/ Abhishek Paudel

ChildApp Appathon - A Lifetime Experience

I checked my mail and came to know that our team “The Rising Coders” was selected for ChildApp Appathon being held on Dhulikhel Lodge and Resort. It was the first time participating in an appathon for all four of our team. So, everyone of us was very much excited about it.

Let me tell in short about what ChildApp Appathon is. Actually, ChildApp Appathon is a competition to build innovative solutions addressing problems related to children in Nepal. It was jointly organized by Microsoft Innovation Center Nepal, UNICEF and Child Reach Nepal for the first time.

It was a three day event from June 27 to 29. On the first day i.e. 27th June, Friday, we travelled by bus from Kathmandu and arrived Dhulikhel in the morning. From among 560 applicants, 102 applicants forming 29 teams were selected to be a part of this grand event. We were welcomed to the event with tika on forehead which was of course a wonderful beginning.

Allen sir started the event with his welcome note. Then, there was MOU signing between MIC Nepal and UNICEF. The hall was completely filled with energy when Ms. Hanna Singer gave her speech. I was so amazed to see how she talked with so much energy and passed that energy to each and every person in the hall. Then, there was Dr. Tshering Lama who talked about ‘going alone to go fast and going together to go far’.

Then we had what Allen sir liked to call ‘speed dating’. Actually, speed dating was a two minute introduction with each of the teams to share our solution/idea. The buzzer rang every two minutes and we had to run to another team to share our ideas. It was a great time to know about what other teams were going to build in three days.

Well, let me tell few things about what solution we were building in the appathon. Our solution was an SMS based child/maternal health care and birth registration system. The idea about this solution came to our mind on the last day (last hour, in fact) when we were filling up the team registration form for the appathon and we wrote our idea in the form and mailed it. It was just a random idea that came in our mind and so we were very hopeful (yes, hopeful!) that our solution was not going to be selected for the appathon. And when we got selected, there we were, at the appathon!

As I told you, none of us had any hope that we would get selected in such a big event! After all we were all just first year bhura haru. So, we had not done any preparations (not even any mental preparations) about the project. At such point, when we sat down to start our project at the appathon, we were all completely hopeless. We had no idea where to start from. The solution we submitted was just some kind of random fictitious idea and now we had a task to make that idea work in real. “How is that supposed to happen? We don’t know any domain knowledge about what we are trying to do.”, I argued at myself and my team members. Everyone of us was going through the same mental disappointment that at some point, someone was going come to see what we had been doing all the time and when they find out that we had been doing absolutely nothing at all, they were going to chase us from the event with sticks.

Later in the evening, Allen sir gave a speech about how to give an elevator pitch where he, as always, inspired, motivated and taught us a lot of things. In his speech, he reminded us that we only had three minutes to show all our efforts we had put on our solution in three days. Moreover, we got to learn about how to present our solution within three minutes and make an impression on the jury within that time. Each and every sentence of Allen sir’s speech was very interesting and full of knowledge showing us path to success.

But our condition had not changed at all. We were all hopeless and disappointed on our table and there came one guy informing us that there was a session on ASP.NET going to be started and interested people could join. Right at that moment, I still remember I was so happy that I could not even talk for about few seconds. Then all four of us shared few moments of intense happiness and excitement silently on the table and moved on towards the presentation hall.

There were eight participants taking the class on ASP.NET. And the one who was doing this session on ASP.NET was Rajendra Man Banepali. I had never seen such a person of his age so passionate to share knowledge that he didn’t care about what time it was on the night. All he cared about was how he could give more knowledge to us. I am always going to feel lucky to have personally known him and learnt from him.

On the session, we got some idea about SQL database. So, we were quite hopeful that we were at least going to have something to show finally. After the session, we came to our room. It was already midnight and we were all quite tired. So, I took a nap for about an hour and started to work out with database all night. But nothing was worth of it because the most important part of our solution was SMS and we had not done anything at all about it.

The next morning, my friends woke up to ask me what I did all night. I had nothing worth showing them. So, technically, we were still at zero. At this point, we were in balcony thinking about what to do next. Then, we saw a guy on the balcony next to ours. He was from UNICEF and his name was Raju Maharjan. Like Rajendra sir, he also turned out to be very helpful and gave a lot of suggestions  and references about our project and technical aspects about SMS. So, I count him on the list of persons without whom our project would not have been possible.

After spending the morning with Raju sir, we went for the breakfast and then started to work on SMS as Raju sir suggested. But unfortunately, we could not technically get into those things and we had to look out for new ways. It was second day and Allen sir gave speech on human networking. He talked about building relations with people. I count it as one of the most important things I learnt there.

