought and effort that went into each part of the proposal effectively. I, personally, enjoyed being part of my team because, during the process of planning, we were able to engage with each other. 

Team Alpha 1

Making up Team Alpha 1 was Abdullah Arif, Aakash Prabhu, A.Gracelyn Ruth, and Aarya Dhumal. Together, they came up with the project Inala’s Garden. Working with the organizations, they are focused on getting children to start gardening together. Their project focused on having young people plant flowers, herbs, and vegetables. The yield will provide organic food, and the flowers and herbs can be photographed and used for a social media campaign for Inala.

The team also focused on the fact that studies show children gardening together helps release stress and aids in detachment from negative mental states. Gardening together will help the children bond with each other and the environment. Here they tell us how their project came together: 

How did you collaborate during the Hackathon process?

We clicked the second we started talking with one another. We were assigned roles and got to work. First, we thought of the problem we wanted to fix. We felt that we should target the children’s souls, so we chose to improve their relationship with the environment. We think the children should be able to live in harmony with the environment. Once we figured out the problem, we started brainstorming. Everyone put their ideas forth, and we discussed them until we found an idea that was just perfect. We elaborated on the concept and formed a formal proposal for our solution. 

What are you most proud of about the project you came up with?

Our project can help Inala in many ways, whether it be with funds or its impact on the children. Our project is simple yet highly realistic, and we believe that if anyone has a passion for changing lives, they can think of solutions. We want our project to show others that you do not need money or social presence to be heard. All it takes is passion and the will to help others. We want our project to light a fire in people’s hearts.

Americas Virtual CAS Conference Hackathon for Dianova International 

For our Americas Hackathon, students worked with Dianova International. It is a Swiss-based NGO representing 22 member projects in 19 different countries. The umbrella organization provides organizational, structural, advocacy, and financial support to member projects and their staff to ensure the highest social impact possible. The main areas the students were asked to choose from in creating their project were youth addiction, prevention, family, and awareness-raising.

From eliminating the stigma around mental health struggles and changing school policy regarding youth addiction to raising awareness through family enrolment and social media, the students were asked to consider the issues in question from many angles and come up with a comprehensive plan of action. 

Team Alpha 14

The winning team was made up of Rachel Ruiz, Ryan Kanter, Stella Cook, and Shaharyar Siddiqui, and their project is the Socially (Dis) Connected Podcast. The charity said, “We are so impressed with the level of creativity and love the original idea, conciseness, and applicability of the proposal.” Over a series of audio releases, they plan to spread information about the adverse effects that social media has on youth and to inform parents and guardians about how they can help. They intend to feature parents and a variety of specialists to offer their perspectives. Here is how the team worked together to build their project: 

Congratulations on bringing your project to life! What are you most excited about?

Social media addiction can often go overlooked in today’s society since everyone seems to be using it all of the time. Most people, especially parents, do not know about the negative mental and physical effects social media can have on young people. We are very excited to be able to share this critical information to help tackle this issue.

How do you feel your project can impact Dianova and engage your communities?

Communities often ignore blatant addiction because many people in the community are addicted themselves. However, after listening to our podcast, we feel parents will be inspired to seek the resources necessary for helping their children with their addiction.

How does it feel to be able to donate 1000 USD to Dianova in line with your project? 

We feel delighted to be able to donate to Dianova. Their goals are extremely important and have such a significant impact, so to be able to help fund their journey means a lot.  In collaboration with Dianova, we hope that our project will impact as many people as possible and change their lives for the better.

As always, we would like to extend our sincere thanks and congratulations to all the participants and collaborators of our Virtual CAS Conferences. Their contributions never fail to inspire us, and we look forward to watching students’ ideas put into action as they help these grassroots organizations increase their impact! 

Image Credit: Sandi Clarke via Unsplash

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