Mapendo International has today announced that it is changing its name to RefugePoint in order to better reflect its core mission of protecting the world’s most vulnerable and forgotten refugees.
If you saw our film The Last Survivor, then you are probably familiar with Mapendo International. Mapendo was also founded by Sasha Chanoff, who helped resettle Justin Semahoro in St. Louis in the film (see video below). Now called RefugePoint, their rescue resettlement efforts, health clinic, and advocacy campaigns will continue to address the needs of the most vulnerable refugees in Africa, ensuring that forgotten victims of persecution, massacre and atrocities are brought from danger to safety.
According to Sasha Chanoff, RefugePoint’s executive director, many refugees have related to their staff that contact with his organization became the turning point in their lives. “Our effort,” he says, “is to provide lasting solutions for people fleeing from persecution, war, and genocide. The new name, RefugePoint, reflects the moment when those most at risk see the possibility of deliverance from lives of fear and desperation and a path opening up toward new lives for themselves and their families.”
Many of the world’s 10.4 million refugees exist in life-threatening situations. While some languish in overcrowded refugee camps, an increasing number flee to urban slum areas where they struggle to survive without even the barest of safety nets. In Africa they come from the Congo, Darfur, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, Southern Sudan, Zimbabwe, and other countries and regions. The international community can barely shelter and feed the majority, much less tend to the unique needs of those who are truly forsaken and forgotten. “RefugePoint’s entire effort,” Chanoff says, “is to reach and succor these people whose struggle to survive would otherwise go unaddressed.
In the past six years RefugePoint has provided life-saving interventions and helped to create lasting solutions for over 20,000 refugees in Africa. RefugePoint staff have worked in Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. RefugePoint works with national governments, the UN Refugee Agency and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to enhance and improve systems to address the needs of vulnerable refugees in Africa and worldwide.
I spent the last two days at one of the best conferences I have attended to date, the Personal Democracy Forum. The talks were inspiring, the speakers were brilliant and the attendees were some of the most creative, talented and motivated people I have met. But I think what really made this conference memorable for me was Jim Gilliam’s talk about the Internet and his religion – and the internet being his religion. Any further description I write will not do it justice, so I encourage you to just watch it and share.
This blog is a part of RP’s new media and technology for social change series, in anticipation of our new film WEB.
In the last few weeks I have read numerous stories about how social media is being used against protesters in the Middle East and Africa, so I thought it would be interesting to share these examples of the dark side of the Internet, just in case you missed them. But being the eternal optimist, there have also been some amazing uses of new and social media that are worth sharing. So here is your roundup of the dark and light sides of the Internet!
THE DARK SIDE
Uganda: Earlier this month the Uganda government asked the regional Internet Service Providers to block access to Facebook and Twitter, as protesters started employing the hashtag #walktowork as part of their protest against the riding food and fuel prices. Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of the Ugandan Communications Commission, said to Reuters that the blame for the violence in Uganda lies squarely in the laps of Twitter and Facebook as a vehicle for allowing mass law-breaking. Ridiculous.
Syria: I can almost (ALMOST!) respect the government for getting creative with their retaliation. First, the Syrian intelligence agency set up fake accounts on Twitter (known as Twitter Eggs) that threatened and insulted anyone criticizing the government, or tweeting in support of the protests. THEN various spam accounts were created to automatically send out Syria loving and random topic tweets every few minutes with the hastag #syria, so to dilute the conversation about the protests. You can view these accounts here.
Ivory Coast: Earlier this year, the country was in deep political turmoil as Laurent Gbagbo refused to abdicate his position as president after losing the election. Displaced persons across the country used the Twitter hastag #civ2010 to locate family members, get news updates and seek humanitarian aid and clean water. But then others started using the hastag to spread messages of hate and it essentially turned into a forum for various hate groups to verbally abuse each other online, again diluting the tweet stream. A new twitter hashtag (#civsocial) was created by the community to replace #civ2010.
Cameroon: President Paul Biya tried to get ahead of the game and prevent protests that might be inspired by neighboring countries, by shutting off mobile Twitter. Which only drew more attention to the tool! As blogger Dibussi Tande noted “…even though Twitter played a prominent role in informing the world of what was happening in Cameroon, over 95% of the tweets which the international media relied on for updates did not originate from within Cameroon. It was information obtained via mobile phones, regular SMS and email which ended up on Twitter and not real-time tweets from activists on the ground. Thus, banning the Twitter short code does little to change the balance of power online.”
U.A.E: The United Arab Emirates are getting even more ahead of the game. Their Telecommunications Regulatory Authority released plans to limit access to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server system to large-scale organizations, meaning smaller businesses and organizations would need to rely on a less-secure system that is easier for authorities to monitor in the hopes of preventing an uprising. This is also very likely to also be applied to all smart phones.
