Computer gaming technology is enabling a group of girls in Vietnam, to help make their urban community a safer space.
The girls told Plan International Vietnam about a range of dangers in their community, Kim Chung, on the outskirts of Hanoi, including: “The unlit, dark tunnel is dangerous”, “The canal has no barriers, sewers do not have covers”, “When we walk past restaurants, the men and boys often shout mean and offensive things.”
So Plan International and UN-Habitat joined forces to bring together two successful programmes: The Safer Cities for Girls initiative and the Block by Block project, involving Mojang, the company behind the popular game Minecraft. Block by Block uses the game to engage poor communities in urban planning and encourage their participation in improving their own public spaces.
Visualising ideas with technology
We brought together a large group of adolescent girls between the ages of 13 and 16 to work with a model of the Kim Chung commune created in Minecraft. The girls used Minecraft to visualise their ideas and work together in teams to build a safer version of their own commune in the game.
“I’ve been able to contribute to building a community that is more beautiful, safer and friendlier for myself and for girls in general – and for the community as a whole,” said Anh, 15. “In the workshop we can use the model to make our dreams come true.”
The creative designs of the girls included simple, yet crucial, aspects of a safe environment, such as installing street lights, road signs, bins and fences in their community. They also included more substantial changes, including free emergency phones, shelters for women, girls and homeless people, a café for women and girls, alongside flowers, plants, benches, sports fields and tree houses to make the public space more enjoyable for all.
Girls participate in urban planning
This approach showed the importance of creating meaningful ways for young people – especially girls – to participate in processes and decisions that affect their daily lives, such as urban planning. ”I think participating in this project has been very interesting and important, because through this process we have been able to raise our voices, and our voices can also be heard,” said Thao, 16.
Girls can use digital skills to defend and realise their rights
The girls presented their Minecraft designs to influential people, including the Swedish ambassador to Vietnam, Pereric Högberg, Nguyễn Thị Tám, vice chair of Dong Anh District People’s Committee and others representing different branches of local government.
Ms Nguyễn publicly committed to implementing some of the suggestions the girls had made, including installing more street lights and building a fence around a deep canal that runs through the community.
And of course the experience also demonstrated how girls, having developed confidence using technology, can use those skills to defend and realise their rights. “It is very important for girls to gain skills to use modern technology, because these skills can help us in school and make it easier for us to find important information,” said Thao. “Technology can teach us important life skills.”
Expanding the project
UN-Habitat has used the Block by Block approach in more than 35 projects in 25 countries. Plan International Vietnam, UN-Habitat and Block by Block Foundation will continue to work together to find ways to realise more of the girls’ ideas and suggestions in Hanoi. At a global level, Plan International will explore how to scale up the partnership and replicate the Block by Block project in other locations around the world.