I have met Danica in Nairobi at Global Voices Summit. She is working on Serbian part of Lingua project and took part in our open session on Kids in Tech. She is also a mum of a talented and inspiring geek, who decided to change the world with the use of tech. Today I have the opportunity to talk to her and her 12-year-old son, Vuk.
Sylwia: Danica, when did Vuk start getting involved in tech? Was he always drawn to the Internet? As his mum how do you remember his first experiences with the web and later blogging?
Danica: Vuk was, almost literally, born behind a computer. While I was pregnant with him, I became very active online and even started my first website back then. As I was young and looking for more income, I freelanced as a translator and researcher, thus mostly using the computer and a dial-up Internet connection for work. I was also a full-time parent, so as soon as he was old enough to sit up, he was in my lap, watching me work. By the time he was 2 and a half, he knew how to turn on the PC by himself and double-click on his favourite desktop game to start it.
I don’t really recall his first experiences in a step-by-step process. There was no step-by-step process. I suppose one thing led to another from there. At our home computers and the Internet are used for communicating with loved ones (most of my friends and family live abroad) and work. It’s a habit, so I suppose he just made the habit his own. Most of the time he spent on the Internet was useful and creative, so I just let him run with it while teaching him the basics of online safety and computer maintenance. In fact, by the time he was 10, he was explaining the concept of the online world. Here’s a Facebook note about one of those situations that I posted back in 2009.
I really value his opinion and that of his generation when it comes to Internet usage and practices. They are digital natives of course. We may know quite a bit, but most adults are immigrants in that world, still waiting for citizenship approval.
Sylwia: Vuk, how do you remember your fist experiences of the web, the Internet? What devices did you use to access the web for the first time?
Vuk: I can’t really remember the first time, but I know I used a computer. I know I was playing games and learning stuff on the web. I know I was very little like 4 or 5 or even younger.
Oh, and I also had these blog with my mom about Varmak. It’s a made up land, I am actually working with a friend on a book about it. (Syl: Now Vuk is blogging over at http://g33k.rs/).
Sylwia: Thank you! Let’s stop at games just for a second. Vuk, did your web skills improve when playing on-line games? Did you use games to dig in and find out more about the word and practice stuff you learned at school?
Vuk: Yes, actually. I played games where I learned about recycling and history, math, English…
Sylwia: Danica, what is your take on this? Did you or school consider using games for education or more for entertainment? If it happened organically – was it done for fun or learning, or both? Did you play together?
Danica: I happen to be a gaming believer. I believe games in general, offline, online, in real life and on computers or consoles, develop specific, much-needed skills for everyone. And they can often help to take your mind off of the troubles of reality, to provide space in the brain for those rare “Eureka” moments. Like with everything else in life, and Vuk’s upbringing, I just don’t like too much of anything. Gaming in moderation is a necessity though.
Our household gaming habits are sporadic and for both fun and learning, you can’t really separate the two. By “sporadic” I mean we choose the activities that are fun and practical at any given time. Sometimes, like when the weather is on the down, we choose Playstation or PC games. Other times, weather and time permitting, we go to the gym together, go swimming or just muck around outside. The world is our playground and there’s no better way to learn than through games.
Sylwia: Vuk, what do you think of age limits for games? Do they make sense in choosing games? I know it’s easy to access any type of a game in reality but when I talk to younger kids they tell me that playing on-line games with teenagers, for example, can make the younger ones feel a bit uneasy about bad language used by the older ones. Or some of the content can be upsetting – how do you and your friends choose games to play?
Vuk: Well, I have a different style, everybody likes shooting, I like only some like, The Star Wars the clone wars, but everybody else likes these that are for 15 and 18, and I like some things like Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. So, everybody else likes these with blood and bombs and shooting and resealing, and that actually makes them violent in school and out.
Sylwia: Vuk, when you start playing a new game do you check its age limit or not at all?
Vuk: I do, but a lot of them don’t.
Sylwia: Vuk, when did you start blogging and what prompted you to do so?
Vuk: I started blogging when I was 9 or 10, then I stopped and then started again with g33k.rs. When I started with Varmak it was just fun, but with g33k I wanted for people to here me, and that is happening.
Sylwia: Danica, do you remember Vuk’s first experiences with blogging? How did you both feel about those?
Danica: One day, used to the fact that I and some of my friends were avid bloggers I suppose, Vuk said he wanted to start his own blog and write about “Varmak”. Varmak is an imaginary world, in which he and his cousins have the lead roles that I came up with when he was about 3 and kept telling him bedtime stories about for years. The basis of the story is a magical kingdom in which he and his cousins guard the tradition and ways of the “old world”. It was my way of teaching him values and, as I gave him the role of “Vuk, Commander of the Knights of the Ancient Order”, a way of empowering him to take command of those values. He wanted to use a blog to share the story of Varmak and those values with others. After just a couple of blog posts, he started getting comments from parents who claimed they were raising Jedis and Ninjas and supported his values. It was fun and encouraging and we met some great kids and parents through that experience. I’ve done my best to teach him the basics of blogging, using WordPress and sticking to a niche and audience. Seems he has a good grasp of it now and is growing as a blogger.