THE LIGHT SIDE
Rwanda: On May 5th, Rwandan President Paul Kagame will be the first African leader to be interviewed on YouTube, through their WorldView program which launched in January of this year. Although, since December of last year he has been a twitter machine! So you could probably ask him anything on twitter and he will likely respond.
Saudi Arabia: With protests and revolutions happening in countries all across the Middle East and Africa, women in Saudi Arabia are taking this opportunity to get their voices heard and try to gain the right to vote. A statement was released in March, followed by a Facebook page and a twitter hashtag, #saudiwomenrevolution. Unfortunately the media is paying very little attention. Until today I could find only a few stories about the group of women who attempted to register to vote last week. Their applications were denied.
Chile and Hungry: Hungarian doctor, Bertalan Mesko (@berci), and Chilean Nurse, Cristina Bizama (@cristi_enf), have both successfully used Twitter to help to save lives. Cristina tweeted that there was no way to transport ready organs to patients in need, and as word got out, the Health Minister jumped in to help make it happen. Dr. Mesko is using his twitter account to crowdsource medical opinions and information. For me, this just proves that everything on Grey’s Anatomy is true.
World: I recently learned about the website IndigenousTweeets.com , which was created by a computer professor at St. Louis University. IndigenousTweets was created to not only monitor the number of languages on twitter (currently 71) but also to help protect these native languages and keep cultures alive. One of my favorite examples of how the Internet is being used to protect the uniqueness of culture.
Like most people out there, I rarely ever watch live streams after they have happen, or a completely unedited panel discussion as they are usually long, wordy, and – let’s be honest – boring.
But this one is worth your time.
The video below is an hour long Foreign Affairs discussion on the role of social media and technology in fostering political change, with Clay Shirky, Professor of New Media at New York University and the author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for the State Department. Every piece of this was worth listening to.
Since we at Righteous Pictures spent some time this week brainstorming for our upcoming doc, WEB, this was a great discussion to get my brain juices flowing.
Please watch the video yourself, but if you don’t have an hour, below are the highlights.
Clay Shirky says that the power of the Internet (and mobile phones) empowers and mobilizes people in three ways:
1. It makes massive amounts of information quickly available
2. It provides amateur’s access to communication tools for speaking out
3. It allows groups to coordinate their activities rapidly.
We overestimate the Internet’s ability to give us access to endless information, and we underestimate it’s ability to connect humans to each other.
The key to supporting Internet freedom is not in reducing censorship of information, its about allowing for better group coordination by using these tools.
Social Media is NOT something that can be easily weaponized. (Umm could Al-Qaeda please get on Foursquare already??)
Anne-Marie Slaughter says that online tools and connective technologies allow people to
1. Synchronize opinions
2. Coordinate meet-ups
3. Document and share their results
Coordinating with weak ties through your Facebook “friends” does not create political change. It is using these tools to mobilize your strongest ties, the people who trust you, and in turn get them to mobilize their strongest ties.
The Internet Freedom Speech was the most important speech Anne-Marie says she worked on. In this speech the U.S. stated that everyone in the world should have:
1. The freedom to connect to the Internet itself
2. The freedom to connect to any information they want
3. The freedom to connect to PEOPLE.
Calling the events in the Middle East a “twitter revolution” is unhelpful and demeaning. It was the people behind these tools that facilitated change.
You cannot be a modern, working country without cell phones. And once you add cell phones, you are essentially handing people access to information, connection and freedom.
The amplification of Libyan voices made the events impossible to ignore, BUT it wasn’t until there was physical threat that other countries intervened. Pictures, videos and testimonials posted online just helped facilitate that. Unfortunately, crimes against humanity are being committed in areas where there isn’t as much connectivity and we may not know about them until it too late. It is a tragic effect of the digital divide.
Which begs the question…as information technology spreads, are we will likely to see more atrocities, and if so will we do MORE interventions?
According to Anne-Marie, the answer is yes. Libya has set a precedent in some senses. Clay chimed in saying that we should wait to see how it turns out to see if a precedent for intervening has been set.
While connective technologies have allowed individuals and groups with no formal affiliation or organization to coordinate and support one mission, such as overthrowing the Egyptian government, it creates a new problem. The leaders of the revolution are not of one ideology. So in the 21st century we are seeing what happens when a government is overthrown and there is no new government (which in the past has been the leaders of the revolution) ready to step in.
I think the most important thing we all need to remember is that the Internet has allowed for the creation of TOOLS. And it is the HUMAN use of these tools that has sparked the revolutions. As Clay said, it was the educated, underemployed, angry, repressed in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya that used these TOOLS to pursue deeply held political goals. Not Twitter, and not Facebook.
While getting my daily dose of Mashable this morning, I learned about a freelance journalist’s use of Kickstarter to help her raise funds to support her stay in Libya to continue reporting on the stories of the revolution on the ground.
