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Harnessing the Power of Skype to Bring Relief to Haiti

Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike – three hurricanes and one tropical storm which rocked the nation of Haiti in 2008, affecting 8% of the country’s overall population. With an estimated $1 billion in damage, this was also the costliest natural disaster in Haitian history. When disasters like these occur, a difficult task is set forth for humanitarian organizations to coordinate relief efforts in order to aid those in need. In the aftermath lines of communication are often not readily available, but with the help of Skype one volunteer site leader was able to lend a hand.

In the September of 2008, Aaron Davis, a freelance project manager, traveled down to Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth largest city that was hit particularly hard. After a brief stop in Galveston, Texas, to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ike, Davis and disaster relief organization, All Hands recognized that their efforts were needed elsewhere.

Upon arrival, 10 days after the final storm, Davis was met with mudslides and flooding. Lacking power sources and sewage infrastructure, the city of Gonaives, a river valley, had as much as 6 feet of mud that came down from the mountains. With limited means of communication, Skype WiFi was used along with a satellite Internet connection to set up shop.

It was important to be able “plug in,” as Davis says, with ever changing locations, meetings were often spur of the moment. Video calling allowed various humanitarian organizations, like CARE, UNICEF, and Feed The Children, to discuss where relief efforts were most needed. As tasks were changing by the day, that line to the outside world was vital. Davis said, “if they needed mud to be removed from streets so children could return to school, or removed from a house, because a family of 14 lived there – we had a team survey where volunteers would be best utilized.” Volunteers, supplies, and daily responsibilities – it was all arranged and coordinated via video calling and instant messaging.

Aaron Davis

Davis with members of the Gonaives community.

 Not only were these features a good resource for last minute meetings and coordinating with their base camp, Davis says it also enabled them to “be in touch with the whole world. It became a community resource; villagers could call the rest of the world and contact their families. It was useful and helpful; it is the tie that binds the common thread.”

How has Skype aided you in remote situations?

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