Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Serving my Community: Lessons from the Jeddah Flood

Dr. Ghazi Binzagr, Binzagr Group
Dr. Kholod Ashgar, Effat University
Fatima Al-Banawi, Effat University student 
Ali Al-Ghazzawi, Blogger 
Mohammed Jastania Rasha Hefzi

On November 25, 2009, 90 mm of rain fell in Jeddah in 4 hours, more than twice the average in a year.  Individuals and organizations networked and structured rescue efforts.  With us today are the leaders of these efforts.  They are part of a new generation that through the blend of technology and their generous souls are able to contribute to a better society.

Dr. Kholoud: Until the flood crisis, there had been no groups created that had a long lasting effect.  Tell us about the change in culture that has happened since among the youth.

Ms. Rasha: The civil society groups started in 2007 with beginning of Facebook.  In 2008, we found 250 active groups.  Many were active before the floods, but during that time, the groups went through an awakening.  They expanded their activities, divided, some merged, some closed, because they discovered that they preferred to have a more effective impact as part of other groups.  The media didn't cover what really happened.  Even we only got started on the fourth day.  Without social networks we couldn't have collected 5,000 volunteers in one month. 

Dr. Kholoud: Not everyone was engaged via social media, and you were one of the nonbelievers in this technology, is that right?

Mr. Mohammed: I never believed in social networks, people posting seemingly trivial aspects of their lives, or perhaps I'm old fashioned: I never liked technology and I carry tapes in my car and listen to the radio and like black & white, sixties movies.  But the fourth day of the floods, we SMS'd our friends asking for help.  The next day 15 people came, 5 cars, and all of us reached out.  On our second day, Rasha had a BB, and me too (I have all of 5 contacts), we both sent a broadcast on those, and in 5 minutes I received a broadcast back from y sister (who also has only 4 contacts) in Riyadh.  On the third day we had 300 volunteers, 15 cars.  If this had happened two years ago, when we only had SMS & emails, we could not have reached that number of people. 

Mr. Ali: I'm not a hero! [Arabic]

Dr. Ghazi: in my generation, we would see things that we wished we would do something about, but your generation, I see you using the means available to you to mobilize action. 

Ms. Fatima: Those who were struggling there, they were the heroes, they became film makers, photographers, script writers!  We wouldn't have known what happened if it weren't for them, the affected families, who recorded and distributed what happened.  The awakening point happened when we discovered the power of the tool.  I didn't have a BB but I was an active FB user.  Of course I felt I had to do something.  I wasn't in Jeddah, but as I returned, I immediately went to help.  I felt responsible and accountable and knew that I had to do something about it.  My friend was doing her MS degree in disaster management in England, in an area specifically related to water disasters, and she sent me pamphlets - I printed 1,000 copies of them and we put them, in Arabic and English, in the boxes with the food supplies. 

Dr. Kholoud:  the turning point was when the "Rescue Jeddah" group was formed on Facebook.  Hundreds, thousands of volunteers joined.  Why has this been the only movement in Saudi Arabia that has gathered momentum like this?   What moved you?

Ms. Rasha:  the group started by Riyadh Zarhani posted videos on YouTube/Facebook, during the second day of the floods.  We knew there was a flood only on the third day, and started finding out about the developing crisis.  From our BBs it went to Facebook and SMS.  This is how most of us heard.  This happened in South Jeddah, and the disaster was really big, we didn't know what to do.  People from outside Jeddah started to contact us, trying to channel aid through us, and we acted because we didn't see Jamiat acting.  The first few days, "the people in positions" were not even aware of the disaster.

Mr. Mohammed: the conventional news and media didn't do their job, they didn't want to.  Everyone could see the films on Facebook, and on the 6th or 7th day, they recognized there was a disaster.  Seeing what happened, made us realize that noone was going to come help us.  We can tell the conventional media that... we got you!

Mr. Ali [Arabic]  We can tell to conventional media: I don't need you, you need me! ... They kept asking me, "Are you from Facebook?"

Dr. Ghazi: I'm amongst those who've recently stopped reading the papers altogether, I found blogs like yours much more educational.  It would seem that if we can use these tools effectively in a disaster like this one, I also think these can be educational.

Ms. Fatima: I agree, how can we go through such an experience without learning from it?  This also broke all barriers, even our instructors were gathered, there weren't classes, discrimination, segregation... it's actually solving social issues without even tackling it, as I'm allowed to share my projects and ideas with people who I'm supposed to be segregated from, without even having to discuss it, without having to resist or emphasize...  and we can learn from everyone, including the communities we helped, they are wise, too.

Ms. Rasha: in Riyadh, they learned from our experiences, and organized and mobilized during this year's rains.  It wasn't a disaster like what happened in Jeddah, but they learned from us and were ready to support other efforts.

Mr. Ali: through social media, are we creating a shallow concience? I can just "click" and "like" and I've become a humanist?  A feminist?  I support someone now? 

Dr. Ghazi: we have to remember that social media is a tool, an enabler.  Had it not been for the concience already in us, nothing would have happened.  The beauty of the new technology is reawakening our souls, allowing us to connect, bringing a multimedia power that expands learning from books to images.  The youth were able to find new avenues to express themselves, without the traditional media.  Social media has brought new modes of learning, creativity, action, and new friends.


No comments:

Post a Comment