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A web site for Mumbai's youth

Thanks to a Mahakali-based software firm called Indiavista and Dominic Savio High School, 50 engineering and other students are getting to learn about the Internet by building a web site of their own. Others too can take advantage of this unique opportunity -- for free

Faizal Goriawala's classes ended at 4 pm but though more than four hours have gone by since then, he hasn't yet returned home. What's he been up to? Slipping off for a movie without the knowledge of his parents? Going for a drink to a local pub? Nothing of the sort. He and several other students have been hard at work after college learning the fundamentals of the Internet by actually building a web site that goes by the rather esoteric name of GeneX The Society (www.indiavista.com).

Many institutes in the city and elsewhere offer to teach students about the Internet. But they charge a hefty fee and at the end of the course students gain little more than a rudimentary knowledge of the net. In contrast Goriawala and the 50 other students who are helping build the site pay nothing at all for the privilege. And though they have been on the job for only a few months they have gone far beyond the rudiments.

For this they have to thank Cyril Ovely, Yogesh Patel and the management of Dominic Savio High School. Ovely and Patel run a software firm called Indiavista based in Mahakali. They, along with Dominic Savio High School, also run a training institute at the school called GeneX IT Trainers. Indiavista has space to spare on its website which is based on a server in the US. Also, the computers at GeneX are not used all the time. So Ovely and Patel had an idea: why not use the extra web space and free computer time to provide a service for local youth? The result was GeneX The Society.

The lynchpin of GeneX The Society is Archie Mascarenhas, a former student of Dominic Savio who was also centre manager of Micropro, a training institute that Ovely and Patel used to run earlier at the school. In March this year he launched GeneX as a section on the Indiavista site, but in June he began to recruit other youths to form an association to develop the site.

The initial recruits were mostly his own friends. But word spread and now about 50 students participate in building the site. To join, a student must contact Archie at Dominic Savio or telephone GeneX IT Trainers at 8321122 ext 131. He is then asked to work for 10 days on a particular subject. If Archie and GeneX are impressed with his enthusiasm and capacity for hard work, he is then registered as a member; right now, of the 50 students who participate in the site, 30 are registered members.

A typical member is like Vasudev Shah, a 3rd year electrical engineering student from Sardar Patel College of Engineering. When he joined four months ago he knew nothing at all about the Internet because he did not have a computer at home or an Internet connection at home or college. But meetings twice a week at GeneX and countless practice sessions have enabled Shah to learn all about HTML, the language used to compose web pages, as well as the rudiments about web graphics.

Members of GeneX are divided into crews of 5 to 10 students. Shah's crew is known as the Spiceboys. Each crew works on a particular subject and consists of a crew leader, a student coordinator, a web developer, a digital artist and so on. The web site has sections on Mumbai, Mumbai's transport system, drugs, AIDS, cars, sports etc, each handled by a crew. Crew members not only collect information on the subject but also draw the graphics and write the programs.

All of this involves a lot of hard work. Crew members are expected to update their site at least twice a month and hold regular meetings. All the members of GeneX are expected to have a joint meeting once in 15 days. In practice, meetings take place much oftener than is mandatory. By the end of August members had already uploaded 5 MB of material onto the site and in September they expected to upload an additional 4MB.

For the future they have big ambitions. One section on the site, called Infocell, will have information on engineering and management institutes in India and the US, which students anywhere can access. Next they plan to put info on undergraduate courses.

Nor are activities confined to their web site. In August the group conducted a seminar on the Internet. Sometime in the near future they hope to hold a workshop on personality development in association with Rotaract, the youth wing of the Rotary Club. Meanwhile, members plan to upgrade their skills, going on from their knowledge of HTML to a more advanced version of the language called Dynamic HTML. Says Mascarenhas: "There is no youth association in India on the net. Even in the US youth web sites are handled by professionals. Ours is the first and in the next six months we hope to involve 200 active members." That may seem ambitious but for college students here it is a great opportunity to pick up net skills at no cost.