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  • I'm an immigrant from Venezuela,

  • and I've lived in the US for six years.

  • If you ask me about my life as an expatriate,

  • I would say that I've been lucky.

  • But it hasn't been easy.

  • Growing up, I never thought that I was going to leave my homeland.

  • I participated in my first student protest in 2007,

  • when the president shut down one of the most important news networks.

  • I was getting my bachelor's degree in communications,

  • and that was the first time I realized I couldn't take free speech for granted.

  • We knew things were getting bad, but we never saw what was coming:

  • an economic crisis, infrastructure breaking down,

  • citywide electrical blackouts,

  • the decline of public health care and shortage of medicines,

  • disease outbreaks and starvation.

  • I moved to Canada with my husband in 2013,

  • and we always thought we'd move back home when the crisis improved.

  • But we never did.

  • Nearly all my childhood friends have left the country,

  • but my parents are still there.

  • There have been moments where I've called my mom,

  • and I could hear people screaming and crying in the background

  • as teargas bombs exploded in the streets.

  • And my mom, as if I couldn't hear it, would always tell me,

  • (Speaking Spanish)

  • "We're fine, don't worry."

  • But of course, I worry.

  • It's my parents, and I'm 4,000 miles away.

  • Today, I'm just one of more than four million Venezuelans

  • who have left their home country.

  • A lot of my friends are Venezuelan immigrants,

  • and in the last few years,

  • we've begun talking about how we could make a difference

  • when we live so far away.

  • That is how Code for Venezuela was born in 2019.

  • It began with a hackathon, because we are experts in tech,

  • and we thought we could use our tech skills

  • to create solutions for people on the ground.

  • But first, we needed to find some experts actually living inside Venezuela

  • to guide us.

  • We'd see so many other hackathons

  • that came up with wily, ambitious, incredible technological solutions

  • that sounded great in theory but ultimately failed to work

  • in the actual countries they were intended to help.

  • Many of us have been living abroad for years,

  • and we are detached from the day-to-day problems

  • that people are facing in Venezuela.

  • So we turned to the experts actually living inside of the country.

  • For example, Julio Castro,

  • a doctor and one of the leaders ofdicos por la Salud.

  • When the government stopped publishing official health care data in 2015,

  • Dr. Julio began collecting information himself,

  • using an informal but coordinated system

  • of cell phone communications.

  • They track available personnel, medical supplies, mortality data,

  • disease outbreaks;

  • compile it into a report;

  • and then share that on Twitter.

  • He became our go-to expert on health care in Venezuela.

  • Luis Carlosaz,

  • a widely recognized journalist who reports acts of censorship

  • and human rights violations suffered by the people of Venezuela,

  • he helps us make sense of what is happening there,

  • since the news is controlled by the government.

  • We call these people our heroes on the ground.

  • With their expert advice, we came up with a series of challenges

  • for hackathon participants.

  • In that first hackathon, we had 300 participants

  • from seven countries

  • come up with 16 different project submissions.

  • We picked the projects with the most potential

  • and continued working on them after the event.

  • Today, I'll share two of our most successful projects

  • to give you a taste of the impact we are having so far.

  • They're called MediTweet and Blackout Tracker.

  • MediTweet is an intelligent Twitter bot

  • that helps Venezuelans find the medicine they need.

  • Right now in Venezuela,

  • if you get sick and you go to a hospital,

  • there is a good chance they won't have the right medical supplies to treat you.

  • The situation is so bad

  • that patients often get a "shopping list" from the doctor

  • instead of a prescription.

  • I live the need for this firsthand.

  • My mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

  • She needed to have a lumbar puncture

  • to get a final diagnosis and treatment plan.

  • But the needle for this procedure wasn't available.

  • I was in Venezuela at that time,

  • and I was seeing my mom getting worse in front of me every day.

  • After looking everywhere, we found the needle in a site

  • that is like the eBay of Latin America.

