Young volunteers: teenagers inspiring their communities with technology!

The CoderDojo movement is founded on providing opportunities for young people. This month we’re highlighting the incredible contributions made by young people who are involved in CoderDojo through youth volunteering — either as mentors at their local Dojo, or as youth champions. Any young person can get involved and inspire others to create cool projects with code. Peer mentoring, participation, and leading by example are all core aspects of our ethos, and all of them can be fostered by youth volunteering at Dojos.

Beginning the CoderDojo journey

While researching the work of youth volunteers for this blog piece, I spoke with three awesome teenagers who have become involved in Dojos in different ways.

Richard, 17, is the champion of a Dojo in Kildare, Ireland. He began his CoderDojo journey as a Ninja when he was 10 and drawn to the creative, informal environment of the Dojo and the problem-solving opportunities it presented:CoderDojo provided a space where I was around others who shared similar interests and could collectively solve each other’s problems.

The previous champion of this Dojo moved on earlier this year, and fearing that the future of the Dojo was in jeopardy, Richard stepped up to become champion. “They began talking of closing the Dojo down. Since it had meant so much to me over all the years, I decided to take it over myself.”

Alexia, 17, from Campulung in Romania also shared her story with me. She was inspired to set up the first Dojo in her town after meeting some CoderDojo mentors at the National Olympiad in Information and Technology. Alexia researched what it would take to set up her own Dojo and reached out to some local champions in the region for advice. Speaking of her experience, she told me: “[Getting in touch with the other champions] gave me that confidence boost I needed. The most empowering thing was that everyone believed in me. And that was a real help.”

Brendan, 16, is a youth mentor at a Dojo in Navan, Ireland, that he had previously attended as a Ninja. Brendan’s mom is also a mentor at the Dojo, which is how he began to get involved as a mentor himself: “I started to help out with Scratch for something to do while I was waiting for my class, and I’ve continued from there.”

Challenging yet rewarding

Being taken seriously as a mentor because of their age was a challenge that some of our youth volunteers encountered. Brendan told me: “When I first started mentoring, I found that people wouldn’t think I knew enough to be able to help them and wouldn’t take me seriously. I dealt with this by convincing them to follow my advice and letting them see that I did, in fact, know what I was talking about.” Alexia was concerned about whether she would face similar challenges at her Dojo: “My biggest fear was that I would not be listened to as I was going to work with children. But I was proved wrong, because the children learn easier from one peer to another.”

Richard made an observation that echoes Alexia’s experience, saying: I think since I’m quite close in age to a lot of the Ninjas, the relationship is somewhat different, in that they’re more comfortable speaking about what they’re up to or what they want to do.” Not only does peer mentoring benefit the Ninjas at the Dojo, it helps the youth mentors to gain new skills too, as Brendan highlighted: “I used to really struggle with my confidence in general, which was a challenge, especially when I had to tell people what to do. However, I have worked on this and am much better at it now.

The Dojo in Campulung

Peer mentoring is highly encouraged at Dojos, and is beneficial to all involved. Ninjas can often feel more comfortable approaching a peer for help; acting as a peer mentor can also boost a young person’s understanding of a subject, as well as their confidence, communication skills and strengthen social bonds. If you are a young person at a Dojo, why not share your knowledge by mentoring a younger Ninja!

Youth volunteering: opening the door to new opportunities

The three youth volunteers I talked to spoke of how volunteering with CoderDojo has created new experiences for them. Richard combined his interests in coding and the natural environment by creating a science project about bat conservation, using a Raspberry Pi: “It was only through CoderDojo that I had gained the knowledge to be able to do something like this. This project won an award at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, and later an award at the IFST Young Scientist competition.

Brendan had the opportunity to showcase a website-based project at one of the earliest Coolest Projects events, which was hosted at DCU, Dublin, in 2014. He later took part in Coolest Projects 2015 and went on to enter the 2016 Eir Junior Spiders, where he was selected as a finalist.

Alexia told me about how CoderDojo has given her the opportunity to engage with new and inspiring people, and how it has given her the ‘chance to grow and gain experience both as a mentor and a leader.’ She highlighted the collaborative and altruistic nature of the movement, where everyone involved has the opportunity to learn and share: “I reached the point that I asked myself: if I know the way, why don’t I light it up for others as well?

Getting involved

When asked what advice they would give to other young people who are thinking of becoming involved in CoderDojo, all of our youth volunteers said to ‘just do it’ and ‘seize the opportunity!’

Alexia had a powerful message for girls who would like to get involved:If you are a girl in tech, trust your own powers — there is a place for us in this industry, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Even though computer science paints the image of guys, let this motivate and inspire you, because girls can code too.” We couldn’t agree more, Alexia!

Richard made the important point that youth volunteers should remember to enjoy themselves! Dojos are relaxed, sociable spaces where creativity and making new friends is encouraged; this is no different for a youth champion or mentor. He said: “Have fun! In the end, the whole ethos of CoderDojo (at least from my point of view) is to make a space where kids can get together to have fun and connect over a shared interest. It’s important that whatever you do is trying to achieve this, and in that process you should have fun also!

How to volunteer

If you are looking for a Dojo to attend, either as a Ninja or a youth volunteer, you can find the one nearest to you by typing in the name of your town or city here. The organisers of your local Dojo will be able to help you.

If you are a young person who would like to start your own Dojo, please reach out to us at [email protected] to tell us more. We are always happy to hear from young people who are interested in getting involved!

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