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SA pupils scoop top award in Silicon Valley hackathon

Read time 3min 10sec
Ten local high school students walked away with iPads and a trophy after winning the #Hackathon4Justice challenge.
Ten local high school students walked away with iPads and a trophy after winning the #Hackathon4Justice challenge.

Ten local high school pupils won first prize at the Silicon Valley #Hackathon4Justice competition, organised by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in partnership with Symantec and Africa Teen Geeks.

The South African winning team, named 'Wakanda Vibes', consists of 10 high school pupils aged between 13 and 17, who participated in the Africa Teen Geeks Saturday ICT classes at UNISA labs nationally. They come from disadvantaged Gauteng communities, including Cosmo City, Soweto and Orange Farm.

In addition to winning the overall first place prize, the local team scooped the people's choice award voted for by Symantec employees and other teams.

The hackathon focused on criminal justice and crime prevention solutions, asking students to develop educational games that teach values around criminal justice to their peers.

The UNODC is a global initiative that fights against illicit drugs, international crime and terrorism.

Africa Teen Geeks is a local non-profit organisation that provides computer science training in schools and underserved communities.

The two parties collaborated with global cyber security firm Symantec, to co-host the #Hackathon4Justice hackathon which took place last week at Symantec's Mountain View campus in San Francisco, California.

"We are ecstatic to have won the overall winning prize," says Lindiwe Matlali, founder of Africa Teen Geeks.

"The kids created a game to educate their peers about human trafficking; how to help potential victims without putting their lives and the victim's life in danger. The exposure of being in Silicon Valley inspired the kids to strive for greater heights. Their aspirations have been raised and they see themselves as future digital leaders."

The team, accompanied by deputy minister of higher education and training, Buti Manamela, walked away with iPads and a trophy. The Indonesian team 'Beyond Zero' came in second and the Bolivia team 'Cultura Marraqueta' ranked in third place.

"I wish to thank the UNODC for spearheading the Education for Justice initiative and organising the global hackathons," says Manamela.

"I am extremely proud to lead the young South African delegation to this hackathon. Silicon Valley is far removed from their daily lives. Many come from impoverished communities and difficult backgrounds. Many come from households that do not have a computer. But they have the resolve to learn new skills and charter a different course for their future."

The hackathon was part of the Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration, which came out of the 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, held in Qatar in 2015.

Under the Doha Declaration, UNODC's Education for Justice initiative was developed to create and disseminate educational materials in UNODC-mandated areas of crime prevention and criminal justice across the primary, secondary and tertiary education levels.

Since its inception three years ago, Africa Teen Geeks says it has had an impact on over 40 000 South African children through its ICT skills development initiatives, which include Girl Geek, Computer Science Week and Knit2code.

"We will be doing more global hackathons in the future. Our goal is to expose millions of Africans to technology education and hopefully produce 1 000 tech teen entrepreneurs with successful businesses in the next five years. It's an ambitious goal but it's possible," concludes Matlali.

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