  • I met the seller in a local bakery,

  • and it was like buying something on the black market.

  • My mom brought the needle to her doctor, and he did the procedure.

  • Without this, she could have died.

  • But it's not just medical supplies,

  • it's medicines, too.

  • When she was first diagnosed,

  • we bought her treatment in a state pharmacy,

  • and it was, like, practically free.

  • But then the state pharmacy ran out,

  • and we still had six months of treatment ahead.

  • Six months of treatment ahead.

  • We bought some medicines online and the rest in Mexico.

  • Now she's in her third year of remission,

  • and every time that I call,

  • she tells me, "I'm fine, don't worry."

  • But not everyone can afford to leave the country,

  • and many aren't healthy enough to travel.

  • That is why people turn to Twitter,

  • buying and selling medicines using the hashtag #ServicioPublico,

  • meaning "public service."

  • Our Twitter bot scans Twitter for the hashtag #ServicioPublico

  • and connects users who are asking for specific medicines

  • with those who are selling their private leftovers.

  • We also pool the location data of those Twitter users

  • and use it for a visualization tool.

  • It gives local organizations likedicos por la Salud

  • a sense of where they have a shortage.

  • We can also apply machine learning algorithms

  • to detect clusters of disease.

  • If they've received humanitarian aid,

  • this could help them to make better decisions

  • about the distributions of the supplies.

  • Our second project, is called Blackout Tracker.

  • Venezuela is currently going through an electricity crisis.

  • Last year, Venezuela suffered what some people consider

  • the worst power failures in Venezuelan history.

  • I had two long days without communication with my parents.

  • Some cities experienced blackouts every day.

  • But you only know about this on social media.

  • The government won't report blackouts on the news.

  • When the power goes out,

  • many Venezuelans, we quickly tweet out the location with the hashtag #SinLuz,

  • meaning "without electricity,"

  • before their phones ran out of battery,

  • so people around the country know what is happening.

  • Like MediTweet,

  • Blackout Tracker scans Twitter for the hashtag #SinLuz

  • and creates a map using the location data of those users.

  • You can quickly see

  • where the blackouts are happening today

  • and how many blackouts have happened over time.

  • People want to know what is happening,

  • and this is our answer.

  • But it's also a way of holding the government accountable.

  • It's easy for them to deny that the problem exists

  • or make excuses,

  • because there is no official data on it.

  • Blackout Tracker shows how bad the problem really is.

  • Now, some people in Silicon Valley may look at these projects

  • and say that there are no major technological innovations.

  • But that is the point.

  • These projects are not insanely advanced,

  • but it's what the people of Venezuela need,

  • and they can have a tremendous impact.

  • Beyond these projects, perhaps our most significant accomplishment

  • is that a movement has been created,

  • one where people around the world are coming together

  • to use their professional skills to create solutions for the people of Venezuela.

  • And because we are partnering with locals,

  • we are creating the solutions that people want and need.

  • What is so great about this

  • is that we are using our professional skills,

  • so it comes easily and naturally.

  • It's not that hard for us to make a difference.

  • If someone from San Francisco

  • were to hire professionals to create solutions

  • like MediTweet or Blackout Tracker,

  • it would cost a small fortune.

  • By donating our services,

  • we are making a bigger impact than if we were just to donate money.

  • And you can do the same thing --

  • not in Venezuela, necessarily,

  • but in your own community.

  • In a world that is more connected than ever,

  • we still see how specialized communities can be living isolated or in silos.

  • There are so many great ways to help,

  • but I believe that you can use your professional skills

  • to connect diverse communities and create effective solutions

  • through those relationships.

  • Anyone with knowledge and professional skills

  • has a powerful force to bring hope to a community.

  • For us at Code for Venezuela,

  • this is just the beginning.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

I'm an immigrant from Venezuela,

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B1 TED venezuela blackout tracker twitter hashtag

Simple, effective tech to connect communities in crisis | Johanna Figueira

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/07/03
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