Travel Hero app. Photo credits: Luan Jenkins, SaigonHub, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Last month we introduced you to the UNICEF Mobile Hackathon in Vietnam – a 36-hour event held in collaboration with mLab East Asia in June. Now, we are excited to share participant experiences by a member of one of the 31 teams that joined the competition. Hope you enjoy the story.

Life has a strange way of coming around upon itself. As someone who was born and lived in Vietnam for 9 years and was later adopted into an American family, I never thought I would come back. It wasn’t like I had planned on coming back to Vietnam once I left. All my memories and any traces of language or culture had been discarded and replaced with an American childhood, memories, language and culture. So why did I come back? I’d like to think that it’s because I want to help people. I want to give the little boys and girls like me the same opportunities I had received. Thus, when I heard about mLab and UNICEF wanting to help children though a hackathon, I quickly wanted to be apart of it.

UNICEF had challenged the mobile community to develop an online community that could raise awareness of social issues involving children through a mobile application. This community would rally together to protect and raise money that would support and benefit children. I loved this challenge because one, I love technology and believe it can be a catalyst for change, and two, I really wanted to help children on a larger scale.

Team Ocean Four. Photo credits: Luan Jenkins, SaigonHub, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

We initially thought we were supposed to develop an app like Facebook, a social media that allows people to exchange ideas. We knew this couldn’t be the only part to the app because, well, there’s already a Facebook. Why make another one? By the end of our brain storming session we had burned through numerous ideas and had settled on the idea of gamifying the travel experience with the purpose of the user being a hero. What this means is that the user would be able to download the app and start their adventure in helping to save the world. Not only would the user participate in a worldwide live game, but would also save money on traveling expenses by participating and gaining points. The more heroic points you earn, the more you save, both lives and money. These heroic acts come in forms we call “Quests”. These quests are generated by NGOs and non-profits therefore meeting the specific financial or volunteer needs of each NGO. These quests have many parts and the hero must travel around completing these quests on his journey. The hero would be able to find traveling information such as hotels, restaurants, and events, and he would also be able to get directions from one place to another. The hero would also be able to compete with his friends and gain extra points by answering challenging questions about ways to help the less fortunate. Perhaps one of the most important features of the app is that the hero can create a cause and ask his friends and family to rally behind him for a cause that he truly cares about. The results of these causes can be monetary or informative. For example if a hero sees that a certain non-profit school needs funding to help build a classroom, he can post a cause to raise money for the school and pitch the need through the app. Another cause could be to ask people to volunteer to help vaccinate 1000 children in Vung Tao Vietnam. These causes are user generated and allows the community to post on the things they truly care about.

Travel Hero app. Photo credits: Luan Jenkins, SaigonHub, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

We knew our idea was good. Save lives; save money; be a hero. Simple. Our app is in its final development stages before we present our beta version. There are still a lot of features and goodies we want to add, but we will save those for the later versions. While we loved working on our app, we believe that if we nurture and build it step by step, it can be one of the most impacting software to help the non-profit and NGO communities. We believe that the best ways to help children are to empower those who are already helping children. Our app aims to bring volunteers and funding to NGO and non-profits. We want to educate people about the best ways to help the less fortunate.

I think in the end, we all want to help the less fortunate and impact the world in some small way. We think if Travel Hero app changes one child’s life for the better, maybe he will remember his origin and come back to impact the people that he is around for the better, too. We want to change the world, one child at a time.

Name: Luan Jenkins
Team: Ocean Four
Date: Sunday October 20, 2013

UNICEF Vietnam will arrange the final Demo Day on 2nd of November to select the winners of the Development Phase.