The Hands-on Project 2015: Learning ‘Sustainable Living’ the digital way

Carolina Baiza and Francisco Soriano from El Salvador and Rosa Melendez from the United States of America won this year’s Hands-on Project on ‘Sustainable Living’ with their team ‘Eco Kinder’. The team’s concept, user analysis and digital product-development in particular were remarkable and therefore rewarded with the first prize in this year’s competition. We talked to Carolina, Francisco and Rosa about their experience with the Hands-on Project.

During the five-week Hands-on Project ‘Sustainable Living’ 21 teams developed concepts for apps and other digital solutions that should facilitate or raise awareness for a sustainable living and the protection of the environment and its resources. In the end team ‘Eco Kinder’ with their concept for the educational game ‘Eco Amigos’, that will support children at risk in understanding the importance of sustainable living, made the race and won the first prize. More information about the educational game ‘Eco Amigos’ can be found in the ‘Eco Kinder’ blog post in the Community.

‘Eco Kinder’ blog post

The winning team ‘Eco Kinder’

A dream comes true

The team’s first reactions were very emotional when they heard that they had won. Rosa Melendez says that when Carolina Baiza texted her with the news, she was at a school activity with her youngest son. ‘I could not believe it at first, then I was almost jumping with my little boy, telling him we had won. Then I cried. The other parents in my son's class gave me some very funny looks.’

Francisco Soriano emphasizes how happy they were, thinking about the impact that the implementation of their project will have on people’s lives. ‘The faces of the kids in the video came to my mind, images of the process started popping into my mind just like a collage ... I felt like a world champion.’ ‘Our dream came true and we are very happy for the chance to help at-risk children in El Salvador’, Carolina adds.

In ‘real life’, the Eco Kinder have busy and successful every-day-lives and still found the time to get involved in the Hands-on Project and successfully invest their energy and resources in creating an idea for ‘sustainable living’ and helping others.

Carolina Baiza did the marketing research for ‘Eco Kinder’ and was in charge of creating the Pitch. She researched articles, statistics and other data regarding the issues of gangs and the environmental crisis in El Salvador. Carolina was in charge of the pictures, video and other presentation elements used to promote the game. Additionally she determined the areas of sustainability that needed to be focused on for the game´s challenges.

Busy and successful in ‘real life’

Rosa explains: ‘I am a psychologist and have a Master’s degree in Human Resources from a Salvadoran university and a Master’s degree in Beruf- und Erwachsenenpädagogik (vocational and adult education) from TU Dresden in Germany. I have worked as a child therapist and also developed training material, seminar presentations and course curricula for a training company.’ Right now, Rosa stays at home and takes care of her children. Due to her husband’s work, she has been living in different countries and currently resides in the US.

‘I am the Sustainability Manager at Arbol de Fuego Eco-Hotel in El Salvador, in charge of implementing and maintaining green initiatives. I also speak about sustainability in schools and universities in El Salvador’, Carolina explains. ‘I studied Planning and Organization of Trade Fairs in Germany and organize El Salvador’s participation in international expositions. My last one was Expo Yeosu in Korea, 2012’.

Francisco is married, has a son and is a true sports enthusiast. He runs marathons, loves to exercise and is a very sociable person. Professionally, he works as a system engineer for GBM, an IBM Alliance company, and manages a data center. Like Carolina, he lives in El Salvador.

Rosa and Carolina have known each other since 4th grade. ‘We had to do a year-long course to learn German, so we could be admitted in the German School in San Salvador. We have been friends since then. I know Francisco since the beginning of the Hands-on Project, when Carolina introduced us to each other to form the team Eco Kinder. We have never met in person, but after the past weeks, communicating almost every day through Skype, WhatsApp and email, I now consider him a good friend’, Rosa says.

Carolina adds that she and Francisco belong to the alumni network in El Salvador. ‘We met several years ago while working on various network activities, and have become work associates and friends. We often spoke of collaborating on something positive for our country. We have both learned much about promoting a culture of peace in a country full of violence.’

