Refugee Buddy: a project of OzSiCamp Sydney 2010

Last weekend, I attended Social Innovation Camp Sydney 2010. SiCamp is an event where several teams have one weekend in which to take an idea for an online social innovation technology, and to make something of it. Ideally, the technology gets built and deployed by the end of the camp, but if a team doesn't reach that stage, simply developing the concept is an acceptable outcome as well.

I was part of a team of seven (including our team leader), and we were the team that built Refugee Buddy. As the site's slogan says: "Refugee Buddy is a way for you to welcome people to your community from other cultures and countries." It allows regular Australians to sign up and become volunteers to help out people in our community who are refugees from overseas. It then allows refugee welfare organisations (both governmnent and independent) to search the database of volunteers, and to match "buddies" with people in need.

Of the eight teams present at this OzSiCamp, we won! Big congratulations to everyone on the team: Oz, Alex, James, Daniela, Tom, (and Jeremy — that's me!) and most of all Joy, who came to the camp with a great concept, and who provided sound leadership to the rest of us. Personally, I really enjoyed working on Refugee Buddy, and I felt that the team had a great vibe and the perfect mix of skills.

OzSiCamp Sydney 2010 was the first "build a site in one weekend" event in which I've participated. It was hectic, but fun. I may have overdosed on Mentos refreshments on the Saturday night (in fact, I never want to eat another Mentos again). All up, I think it was a great experience — and in our case, one with a demonstrable concrete result — and I hope to attend similar events in the future.

For building Refugee Buddy, our team decided to use Django, a Python web framework. This was basically the decision of Oz and myself: we were the two programmers on the team; and we both have solid experience with developing sites in Django, primarily from using it at Digital Eskimo (where we both work). Oz is a Django junkie; and I've been getting increasingly proficient in it. Other teams built their sites using Ruby on Rails, Drupal, MediaWiki, and various other platforms.

Going with a Django team rather than a Drupal team (and pushing for Django rather than Drupal) was a step in a new direction for me. It surprised my fellow members of the Sydney Drupal community who were also in attendance. And, to tell the truth, I also surprised myself. Anyway, I think Django was a superior match for the project compared to Drupal, and the fact that we were able to build the most fully-functioning end product out of all the teams, pretty much speaks for itself.

Refugee Buddy is an open source project, and the full code is available on GitHub. Feel free to get involved: we need design and dev help for the long-term maintenance and nurturing of the site. But most of all, I encourage you all to visit Refugee Buddy, and to sign up as a buddy.

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