Creating an Online Camp for Seriously Ill Kids

By Matthew Dillon

Bátor Tábor, a non-profit foundation in Hungary, strives to help cancer-afflicted and chronically ill children rediscover their carefree childhoods through all-year therapeutic recreation camps and hospital programs. That invaluable experience was disrupted this year when COVID-19 made it impossible to host the kids. To fill the void, IBM volunteers stepped in to create a digital camp experience.

Since 2001, Bátor Tábor has offered therapeutic recreation activities during the sessions such as canoeing, arts and crafts, and horseback riding—and, in the process, helped up to 1,000 campers per year cope with their challenges. When Ildiko Balazs-Papp, a developer with IBM Global Financing CIO’s User Experience and Simplification (UXS) Squad, saw the announcement that the camp’s usual programs would be cancelled, and a new digital camp would be developed, she thought IBM could assist in recreating the camp’s unique experience online.

Ildiko has been a volunteer at the camp since 2014, and other IBMers have helped, as well. Last year, a baking competition was hosted at IBM Capital Hungary, where employees brought in homemade cakes for fund raising. The proceeds went to Bátor Tábor.

Bátor Tábor during a pre-COVID summer

Creating a digital camp would require more planning and development than a bake sale, yet Ildiko was impressed with how quickly people got involved. “Nobody needed convincing,” she says. “They’re just trying to help us any way they can.”

The UXS Squad, which uses IBM technologies and practices to help clients achieve their goals more effectively, quickly pitched in. “This squad uses the newest technologies,” says team leader Gyorgy Kokenyesi. “We also have team members who have strong IBM product and business knowledge.” The combination of skills and experience made the squad a perfect fit for the task at hand.

Platform for Interaction

The UXS Squad is setting up Bátor Tábor’s online camp using the WordPress publishing platform, which also hosts the foundation’s website. The goal is to replicate the in-person interactions that help make Bátor Tábor so special. “That is the biggest challenge—to give them personal and instant feedback,” Ildiko explains. “What we are trying to give them is some kind of forum—video streaming and video chats, things like this. So basically, the human interaction.”

Ildiko thought it would be important to use a Web platform the camp is already familiar with. “That's what they can maintain in the future, and it wouldn't be completely dependent on us,” she says.

The project marks the first time the UXS Squad, which normally works with internal clients, has collaborated so closely with an external organization. In addition to aiding such a worthy cause, engagement with an external partner has made the project “really exciting,” Gyorgy says. The site is scheduled to launch in June.

While many organizations were forced to move processes and interactions online in response to COVID-19, few transformations are as potentially life-changing as Bátor Tábor’s. The IBM team is dedicated to seeing the project through, offering the resources and expertise needed to create a memorable experience for the kids of Bátor Tábor.