Sylwia: Vuk, What is your best memory related to reactions to your blog? What was the best moment of your blogging so far?
Vuk: Well, it’s probably the first time on g33k, I had a lot of comments and ideas were flowing.
Sylwia: Vuk, do you connect with local readers or readers and other bloggers from all around the world? Who was the most amazing person you met through your blog?
Vuk: Yes, but mostly from my region and I wish I could from rest of the world. The most amazing person I met is Ulrike. She is a German activist and teacher and she works with kids in India. And I think what she does is really cool and I would like to learn from her.
Sylwia: I know Ulrike, I met her in Nairobi recently – she is indeed a great person! I hope you will meet her too! Did you ever consider posting more in English on your blog to reach out to global readers?
Vuk: Yes I did but my Mom said I couldn’t because I don’t have enough audience for it. But I would love it.
Sylwia: Danica, do you think it’s more effective to grow local audience first?
Danica: Yes, I do think it’s more effective to grow a local audience and identity first. Every blogger should devote his or her time to their home turf, learn and contribute as much as they can, and then hopefully grow further.
Sylwia: Vuk, tell me more about your recent Prezi presentation. What inspired you to write it?
Vuk: Well, I was invited to do some presentation. And I got the info that most of them are into media, so I thought to do something about what I’m doing now. So I did it with activism and the Internet and how to find a good cause and support it. My mom gave me few ideas, too.
Sylwia: How did you start getting interested in nonprofit and fundraising with the help of the Internet? What are your plans? Do you have a specific cause?
Vuk: Well first I wanted an offline NGO, so I could help kids and change the world. But then I met the Internet a little bit better, and I came to the conclusion that I could communicate and share with other people. My plans are that I am going to India and I am going to teach kids, and from there I’ll see how it goes. Not really. I have so many causes, but not specific, but if I had to choose one, it would be: Animals.
Sylwia: Vuk, from your presentation I understand that in your opinion the Internet is a great source of ideas for good causes and knowledge about them. Do you think the web is also useful in actual fundraising or campaigning for a cause?
Vuk: In some countries less and in some more. That’s because online petitions can be part of these, but in some countries, like mine, they are not accepted.
Sylwia: So in your country how can you make the most of the web for fundraising and activism?
Vuk: There aren’t many examples in my country because all of these are just starting. Probably by tweet-ups and Facebook groups and Facebook events.
Sylwia: Speaking of which – you are planning an event for today, right? Tell me more about it!
Vuk: Right. It is a tweet-up where the money will be raised for kids from foster families in Milosevac and for the foster home. Milosevac is a village in Serbia where there is an 80-years-old tradition, where every married couple has their own children and foster children. There not really adopted, and they belong to the Republic of Serbia and to the home. And they don’t do it for money, ’cause for every kid, they get 6-7 thousandth dinars per month, and that’s not a lot for a kid, that’s like 2 watches and a ring. And the Serbia doesn’t really give support, so my mom and I want to do this every month.
Sylwia: Vuk, I wish you good luck with today’s event! Danica, how did you both come up with this idea? How are you planning to raise money at the event?
Danica: Vuk and I have both attended tweetups quite often here and these kinds of gatherings are now pretty much a regular instalment in the online community’s social calendars. Most tweetups here are purely social, many are commercial and only a few have been humanitarian, so we’ve seen what Twitter and tweetups can accomplish. This past Saturday, Vuk and I were spending time together downtown, as usual, and while we were having a casual dinner in one of Belgrade’s most popular city parks, an elderly gentleman approached us, selling greeting cards to raise funds for foster families in Milosevac. As I’ve heard about Milosevac, also known and the Children’s Village here, we began talking more while Vuk picked out a few greeting cards for us to buy. Then Vuk turned to me and asked if we could do more. He said giving 500 Dinars (less than 5€) just didn’t seem like much. I agreed and asked what he wanted to do about it, although, to be honest, I knew his answer before he said it – a TweetUp at Mamma’s Biscuit House, our favourite coffee and cake shop, just some 500 meters away from where we were at the time. So we agreed with the elderly gentleman that he and a few representatives from their NGO would be there to collect funds, agreed on the date and time, exchanged numbers and went down to Mamma’s Biscuit House where Vuk talked to the manager about using their venue for the fundraiser and convinced him to donate 10% of the bill that evening to the charity in question *if* Vuk got enough people there. So he got home and got to work – first blogged about it, then distributed it on Twitter and Facebook, then sent private messages and emails to rally people that he knows from the online community to support his cause. He’s been very dedicated to it for the past 4 days and over that short time period and using jus the resources he already has available, it seems he’ll be getting at least 50 people there, including a couple of mainstream media journalists. More than enough people and hopefully plenty of funds raised for a cause he supports.
Sylwia: Vuk and Danica: I am really privileged to have the opportunity to know you and I wish you both amazing success tonight! Thank you for the interview and your time!