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.
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.