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I'm pulling my hair out over the earthquake in Java. Pulling out what is left of my hair, actually, which was just beginning  to grow back following news of Katrina, which was already very sparse since the tsunami in Sumatra, which also made me pull my hair out.

Why? Because I have superpowers that, if put to use, could save the lives of a lot of people. I know this for a fact, because in October of 2001 I was able to help a lot of people. I went to Bali just after the terrorist bombing, and spent the next 6 months taking care of burn victims. My wife, an Indonesian doctor, did far more, but simply supporting her work made a big difference.

Some of the expatriates I worked with went on to work on the Tsunami relief

What are my super-powers? They may not sound like much, because many of you are far more powerful. But at that place, and at that time, they made me a colossus.

My superpowers consist of my email list, a $5000 limit on my credit card, an internet account, ability to speak English and Indonesian, knowledge of local geography and customs, good health, unlimited access to a miraculous healer (my wife), and basic first aid.

With this basic skill-set, I was able to make a pretty big difference in the lives of the 100+ survivors of the bombing. I borrowed seed money from my credit card, and was able to raise additional money from friends. I used my English language and internet account super-power to call in expert help from doctors in Australia and Boston, work with burn experts who flew in from Darwin and needed a translator, bargain with local medical suppliers and get great prices, set up job training programs for newly handicapped victims, and helped to organize a program that paid school fees for all the victim's children.

It wasn't much, when I think about it. I only used a tiny fraction of the powers I had been granted simply by virtue of having been born into a middle class family in America, but it was something - much more than what I am doing now - sitting around, listening to accounts of the suffering in Central and East Java - an area of the world I know well.

I want to help those people, I truly do. But I am shackled here in Northern Illinois by my own job and two small children and a wife working 80 hour weeks as a medical resident. I could write a check, of course, and I will. But as a man of action, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I get little satisfaction from signing my name to a slip of paper. When I was a superhero proper, back in Bali, I had unlimited strength and energy, and was able to lift 50 pound boxes of pressure garments, ointments, and antibiotics all day. I could feed masses of people with just $40 dollars. I could debride burnt tissue without the slightest twinge of nausea.

I think many of us are frustrated by our inability to make full use of our super-powers. I know guys in construction who know exactly how to make sturdy temporary shelters from available materials, but nobody bothers to ask them. Consequently children, huddled under tarps in Java, suffer. There are young strong people in Java who could dig a latrine in an hour or so, preventing disease and dehydration and diarrhea in small children. But no one asks them, or provides them with the leadership they yearn for. I know a man who made several million dollars last year, a tenth of a percent of which could save the lives of hundreds of people in the coming days. I taught yoga to a Hollywood actress who, if she merely opened her mouth in support of a particular charitable effort, could raise thousands of dollars. Do I dare ask them? They get hit up all the time - would it hurt our friendship?

I know people in advertising and graphic designers who could throw together a web banner ad that would trigger thousands of hits. I know webmasters who could put together, in a few hours, a site charity site that would accept paypal contributions. I know several expatriate Americans and scores of honest locals, living in Indonesia, who know exactly where the need is greatest, and who could survey the situation and teach a homeless peasant the best way to build a shelter and dig a latrine. I know a journalist in Java, used to working for foreign news outlets and documenting, with receipts, every penny spent, who could set up a ledger, with photos, showing exactly where every penny of the money, raised via by a millionaire, a Hollywood actress, and hundreds of small banner ad contributions.

I know tech geeks who might come up with a brilliant idea for, say, utilizing GoogleMaps to show where and when and how money is being spent, and how the raised money was transferred to a certain account in a local bank, how a $300 dollars was spent by so-and-so on antibiotics and Imodium at a medical supplier, which was then trucked to a clinic in Pancitan, near the epicenter, where it was placed in the hands of a respected local midwife running an ad-hoc clinic at one of the few standing buildings, where it was placed in the mouth of a child, feverish from diarrhea.

We are so powerful, and could be exponentially more powerful if we could pool ideas, skill-sets, and expertise. So much can be accomplished if we only had an organizing structure that would best mobilize volunteer skills as diverse as web site design, emergency medical care, fundraising, promotion, security, construction skills, P.R., all of which have an important role in any relief effort at a natural or man-made disaster.

Could an on-line system, like the Wikipedia, be developed that would consolidate efficiencies, pool resources, winnow out, democratically, the best ideas, and avoid redundancies with other (take it from me, I know) incredibly inefficient aid groups like the Red Cross? Could there be a website as influential and transformative to philanthropy as the Daily Kos has been to grass-roots politics?

I would love to hear from people who could share ideas and help design an organizational and technological structure for a new kind charitable force in the world. Something that would allow for cash donations, of course, but more importantly, would allow me and other people with a wide variety of "superpowers" to make a meaningful contribution within an "incident command system" type structure. My experience in Bali taught me that far more people suffer and die for lack of good information than for lack of funds. I want to do more than write a check, but less than give up my life and fly to Indonesia.

