These Filipino high school kids are out to end bullying

When they presented their idea at #HackSociety 2018, the members of Team BEN (Reinald "TJ" Tomenes, Joshua Redita, Julian Lamela, Francis Sulit, and Danyel Dondon) seemed nervous, and understandably so – they were young, still in high school, and were presenting their school project to a group of experts.

They had a solid support group at the event, though. Their parents were there every step of the way, cheering them on from the sidelines during the event on  October 29 to 30, and even crying when they were announced as one of the winners.

Team BEN (which stands for “Bullying Ends Now”), composed of 5 boys from iAcademy, proposed a new solution to the age-old problem of bullying: an anti-bullying app that enables kids and young adults to report instances of bullying to authority figures like parents and teachers. (READ: BEN: Bullying Ends Now! An App for Reporting Bullying Incidents)

Reports can be made through the app or through school computers, so that students who don’t have access to mobile phones can still speak up. Teachers and parents will then be notified via email about reports, and they can go through the app’s database to see what their child’s environment is like.

To make the dream app a reality, Team BEN needs to partner with the Department of Education to reach schools. It will also operate on a subscription fee business model to keep it up and running.

If Team BEN can roll out the app nationwide, then it will be the first anti-bullying app in the Philippines. The team will be competing with foreign apps like BRIM Anti-Bullying Software and Egypt’s “The Bully Box.”

Below, team leader Tomenes answers a few of our questions through email about the team’s own experiences with bullying and their HackSociety experience.

How did you come up with an idea that addresses the problem of bullying? Most of us have experienced bullying to an extent. What is your own personal experience of bullying?

BEN is our project for our school, iACADEMY. It is for our PBL or Project-Based Learning. At our school, we have one big project instead of a written final exam in all our subjects. This semester, our driving question was how we could use our specialized skills (Software Development) for human rights. Our team of 5 had brainstorming sessions, and we eventually narrowed down our ideas to the protection of student's rights against bullying. I was fortunate to have not experienced being bullied. However, I have friends who have had that experience. I feel that it is our moral duty and social responsibility as friends and fellow students to help them out whenever we can.

How do you think one should act when being confronted by an obvious bully?

Dealing with bullies can be very difficult. I believe that if a person is bullying someone, the victim should speak up and talk to someone about his or her situation. During a confrontation with the bully, I have always felt that keeping a brave smile helps when dealing with them.

There’s a natural trend for people that are bullied to also, in some ways, become a bully themselves. How do you think people should process the experience of being bullied so that one doesn’t turn into a bully?

Victims of bullying can avoid this by talking to someone they trust about what happened to them. Having someone to confide in can help them deal with the pressures of being bullied, and their confidant can help keep them from straying down the same path as their bullies.

In its most mature form, how do you envision the BEN program making a positive change in society, and curbing bullying?

In the future, we hope to have BEN fully integrated within schools, and be a natural part of the school environment. Whenever a bullying incident occurs, we hope that students can instinctively grab their phones or their nearest school computer and report the incident. We hope that our application will help students stand up to bullies, and speak out about what they are doing. Having our students self-police themselves will hopefully help spread awareness of bullying, and keep students from bullying each other as they would know how serious of an issue it is. Because it is an anonymous report system, this will give the victim of bullying, and the witnesses of bullying, the courage they need to report without fear or prejudice. 

In what ways do you think Hack Society helped you to improve upon your ideas and plans?

#HackSociety helped us refine our idea. It was a productive learning experience with the mentors and speakers during those two days at Rappler HQ. I would say that the biggest takeaway that they have given us is the sustainability of our application. Our team, aside from two members, does not have much experience with business management as we are all currently Grade 12 Senior High School students. So, we did not have that much of an idea as to how to market or monetize our application so that we would be able to receive funding from investors. However, after our time at Rappler HQ, we now have a good plan as to how we will carry that out.

What were the challenges that you encountered when developing your idea? How did you prepare for your Hack Society presentation?

We did not have many issues developing our idea. Once we knew what we wanted to do, it just flourished from there. In preparation for our #HackSociety presentation, we all focused and took all that we learned during those two days to deliver our best pitch. – Rappler.com

Co-organized by Rappler and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Philippines, #HackSociety is the Philippine counterpart of Youth Co:Lab, a program to promote innovation and social enterprise among the youth in the Asia-Pacific, which is co-led at the regional level by the UNDP and Citi Foundation.

Rappler and the UNDP introduced #HackSociety for the first time in 2016, as a workshop segment in the Manila Social Good Summit. To inquire about #HackSociety, email socialgood@rappler.com.

Vernise Tantuco

Vernise Tantuco is on Rappler's Research Team, fact checking suspicious claims, wrangling data, and telling stories that need to be heard.

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