Zach Sneiderman, the post’s author, wrote that this journalist has partnered with Small World News, a new media company that helps train and provide tools to citizen journalists, and she is now spending 10 hours every week training Libyans on how to find, film and report their own stories.
So I decided to check out SmallWorldNews.TV. Having lived the last month in an LA to NYC transition, I may have missed a lot in the “tech for change” news. But in case you missed it too, this is a site worth checking out.
SmallWorldNews helps train citizen journalists in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Bahrain to cover events their from the ground and through their eyes. What originally started as a Speak2Tweet service (years before Speak2Tweet launched), posting the voice recordings and videos from people in Iraq and Iran, has recently expanded to Libya and Egypt. Working with volunteer translators to add English subtitles when possible, SmallWorldNews then posts videos submitted from citizen journalists onto their site for anyone to view. Giving the entire world access to what the revolution looks like on the ground, not just on CNN.
While we in the U.S. just have to deal with the extreme biases of FOX and MSNBC, millions of people around the world are getting their news information from limited, government controlled and censored media outlets. While I doubt that every Libyan is tuned into SmallWorldNews every day, I think that the efforts of this organization will have a much larger impact in the long run. These revolutions will eventually pass and new governments will be constructed, and people will feel empowered to keep a close eye on their new government and keep their people informed. And the rest of us around the world are benefitting, as we will have more options for consuming unfiltered news!
Check out their current projects below. P.S. I’m really interested in the use of mobile phones for citizen journalist report dissemination. If anyone out there has heard of any organizations working on this, please message me on Twitter!
This post is a part of a weekly series entitled “Online Technology and Social Change,” inspired by Righteous Pictures’ upcoming documentary, “Web.”
Well, my goal of blogging once a week on online tools for social change lasted just one week…fortunately I have something you all should know about, so I am back on the wagon!
Although our official screening campaign for The Last Survivor won’t officially launch until April, some screenings have already begun. So we decided to release our action video player, also known as a “Spark,” today! Special thanks to Call2Action for building this for us.
What is so great about this video player is that it not only plays the trailer on any website, blog or Facebook feed, but without leaving the site you are watching it on you will find actions to help prevent genocide, work with refugees, or bring the film to your community.
Just click on the “share” tab to grab the code for your blog. Click the Facebook icon and the video will drop right into your status update. Your friends will be able to watch the trailer without leaving their Facebook homepage!
Please take a minute and share this amazing film with your friends and family:
Also, check out Call2Action and their many other “sparks!”
Happy 100th Anniversary to International Women’s Day! I’m a little late in my well wishes, but the sentiment is still there.
This is my first blog post for Righteous Pictures and after following Michael Kleiman’s always entertaining “This Week in RP” and Alexandra Bunzl’s inspiring post, “Can Art Change the World?” I”m a little nervous. For RP I hope to blog weekly on Technology and Social Change: How new online and mobile technologies are accelerating positive change around the world. You may also hear me talk about storytelling fairly often as its not the tools themselves that are creating change, its how people are using them to tell their story and allowing all of us the opportunity to see into each other’s worlds.
Being International Women’s Day, I wanted to highlight the launch of a new website, called Gawaahi, by my friend Sana Saleemand her Gawaahi co-founder Naveen Naqvi. I’m highlighting their website today not just because they are women, but because they are giving a voice to women in Pakistan. I had the honor of meeting Sana at the International Youth Conference in Islamabad in December, during which she skillfully schooled the Minister of Information on the government’s education policies.
In their own words, “Gawaahi.com is home to digital stories of Pakistan. Stories of abuse and survival, the testimonies of the survivors of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history, the narratives of Pakistanis celebrating their individual identities are just some examples of what we have for you. Our team finds stories that are under-reported in the mainstream media.”
Gawaahi.com serves as a platform for anyone (not just women) in Pakistan to submit their story on their own. Gawaahi also goes out into local communities to seek out stories and gather opinions, usually on video, from the people of Pakistan. Through their blogs posts and videos, they able to put a spotlight on the individuals, stories, and events that are often ignored by traditional media, which faces government and military control and intimidation.
One of the videos I watched most recently was of a seventeen year old girl telling her story of how after insulting a man, she was attacked by him with acid. I have heard about acid attacks on women many times before and have always been horrified. But watching this brave young woman stare straight into the camera and unabashedly tell her story, without the dramatic music and setting of a scripted, highly-produced video, effected me more than all the news stories of unnamed women I had read in print.
With an Islamic government and terrorist bombings nearly everyday, many of us have a negative idea of what life in Pakistan is like, and know very little about the actual people there, myself included. Gawaahi offers people in Pakistan a microphone for their voice and the rest of the world an insight into the stories and opinions of Pakistanis that news media rarely covers.
If you do one thing for International Women’s Day, please go to the website and just watch a few videos and learn from these incredible women. I think (and hope!) that like me, you will see a whole new side to Pakistan.