Photo credit: Sarah Stone
CONNECTING IN CRISES
In the fields of a Scouts camp on the outskirts of Guatemala City, 82 IT professionals from NetHope Members, other local NGOs and government organizations were trained to get communities connected as quickly as possible when a disaster strikes. The disaster response training, made possible with the generous support of the Internet Society Foundation, ran over the course of three weeks in February and March 2023 and encapsulated all the basics to restore or create connectivity in a disaster response – from what to pack in your bag, to how to get electricity back up-and-running when it’s been cut off.
Connectivity is vital in a disaster situation. “It can be a lifesaver,” says Chris Fearon, who co-ordinated the training. “It’s how you can get critical information to people about where to receive resources like food, water, shelter, medicine, medical care...”
The first week of this training takes a train-the-trainer approach. Some of the most proficient trainees were then recruited to train participants in the next two cohorts. As a result, the ripple effect of the training goes so much further, leaving people like Guyadira equipped to continue training people in disaster response long after the NetHope team has left the country.
BRINGING DIGITAL BENEFITS TO DISCONNECTED COMMUNITIES
While the purpose of NetHope’s Disaster Telecommunications training is to equip nonprofit tech professionals in disaster response, the skills learned and networks made can stretch far beyond that. Trainee-turned-trainer Guyadira from New Sun Road Guatemala plans to use what she’s learned and taught on the course to get remote communities better connected – even before a disaster happens.
“About two years ago there was a disaster here in Guatemala in the place where I live and various communities suffered many deaths because nobody had access to technology and didn’t even know how to use a telephone,” says Guyadira. “Those communities didn’t know how to communicate or didn’t actually have the means to do so, and so had to wait until an organization came. But for many, it was too late.”
New Sun Road, where Guyadira works, seeks to bring electricity, connectivity and digital access to remote communities like these, focusing particularly on equipping women. Following the Disaster Telecommunications training, Guyadira hopes that they can start bringing some of the new technology she’s been trained on into these communities.
She also knows she’s now better equipped to help next time a disaster strikes. “It will help a lot to improve the situation,” says Guyadira, “because now there will be a plan and we won’t be starting from zero. At the very least, we already know what to do if a disaster happens.”
COLLABORATING IS KEY
A key part of NetHope’s DNA is collaboration and collective action, and so building a network is a central element to the Disaster Telecommunications training, in addition to building skills.
Floridalma works for Guatemala’s National Ministry of Defense, focusing on risk management. She was involved in the Guatemalan response to Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020, helping to re-establish connectivity in order to evacuate people who’d been affected. In future disasters, the network she’s built through the Disaster Telecommunications training could prove really useful – helping to streamline and speed up the response.
“I think that the interaction between the government organizations and NGOs makes the planning and organization more effective for responding to a disaster,” says Floridalma. “Getting to know new people and discovering the abilities that each person possesses enables the response to be immediate or more appropriate – because you can go to a certain person with certain abilities and can make the coordination work more efficient.”
The NetHope team have already set up WhatsApp and LinkedIn groups to facilitate continued learning, communication and collaboration between the participants of the training, and the trainers too.
DISASTERS HAPPEN IN GUATEMALA – GETTING CONNECTED SAVES LIVES
Another of the trainees on the course was nonprofit IT professional Alejandro, who works for NetHope Member Oxfam in Guatemala. In 2018, following the eruption of Volcan de Fuego, Alejandro was involved in supplying IT equipment to ensure data could be collected from the people most in-need, so they could get the right help, quickly. Thankfully, connections weren’t destroyed in that disaster – but if they go down in future, Alejandro feels better equipped to respond.
“We are looking at five modules where all of the modules work hand in hand with one another to be able to provide this kind of help when there is a disaster,” says Alejandro. “Depending on the magnitude of a disaster, there may not be electricity, towers, connection… but if we have a clear sky and the solar panels, then in that way we can get internet so that we can upload data and send information or request information. Each part works together to be able to help the communities.”
There’s much to continue learning and practicing – but this training has given Guyadira, Floridalma and Alejandro the skills to start and the community to continue developing.
“NetHope is a network that benefits everyone to be able to implement technology,” says Alejandro. “I have been in Oxfam for ten years and have taken part in various NetHope trainings. These trainings serve to help us see what technology needs to be implemented… NetHope says, ‘okay, let’s see what the best solution is and make sure that your organizations can implement it.’”
A FUNDER’S PERSPECTIVE
This joint statement from the Internet Society Foundation’s Executive Director, Sarah Armstrong, and Grant Specialist, Remy Hellstern, highlights our partnership with their organization, and the critical importance of these trainings:
“The NetHope training in Guatemala was a stellar example of preparing and readying local communities to respond to natural disasters in a timely and efficient manner. NetHope was highly organized and tailored the training to match the needs of the individuals on the ground, as well as the potential threats that are likely to happen in Guatemala. We both appreciated the training team’s attention to localism and sustainability while delivering the training to these professionals in disaster management and response. Throughout the training, we were greatly impressed with the organization’s attention to detail and willingness to go above and beyond to support the needs of the community in which they were working.
Each of the sessions was complimentary to one another and offered an additional layer of preparedness training. It was fascinating to see all these skills come together at the disaster simulation on the last day. Working alongside NetHope to facilitate these trainings in both Ghana, earlier this year, and Guatemala have provided a meaningful opportunity for both our Internet Society community and technical professionals to be equipped and prepared for the next disaster that strikes and to share that knowledge with others in their field. The strives to fund projects that leverage the Internet and telecommunications to shape a better, more resilient future for all of us. This recent training hosted by NetHope embodies that and helps to achieve our vision: The Internet is For Everyone.”
TRAINING THE PEOPLE WHO CAN HAVE THE MOST IMPACT
Now, it’s Alejandro, Floridalma and Guyadira who will be amongst the first responders if, and when, a disaster next occurs in Guatemala. That’s why NetHope is so passionate about equipping local people with the digital skills and connections to respond effectively – and why we’re so grateful to the Internet Society Foundation for partnering with us to do this.
“NetHope, as a membership organization, has a footprint in most places in the world, especially in the disaster-prone regions of the world,” says Chris. “So by strengthening those relationships, NetHope can support those Member organizations who are actually the first responders. Our key role is to be able to come in and provide support.
“From the feedback from the trainings we've received over the years, we know that it is having an impact and that it is encouraging people. And in some cases, people have explicitly told us that it has been life-changing for them.”
NetHope will be running two more Disaster Telecommunications trainings this year, in the Philippines and in Panama. This follows on from successful trainings in Guatemala in February and March 2023 and in Ghana in May 2022. If interested in participating in these trainings, please contact email@example.com
For more on NetHope’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Program, click here.