I have a vision for a system that would create a space for people with skills or knowledge, that didn't require them to abandon their lives and families but that could be as simple as translating an English text to Indonesian, drawing a diagram of a latrine, connecting locals with international experts, getting money to the people who need it.

I've created a page at Ezboard where ideas could be suggested. because once this diary disappears, I'd like there to be a permanent footprint.


Originally posted to Petruk on Tue May 30, 2006 at 10:58 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Please recommend... (9+ / 0-)

    I'd like this post to to have a chance...

  •  Recommended! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This is a fantastic idea & I'd love to help in any way possible.

    Bookmarked your Ezboard page for after work.

    Do not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the world's grief...You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

    by Albatross on Tue May 30, 2006 at 10:58:26 AM PDT

  •  I look forward to hearing from you. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AllisonInSeattle, luckydog

    I posted my email address on the ezboard site. Tell me about yourself.


  •  I'll bite- (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I don't know what superpowers I have, except I am living the Katrina aftermath, so a lot of stuff comes up that I never would have thought of before all this.  See you on the discussion board!

  •  VIP Latrine diagram (3+ / 0-)


    How to build this latrine: HERE

    BTW - "VIP" stands for "ventilation improved"...

    The VIP uses the movement of air across the top of a ventilation pipe to draw odors up the pipe and out of the latrine.  Flies entering the pit are attracted to the light at the top of the pipe and die trying to escape through the mosquito netting.

  •  This is do-able (0+ / 0-)

    Did you see the guy who got started collecting backpacks from around the US for Katrina?

    If you'd like a look at what he set up, email me directly, I'll search it out. He was a genius in figuring out how to set it up so others could grab a small chunk of activity, do it, go from there. (It got HUGE.)


    I had some rudimentary ideas after the Afghanistan earthquake. To wit: What we have going as a planet to send aid to help disasters is not as good as it could/should be.

    The shelters avaiable for the Afghanis were particularly pathetic, I thought. There must be something simple, elegant, sturdy that we as humans could invent (geodesic domes?), transport, set up. Possibly make available to next disaster....

    At any rate, IMO, we need a standing group of people available to travel from disaster to disaster. Like we have armies, but it would be a Help Team -- or similar.

    Your diary is incredible... Will go look at your site. Please email me (in profile), have another idea for you to share privately.

    It's the "anti-fear-propaganda" solution: positive news: HeroicStories, free

    by AllisonInSeattle on Tue May 30, 2006 at 11:47:48 PM PDT

    •  Some work being done on this (0+ / 0-)

      I remember seeing a little piece on tv about a design competition for just such a response.  If i remember right, the winner came up with a shelter made from these flexible plastic tubes.  They ship collapsed, but onsite can be filled with sand, water, even small stones.  Once filled they're rigid.  If you're a gardener, think wall 'o waters.  They made a pretty strong structure that went a long way to self-regulate temperature, could be mass-produced easily, and could be readily shipped.  I couldn't find a link to it, but here's another similar competition at Architecture for Humanity".

      history shows..that the party with the tough primary usually wins Bob Casey, Jr

      by Austin in PA on Wed May 31, 2006 at 06:09:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I read some more (0+ / 0-)

        and it was interesting - two of the comments that I came across were:

        1.  any solution has to be as cheap and easy to deploy as either a canvas tent or a big blue tarp, since those are what's in use now.  The replacement would have to be as easy to ship as those, and use no moving parts that can't be produced locally.  Basically, the idea was that with the scale of some of the responses, there's just no room for error.  
        1.  The other comment that was made, that I found interesting and also disturbing, was that the shelter can't be better than what people are used to at home, or else it turns temporary camps into permanant housing.  That changes a short-term aid situation for neighboring countries into a more permanant problem.

        history shows..that the party with the tough primary usually wins Bob Casey, Jr

        by Austin in PA on Wed May 31, 2006 at 01:36:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  msf? (0+ / 0-)

    what about doctors without borders, and extablished charities that are on the ground dealing with this emergency?

    would it make sense to volunteer with them, instead of neccessairily starting a new thing?

  •  Take a look at Gore 08 (0+ / 0-)

    The Draft Gore 08 site is doing something along the lines of what your're talking about.  It sounds fascinating!  I'll check out your EZBoard site asap.


    history shows..that the party with the tough primary usually wins Bob Casey, Jr

    by Austin in PA on Wed May 31, 2006 at 05:08:30 AM PDT

  •  Another thought (0+ / 0-)

    Link up with / look at the model being used by Kiva.  It's much more specialized than what you're talking about, but I see some similarities as well.  

    history shows..that the party with the tough primary usually wins Bob Casey, Jr

    by Austin in PA on Wed May 31, 2006 at 05:29:48 AM PDT

  •  EZBoard (0+ / 0-)

    I tried to register for EZBoard, but it kept trying to sign me up for some "newsletter" junkmail.  Is there any way around their spam signup?

    history shows..that the party with the tough primary usually wins Bob Casey, Jr

    by Austin in PA on Wed May 31, 2006 at 06:30:00 AM PDT

  •  This is brilliant (0+ / 0-)

    will check out the ezboard site.

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