Those who have careers or volunteer in humanitarian work are often drawn due to an empathetic base that drives them to help. For some, like Facebook’s Cait Campos, this is also fueled through a personal, family history that spurred her to focus her efforts on helping migrants and refugees. Being the child of a family who migrated and knowing the hardships and travails from her relatives has only bolstered her resolve to help.
“When Rami told me about the Colombia deployment, I thought about my dad’s own journey (as a migrant) to this country and immediately put my hand up for the opportunity to volunteer.” Campos’s professional background began in international development, so when she joined Facebook nearly three years ago, she was excited to scale some of the work she had done in the past.
As a Program Manager for Facebook’s rural connectivity team, Campos saw volunteering with NetHope as an opportunity to have direct impact on the ground, and to leverage her skills from working with governments, operators, and her technical background to be able to help in information management and leading a team in these complex operating environments. She was first introduced to NetHope when she discovered the opportunity to take part in its Disaster Preparedness Training program which launched in 2018 in Panama. The trainings were part of NetHope’s strategy to have a roster of ready participants when disasters or emergencies occurred, as well as pre-positioning equipment and resources in regions that experience high incidences of these types of events.
During the training, she was chosen as a team leader where she further honed her skills in a field setting. This experience led to her first deployment, joining the NetHope connectivity team in Colombia, with the mission to set up free and secure public Wi-Fi hubs along the migration route currently being used by millions of displaced Venezuelans.
Campos sees that the refugee and migrant crisis is growing globally and felt this was an opportunity to give back to the Latin community. “This experience presented me the opportunity for direct impact to a population who had limited to no other means of accessing internet. ” She spent time with some of the migrants to understand how the team could make the Wi-Fi service landing page or service more valuable. The stories many shared were about connectivity as a means to communicate with family in Venezuela and keep motivated and connectivity as a means to map out the next stop in their journey.
“Access to free internet in a crisis environment is so important for communicating with loved ones and getting basic, accurate information in times of need,” she stresses. “If they can’t afford a bus ticket and instead walk thousands of miles, they definitely can’t afford internet. Giving them free access gave some familiarity, some knowledge, some connection to home.”
Campos notes that NetHope's expansive reach through its nonprofit members enables them to connect locally on the ground, extending services for Venezuelans who have needs beyond connectivity. Cait and team installed networks in shelters housing migrants, workforce development centers, and other spaces where many Venezuelans passed through.
“What shifted my mind during the deployment was that we weren’t only deploying free internet, it really was through the landing pages that NetHope created that served as access to finding shelter, food, and other nearby services. It really was a one-stop shop for refugees no matter their needs.” She notes that Facebook initiatives such as Disaster Maps and Safety Check are great value-added tools that aid in response.
Campos was also excited by the fact that NetHope is a noted convener in this space with an established playbook for how to respond to connectivity crises. She finds it a “unique space where tech companies (and nonprofits) are working together in information as aid. It is the best collaboration I've seen between the two groups and is a testament to when you bring the right people together, you can help solve for some of the most world’s most challenging problems. Whether that is migration, or recently losing your home in a natural disaster, we can continue to empathize and leverage our on the ground experience to build tools and solutions for a segment of the population going through a difficult and overwhelming journey.
Campos says that working with NetHope is a humbling and inspiring call to action and this year she helped lead the training to build the next roster of volunteers from tech companies including from Facebook, Google, and Amazon.