All students of St Vincent’s Secondary School in Cork, the girls had never coded before creating the Bongo Buddies wellness app and entering the competition.
Four students from Ireland have bagged an award for social impact at the global Technovation competition for girls, after they developed a wellness app aimed at teens struggling with mental health.
Layla O’Driscoll, Leona Islam, Roisin Buckley and Alicja Skulimowska of St Vincent’s Secondary School in Cork were chosen to represent Ireland at the annual event and travelled to California to attend the final awards ceremony last evening (5 October).
There, the students won the Social Impact Award in the junior category aimed at ages 13-15 for developing the Bongo Buddies wellness app.
Users of the app can track their feelings and ask the Bongo chatbot questions. The app then provides certified mental health advice from a school counsellor and aims to give positive guidance and ways to cope in challenging situations.
“We have a diary entry that you can write to Bongo and tell him what you are feeling. We also have breathing animations if a teenager is stressed,” Buckley, who created and manages social media for the app, told SiliconRepublic.com.
“We have positive quotes that we share on social media every day. We have a focus timer so teenagers can focus on an event, and they will get Bongo coins and they can buy outfits for Bongo.
“We also have an AI chatbot that you can talk to and if the information is too concerning, he will link the user to Childline.”
‘We thought it would be fun to try’
But what stands out about this team of young innovators is that prior to developing Bongo Buddies, the 14-year-olds had never coded before.
“We had never done coding before, but we thought it would be fun to try. We’re very good friends so we thought it’d be a great way to hang out as well,” said Islam, who created a majority of the artwork on the app.
“After seeing all the cool apps made last year and meeting a finalist from last year, we got really inspired.”
Technovation Girls is a global programme that seeks to equip young women with the skills to become tech entrepreneurs and leaders. The Bongo Buddies app was chosen to represent Ireland in the finals despite stiff competition from over 2,100 teams across 84 countries.
So how does a team of young 14-year-olds who have never coded before end up creating an award-winning app built using an iPad? The answer lies in a little bit of help from mentors and, of course, the internet.
“It was very difficult the whole way through,” said O’Driscoll, who came up with the name of the app. “But after some help from tutorials on YouTube and our mentors Sinead Connolly and Miriam Walsh from Apple, we were able to successfully code our app and bring it to the Technovation finals.”
The other two awards in the junior category, the Technology Award and the Grand Prize, went to teams from India and Brazil respectively.
While the team from St Vincent’s saw great success at Technovation this year, one of the members admits they only joined the competition “as a bit of fun together”.
“Representing Europe is a huge deal seeing as we are only in our third year of school and have made it this far in life,” Skulimowska told SiliconRepublic.com before heading to San Francisco earlier this week.
“We are so proud of each other and have gained a massive amount of support. This competition has opened so many opportunities for us that we are incredibly grateful for.”
Registration for the next round of Technovation Girls opens on 11 October.
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