Francisco Soriano is a computer engineer and was in charge of making the prototype. He also coordinated with the school to meet the at-risk children and get their feedback to create the Persona and Product Canvas. He was in charge of the game's technical aspects and its presentation.

A big challenge: work as a team while living in different countries

With an advanced group assignment like the Hands-on Project, one of the big challenges is to organize the work and to communicate about who does what. Rosa explains that she was responsible for the educational/psychological side of the project and also the design. ‘Francisco was in charge of the technical area of the project and he was the contact for the school and the kids who are now the target group of our project. Carolina was in charge of the marketing and promotional aspects of the project, she was also its sustainability advisor. We all did a lot of research in our different areas of work/interest.’

When asked what the biggest challenge within the Hands-on Project was, Rosa, Carolina and Francisco emphasize different aspects within the competition. Francisco names the marketing of the project as a rather difficult task. ‘For me, it was not being able to sit together with the rest of the team and have a conversation face to face. Also, because we used different communication tools, some ideas got lost in the chats and sometimes we had to express the same idea again and again, just to be sure everybody got it’, says Rosa. Carolina agrees with her friend and adds that ‘at the beginning, we thought it would be nearly impossible to work as a team while living in different countries. It was complicated at the start to organize and select the most effective online tools to best do the job. Managing time schedules was a challenge, especially keeping up to date with webinars from different time zones. In the end, it all worked out well and we realized the importance of our online tools.’

By working together, each team member learned a lot from one another. Francisco points out that within the team, managing time and dividing work according to skills is crucial. ‘It's important to give everyone an equal voice. Different members have skills and knowledge in different areas, and you have to be patient and learn from them. Respect was the key to working together in harmony’, illustrates Carolina.

Rosa Mendelez is a psychologist, educator and artist. She was in charge of the graphic design and created the questionnaire the children used to help craft the Persona and the Product Canvas. She is a mother of two who knows about video games, and was in charge of researching other educational games.

Creating a new product in 5 weeks

All three team members really enjoyed the webinars, they say, as learning the methodology to create a new product in 5 weeks was fascinating.  Further, visiting the school in El Salvador was a highlight of the project. Even though Rosa could not join the others for the visit because she lives in the US, she describes how great it was, both for Carolina and Francisco and her, participating virtually. ‘My WhatsApp was bombarded with pictures of the kids during the visit and work with them. Visiting the school was essential for learning about the children’s needs’, says Carolina. ‘Using the practical and effective methodology that was provided to us, we were able to create a product for these children, who need tools to help change their futures. The support we received from partners during the project was also wonderful. To aid at-risk children, we were offered assistance from people from a variety of fields, including artists, writers, journalists, teachers and entrepreneurs.’ The input created by the other teams was very helpful, too, Rosa, Francisco and Carolina agree.

When asked about their plans for the future of the app/website, Carolina affirms that the three plan to promote the project vigorously. ‘With strong support from our local network, we intend to reach more schools and more children to make a positive change for El Salvador’s children and its environment.’ ‘We hope to make our game available for many children in our country, so they can learn about the importance of a sustainable lifestyle from an early age. We hope to do so with the support of schools and different organizations that enable the creation of a network for kids to share their ideas, experiences, pictures or game scores, so they all can learn from each other’, concludes Rosa.

Focus topic ‘Sustainable living’

If we want today’s and tomorrow’s generations to have the same chances for a fulfilled life, we have to act sustainably on all levels. That is why our focus topic ‘Sustainable living’ addresses the question of how every one of us can contribute to a lifestyle that protects our environment and resources.

December 2015

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meca castro de mena
18 January 2017

Thanks, Rosa, is an excelent information, see soon....

Michael Bornitz
10 January 2017

This blog post needs a lot more attention! Sensibilisation is a big issue in Latin America.

Michael Bornitz
30 January 2016

I think that this article deserves a translation to spanish, if the goal is to reach the youth in Latin America.

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