Luther JekeDigital Fellows; a big hearted response to Nepal earthquake

Earthquake is one of the most horrific and devastating natural phenomena, which can cause great damage to the areas it take place in, prolonged economic chaos, and even kills scores of innocent people. The worst thing is that this incredible destructive force can occur quite unpredictably, as it’s a sudden slip in the earth’s crust, causing the earth to shake and bringing huge harm to society. Do you remember where you were on April 25, 2015 morning? I will never forget. I was in Washington DC – in my room to be exact – catching up on emails and news on CNN and BBC websites. I was paralyzed with shock and could barely breathe when I saw the news on Nepal earthquake (also known as the Gorkha earthquake)  that was going to kill more than 8,800 people and injured more than 23,000. It occurred at 11:56 NST on 25 April, with a magnitude of 7.8M or 8.1Ms and a maximum Mercalli Intensity of IX (Violent).

After getting the details of the devastation in Nepal from several news sources, I then paused and thought about my fellow Atlas Corps Fellows, Medha Sharma and Samita Thapa who are both Nepalis. I said to myself, Nepalis living abroad will be saying they feel helpless about not being able to do anything, but what if they could be able to digitally volunteer. I have been a member of the Stand By Task Force (SBTF) since 2011. The Standby Task Force (SBTF) organizes digital volunteers into a flexible, trained and prepared network ready to deploy in crises.  The concept for the Task Force was launched at the 2010 International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2010) to streamline online volunteer support for crisis mapping following lessons learned in Haiti, Chile and Pakistan, and to provide a dedicated interface for the humanitarian community.  I have learned that anyone can be digital humanitarian, absolutely no experience necessary; all you need is a big heart and access to the Internet. I reached out to the Stand By Task Force and with huge efforts from Medha and Samita, we founded a digital volunteer group of Nepalis to digitally support the work of the Stand By Task Force in Nepal. A big hearted group of people who were wiling to give many hours of their days to digitally volunteer to help Nepal. I can proudly say that, I am proud of all those young Nepalis who digitally volunteered during the Nepal crisis. Excellent job done in giving back to their country.

 The three of us coordinated the group of Nepali volunteers to assist the StandBy Task Force digital humanitarian efforts that mapped the Nepal earthquake by analyzing social media content. We were able to together recruit around 200 Nepali volunteers who tirelessly helped the mapping team by feeding, translating, and verifying information from our social media network from in and out of Nepal. We were constantly online on Facebook, Twitter, and Skype for two weeks to help with this digital humanitarian deployment to map the crises.

The Atlas Corps Network helped by re tweeting and reposting our call for more volunteers to join the deployment. They also shared their thoughts, prayers and encouragement with us and the people of Nepal.

Luther&MedhaAs the two Nepali fellows recently pointed out, Medha, “This is the Atlas Corps fellow network power. Without Luther, me and Samita not knowing each other, this effort might not have been as successful.” Samita also mentioned that “the Atlas Corps network helped tremendously. Because of Luther’s connection with SBTF, Medha and I were able to do our part in responding to the earthquake. Without the network, we would have felt so helpless being this far away from home during such a difficult time.”

Results

We helped the SBTF put together over 1000 lines in the information management database of the Nepal earthquake. 5 million tweets were processed by AIDR (the artificial intelligence in disaster relief platform). Volunteers, both from the Standby Task Force and from the MicroMappers list have clicked 60,000 images and 10,000 messages. Volunteers from the Standby Task Force have been geolocating these onto the map.  About 200 volunteers joined the Nepal Advisors deployment. The data has gone to many, many humanitarian organisations and has been used to assist and accelerate the coordination of humanitarian groups on the ground. We processed an extraordinary range of data streams during the 12 days of the deployment. We have geolocated pictures and messages of needs and offers of assistance, we have provided maps and tables ourselves and we have supported other organisations and groups to streamline their processes. We have worked closely with many other groups throughout this deployment, we have been involved in very specific individual stories and we have been involved in the global humanitarian response.

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You can read about the successes shared on the SBTF’s blog. An example of the success was about reaching out to the doctor who requested supplies, we were able to get him on the phone and talk to him and personally tell him the good news that his request was discovered through social media and that the supplies will be arriving soon.

SBTF has supported micro-mapping during Haiti, Chile and Pakistan crises, with support from UN OCHA. They your need your support whenever there’s a disaster that they are responding to. Visit their website to join.

Also over a two dozens Atlas Corps fellows, went through an intensive training and were certified as volunteers for USAID Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) and could be called upon to help response efforts whenever there’s a disaster.

Support Nepal’s recovery

As I mentioned earlier, earthquake leaves prolonged economic chaos after it occurs. There are many organizations on the ground helping the recovery process. One of many is the an initiative of one of the digital fellows mentioned trying to help the girls of Nepal to rise better after earthquake. Support her fundraiser here. Also feel free to reach out to any of these amazing humanitarian organizations we supported with information generated by SBTF as we digitally responded to the earthquake and offer your support to the people of Nepal.

From our Nepal’s story, you would truly agree with one of my mentors, Patrick Meier’s statement that “Anyone can be a digital humanitarian, absolutely no experience necessary; all you need is a big heart and access to the Internet.” My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Nepal as they rebuild their nation after this horrible experience of the April 25, 2015 earthquake.

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Luther Jeke

About Luther Jeke

Luther has three years of experience in the nonprofit sector, and earned a Bachelor's of Arts in Sociology from the African Methodist Episcopal University in Liberia. In his most recent capacity at iLab Liberia as the Director of Training, Luther and his team have provided more than 1,250 Liberians the opportunity to use iLab’s computer lab and gain new technology skills. Previously, Luther worked as Training Director of Ushahidi Liberia, a nonprofit tech camp that specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. Luther served as an exemplary leader in the Monrovia crisis, and partnered with the United Nations, the Government of Liberia, NGO’s and civil societyon using technology to map conflict and instability in Liberia. Luther is passionate about using technology for social good, particularly in the areas of using Crisis Mapping Technologies (Ushahidi, Crowdmap, SwiftRiver, basic GIS) to prevent conflict. Fellow Role at Creative Associates International: Luther will provide support to the Technology for Development (T4D) unit in the Cross-Functional Group (CFG), which is responsible for incubating new ideas of how to use technology interventions. He will also work as a development agency contractor by learning about the latest in information and communication technologies for development and contributing innovative ideas that have potential for funding.