Back in February, Arjun Sharma was spotlighted for his incredible work developing the CleanMyBeach app. Of course, shortly after launching this community-driven resource for volunteering to beautify area beaches, communities across the country and around the world were put on lockdown. While many would take this as a sign to pack up and cut their losses, Arjun saw this as an opportunity for a new initiative.
A Project on Pause
While it still isn’t encouraged to gather with a large group to help save the environment, it’s worth mentioning the accolades Arjun’s received for the CleanMyBeach project. “In addition to winning 1st place in the Congressional App Challenge in my district, CleanMyBeach has also been commended by the Mayor of Honolulu and has been featured in several publications.” Naturally, app activity has slowed but the silver lining is that users are being more cautious about certain activities. Arjun hasn’t given up on the project completely. “Essentially, there certainly are ways for people to use the CleanMyBeach app in the current climate but users will need to use their own judgment when making those decisions.” Hopefully, the day will soon come when these group volunteer efforts can resume. Until then, Arjun has set his sights on more pressing issues.
Changing with the Times
As with any developing story, information changes with continuing investigation and is updated when new discoveries are made. In this digital age, the internet is inundated with articles, blogs, and social media posts every time something new develops. With so much going on and so much still unknown, it’s hard to determine truth from opinion–especially with so many people sharing their own. It can be overwhelming for anyone trying to navigate this new normal, including those consistently gleaning all they can from the internet–today’s youth.
Arjun would know a thing or two about what the younger demographic is going through during this time of change and uncertainty. As a high school senior, he’s part of that demographic. He recognizes that many in his age group believe they are immune to the virus currently affecting millions of lives. Not only does he see this as an opportunity to increase awareness of the facts, but imperative to make the information readily accessible and easy to digest. His solution? YCA (Youth Covid-19 Awareness).
“YCA raises awareness on COVID-19 by sharing virus statistics at the click of a button…on a country-by-country basis in the form of a dynamic and interactive graph, to help users visualize the statistics in a more tangible manner. The YCA initiative also notifies users of updated COVID-19 guidelines and precautions specifically curated by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to provide users with the most current and crucial information necessary to stay safe.”
The main focus is to “help individuals and communities, and particularly youth worldwide, understand the severity of the virus in the most intuitive and easily-comprehensible form of media presentation for them: a mobile application.” In addition to the app, this initiative aims to “encourage positive youth behavior” through an Education Ambassador program that will reach out to school districts to offer specialized programs in the classroom. Arjun has also partnered with Harvard’s Coronavirus Visualization Team (CVT) to broaden educational efforts even further.
With states and countries ending lockdown protocols and relaxing social-distancing guidelines, Arjun believes it’s even more imperative to release this time-sensitive information. Even though many of his peers may think they’re safe, asymptomatic spreading of the virus is still a very real possibility. In addition, the unknowns of the virus could continue to have devastating effects to the future health of youth, their friends, and family members. While he doesn’t want to scare anyone into submission, he believes knowledge is more powerful in helping them “become more conscious of their actions” and altering any reckless behavior.
Some of the Old with the New
The process of developing both the CleanMyBeach and YCA apps were both rewarding and educational for Arjun. Aside from the actual awards CleanMyBeach received, it taught Arjun many lessons in building an app from scratch. After pouring through internet guides, videos, and asking Google a lot of questions, he worked on his own to integrate maps and create user accounts for CleanMyBeach. While the two apps are very different, he applied the same basic coding knowledge to each. Even with all of his previous knowledge, he decided to assemble a team of students to help broaden the reach of the YCA initiative.
So, why an app? “Mobile phone applications provide an increased ease of accessibility…rather than having to manually navigate to a website every single time to organize a beach cleanup or look at COVID-19 data, users can access this content directly from their handheld devices.” Plus, Arjun recognizes that mobile phone applications are a more widely used platform across his target audience.
Now with two apps under his belt, Arjun doesn’t plan on stopping there. “Any future apps I develop will be user-centered and, ideally, will serve a positive purpose, whether that be galvanizing communities or raising awareness…If I can be a part of the solution by utilizing my technical skills and experience, I certainly will be.”