Web Sites To Make A Better World

As a journalist, I usually keep some distance between myself and the subjects I write about. This column is an exception. I'm writing about the Cable & Wireless Childnet Academy, which sponsors a contest to recognize the work of young people around the world who are using the Internet to help make the world a better and smaller place. For the past five years I've served, without compensation, on the international panel of judges for the contest and will be a judge in this year's competition.

I'm writing about this because it's an exciting and inspiring project, but also to encourage young people to apply. The application deadline is Jan. 10, 2004, and applications can be submitted online at www.childnetacademy.org or by sending an e-mail to Tanya@childnet-int.org .

The contest is open to participants from throughout the world. Past winners have come from just about every continent and numerous countries. Last year there were 600 entries from more than 70 countries.

Although this is the first year the awards will revolve around a formal training academy, in previous years winners traveled to the awards ceremony held in London, Paris, Barbados or Sydney to exchange ideas and share their projects with fellow winners. Hanging out with these kids has been inspirational.

What I love about these awards is that they celebrate the true human potential of the Internet. Over the years, we've seen "dot coms" come and go, fortunes made and lost and lots of hype and undelivered promises. But the Childnet program focuses on something far more important than the stock value of an Internet company. It celebrates how young people are using the Internet to communicate, educate and reach out.

Several of past winners have run sites with a social agenda - like the Child Soldiers Project (www.childsoldiers.org) from Sierra Leone which gives a voice to "child soldiers" and other children caught up in the ravages of war.

But then there are winners like Heather Lawver, a 17-year-old from Virginia, who developed the Daily Prophet (www.dprophet.com) - a type of Harry Potter fan site with a twist. The site operates as an online newspaper "from the perspective of the wizarding world in the Harry Potter books." More than 100 children and a few adults are "employed" by the paper as columnists where they learn writing skills and the joy of communicating with others around the world.

Some projects cross borders. One of my high points as a judge in 1998 was watching as winners from a school in Indiana and another in the Netherlands met for the first time in London after collaborating on a joint project (www.tenan.vuurwerk.nl) regarding endangered animals from throughout the world.

A memorable project from 2001 was PupilLine (www.pupiline.net), a web site started by two British teenagers fed up with being bullied. The site continues to offer advice and survival tips for both boys and girls around the world who are victims of bullies.

Another exceptional winner, Matmice (www.matmice.com) was created by three teenage sisters from Australia. The highly interactive web site gives kids around the world an opportunity to develop their own web home page. The site, created with no adult help, is exceptionally good.

The Academy web site has links to these and other outstanding projects. Another organization, iEARN, (www.iearn.org) links to even more international web sites created by and for kids. If you're looking for web sites for (but not necessarily run by) kids, check out www.netmom.com.

The Academy competition, which used to be called the Cable & Wireless Childnet Awards, is open to individuals, schools and nonprofit organizations, but project entries must be run primarily by people who are 18 or younger. There is also a category called "new to the net" designed to encourage and provide resources to young people who have ideas for great projects they haven't had the opportunity to develop. Previous winners in this category have come from Sierra Leone and Egypt.

This year there will be approximately 12 winners who will share $51,000 in cash awards plus a trip to London in April to participate in the week-long Academy training program and celebration with mentors and fellow winners.

If you know of a web site operated primarily by children, please encourage them to apply. Stay tuned - next year I'll write a follow-up column about the winners of the 2004 Childnet Academy.

By Larry Magid

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