Then, Allen sir informed us that each team was getting a mentor. For this, we again had speed dating with all the mentors where each mentor arrived at our table and we explained about our solution to them one by one. While doing all this, we were surprised to receive compliments and appreciations about our solution. That moment turned out to be the most transforming moment for us because at that moment, we came to know that our solution was one of the best solutions being developed in the event. Then, the whole scenario completely changed for us. Until then, we were all working on our solution hopelessly. But suddenly, we started to feel that a big responsibility had come upon us and that people there were expecting a lot from our solution.We were then very excited about our project.

After speed dating session with mentors, they chose by themselves which team they wanted to mentor. And there happens another transforming moment for us. We got our mentor, Mr. Tomoo Okubo. He was from Japan working in UNICEF. He became a friend to us rather than a mentor. He shared with us that he chose to mentor our team because he thought we were the best team there. This gave us more encouragement and we felt very lucky to have him with us. Then we shared him in detail about our project and told him that we still had a lot to do. This, of course, made him quite unhappy. But he did everything he could do for us. He got us to meet with other mentors who could help us with the technical aspects of our project. He always encouraged us that we had the best solution and that we could do it. So, I admit that Tomoo was the most important person who accompanied us in the event.

Then, we continued to work on our solution. And finally, at around 4 PM, we shared our happiest moment till then, with Tomoo after we made the SMS prototype work. This was the time when we started to hope for taking home at least the third prize. Now, we had something to show at the pitch fest the next day. And all of us were were in a very relaxed mood. Right now, I have no words to explain how happy we were at that moment. Initially, we thought we would not get selected for this event and then suddenly, we were expecting for a prize to take home. What could be more happier expectation than that?

Everything after that completely changed for me. The way I perceived things after that moment was completely different. I seemed like the environment suddenly transformed. Everything seemed so simple and happy. I was literally getting extra-ordinary feelings sitting on the chair, watching the nature from the hill top and thinking about the awesome experiences in two days.

Later in the night, there was an arrangement of dance party. The dance party started with live tweets on the wall and flying lanterns. Then, there were live songs of Kishor Kumar. The actual dance party started after that. I had no much experiences of dance parties, but I must say it was the most awesome dance party I have ever had. We danced for like an hour restlessly and finally no one was able to dance any further. Still everyone was shouting “Once more!” Dance party was one of the best moments there.

After dance party, we again started working on our project. We already had quite much work done on our project. Since I was going to pitch our solution to the jury next day, I had already started working on giving presentation. As Allen sir told, presentation was the most important part of the appathon. All the work we did on three days was determined by the three minute presentation in front of the jury. So, I had to work hard on giving the best pitch the next day. That night, I slept with relaxed mind after preparing few slides on powerpoint.

The next morning seemed very charming to me. I was very excited about the pitch. After breakfast, Tomoo helped me a lot on how to give the best presentation. Since our presentation was on 26th number, we were already quite bored waiting for our turn. Till then, I kept practicing. And when our turn came, we went inside the presentation hall. The hall was filled by the jury and the mentors. I could see everyone expecting a good solution from us. And then, I started my presentation. While giving presentation, I was very surprised at myself. I was speaking there like it was just simple and nothing else. I didn’t even know that I could give such a good pitch. The jury and the mentors were very impressed with our solution that they could not stop themselves clapping on every sentence I speak. I have no words to explain that feeling to get appreciated for what we had done. Everyone including myself was quite amazed to see me tackle with the questions from the jury. I still feel that there was something supernatural happening inside me from the time I entered the presentation hall till I came out of there. Our agniparikshya finished with great responses from the jury. It was a very relaxing moment to me. As soon as I came out of the hall, there was Tomoo who hugged me and congratulated me for doing a great presentation inside. Now, all that was left was the result and we were not worried about it, because we already had experienced and learned so many things in our stay that winning or losing didn’t bother us at all. Moreover, we had no hope of winning when we arrived there, we were already very happy that we got selected. This was one of the great lessons we had been learning from childhood but it was there, I applied practically for the first time from my heart.

After this, we were feeling very light. We roamed around the resort and enjoyed the natural beauty. While roaming around we met with some reporters and jury members. It was a very overwhelming moment for us when they expressed their personal feelings of appreciations for what we had done. This gave us more encouragement and feeling that we could do something.

I don’t want to emphasize more on the result part. Yeah, we won the third prize and it was one of our lifetime achievements. But more important thing was the lifetime experiences we had there. Overall, I believe that the journey to this achievement was more important than the destination.

Third Prize Winner

Finally, this is the last paragraph I am writing. I know I have missed a lot of important things but if I go on writing about those three days, things I learnt and experienced, all those people I met, the relations and networks I built and so on, it’s never going to finish. One last sentence that I don’t want to miss out is:

The three days at ChildApp Appathon was one of the best moments in my life.