Since the 2018 YOTA Winter Camp in Johannesburg, South Africa, several initiatives have taken place in Belgium. We’d like to think this is because of the inspiration we gathered from hanging out with HAM’s our age and hearing each other’s ideas.
The greatest success story is that Ben ON6FBR and Ward ON8WR were received by the board of the national radio league of Belgium, the UBA (Royal Belgian Amateur Radio Union). We discussed what we did in South Africa and shared our ideas of what needed to be done to lift youth participation in Belgium to a higher level. Our words were well received, as the UBA responded that they are open to all ideas considering youth participation and will discuss all propositions in order provide funds to carry out these ideas.
During the R1 UHF and up contest, the OT5A team – operating as OT5A/P – involved HAM radio operators as young as 13 years old. Almost half the contest team was younger than 30 and was very active on the radio. This involvement showed that age doesn’t matter and may even be a benefit to the operations. Especially during buildup, the help of 20-year old HAMs is appreciated among the more “experienced” operators.
One of the more ambitious projects that have started is “De Shack”, a makerspace in Sint-Laureins in the west of Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. This non-profit organization was formed by Tommy ON2TD with the aim to provide a workshop environment for all technology-curious people to come and work on their projects. There is a strong link with HAM radio, although this is not immediately obvious. As the project-building workshop at the YOTA camp showed, HAM radio is about so much more than just making QSO’s and contesting. “De Shack” tries to replicate this concept by organizing sessions teaching things such as making your own Bluetooth speaker, or a Halloween evening. There are frequent open sessions as well where you are welcome to drop in and work on your own projects. It is the hope of the organizing team that these youngsters will once find their way into HAM radio, and that it is wrong to bombardment them with radio technology from day one. It should be a gradual process, driven by a natural curiosity.
Meanwhile there are talks of organizing a camp next year for youngsters during the summer holiday at the Euro Space Center, linking the science and technology aspect of space and all its mysteries with HAM radio. A precise plan doesn’t exist yet, but it will certainly mimic aspects of the YOTA camp such as workshops to build things, site visits, cultural activities, combined with an on-site hotel and shared meals. It goes without saying that a 24/7 radio station will be available.
Belgium will also participate in the December YOTA month, the callsign ON4YOTA has been received and registration is open to have as many youngsters possible use the callsign. We’re certain this will again be a great success.
We also found out a new Telecommunication Law is being written in Belgium, that will make it easier to let people without a license operate a transceiver for events that aim to promote ham radio, and drop the age to get a callsign to 12 years (now you have to be 13 years old).
Our next big (youth) recruitment event that is coming up is FOSDEM. At FOSDEM, Kristoff ON1ARF, together with several Belgian radio clubs, puts up a portable HF station with next to it a 25m mobile antenna mast, and a lot of toys (SDR sticks, APRS beacon, satellite tracking equipment, …). FOSDEM (Free and Open-Source Developers European Meeting) is an event where over 5000 open-source software (and more and more also open-source hardware) developers from all over the world meet in real life. Last couple of years the interest in Software defined radio also got a big boost by GNUradio. Tons of people are using GNUradio every day to listen to all kind of transmissions and decode them, but a lot of them are not aware that as a ham they can transmit on a lot of bands as well. Most of them only know about CB-like operations on HF but don’t have a clue about the UHF / SHF bands we can use, about digimodes, APRS, digital voice on HF, satellites, ….
We always get a lot of very interested people over from all over the world, and try to direct them to a local ham radio club or to their national ham radio organization. Most visitors are over 18, but still a lot younger as the average HAM age.
Meanwhile Ben and Ward are involved in the organization of a hackercamp for families in Belgium and will continue to promote HAM radio directly to this audience with a portable shack, similar to the FOSDEM initiative of Kristoff. The next edition will take place in 2020.
This concludes our report of the YOTA activities in Belgium that have started since the 2018 YOTA camp in South Africa. We truly believe in a diverse approach, since there is a larger risk of failing and less outreach by organizing one single initiative. Thank you!