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COVID Blog #1: How tech is bringing communities together in a time of social distancing

In a few short months, COVID-19 has caused widespread anxiety around the world. Yet in this time of uncertainty, the impact of community and collective action is undeniable.

Technology has a critical role to play during times of crisis. That is particularly true in this situation of a global pandemic with highly restricted mobility. Here are just some of the platforms and resources that have been created to support communities through the power of tech. If you’re looking to set up your community of support during this challenging time, check out these and other mutual aid resources:

  • The Coronavirus Handbook: Started by a tech nonprofit in the UK, this ever evolving resource brings technologists, civic organizations, public and private institutions, researchers and specialists from around the world together to collaborate on a response to the coronavirus outbreak and its subsequent impacts. While providing a space to work on proactive solutions, the handbook also provides essential personal tips for self care and remote working.
  • Catchafire: On a self-proclaimed mission to “mobilize the world’s talent for good”, Catchafire’s volunteer platform connects professionals looking to donate their skills with organizations in need of their talents. They’ve taken measures to give special assistance to work relating directly to COVID-19 and have short-term projects and a virtual volunteer pool in the areas of website management, operations, marketing and HR support.
  • Started by a few software developers in California, Help with COVID is an online marketplace where people can recruit volunteers for projects that are supporting the community through COVID-19, and volunteers can find projects to contribute their skills towards. The listed projects are especially in need of volunteers in software development, bio, medicine, manufacturing, and grant writing.
  • Here in Vancouver, a site has been set up to support mutual aid efforts in the wake of COVID-19. The website is filled with people offering their services – from running errands and picking up groceries, offering dog walking services, or simply offering to be there for someone on the phone and lend a friendly ear, it serves as a beautiful example of how communities come together in a time of need.
  • COVID-19 Coming Together (Facebook Group): Another Vancouver based group, this community on Facebook was created for members in the Greater Vancouver to come together and support each other during this critical time. With over 26,000 members, there are heartfelt stories of support, creativity and encouragement for those who need it most. One offers their sewing skills and calls for fabric to create face masks that will be donated, another calls for someone to help run errands for her father who is in self-isolation. People can also donate to their fundraising page where all proceeds go to Vancouver individuals and families’ basic needs such as rent and groceries.
  • NeedsList: The online platform NeedsList matches needs and offers within communities in real time, and tracks the value of all in-kind supply needs and offers coming through the community. This is a great way to figure out what you can give based on specific needs.

Have you come across other initiatives we should know about? Let us know in the comments.

We at PeaceGeeks hope that you are also able to find time for self-care during this difficult time. Stay safe and healthy — we’re in this together.

Mar 24, 2020
Category: Technology

Maisha Initiative Kenya

Crisis Overview

Youth in Kenya account for 60% of the population. Many are unemployed which encourages them to engage in negative social practices such as substance abuse, indiscipline and immoral behaviors. They have talents and skills but don't have access to information and opportunities to utilize them. There are also limited local opportunities to both build new skills to strenthen employment opportunities and harness existing skills and apply them towards social change projects

What They Do

Maisha Initiative Kenya (MIK) is a youth led community based organization in Nakuru, Kenya that aims to inspire youth to promote peace and discover their talent through music, art, theatre and technology. Maisha leverages these tools for social mobilization, awareness creation, communication, socio-economic development and entertainment. Maisha's members come from different ethnic backgrounds but share the core objectives of promoting health and peace initiatives, awareness creation, advocating for gender balance, discouraging the society from engaging in negative social practices and help to provide sustainable solutions.

Our Impact

The PeaceGeeks team is supporting MIK to design and create a custom website and explore web hosting options. PeaceGeeks is also providing training to allow MIK members to continue to maintain their new site, as well as contribute branding expertise to help the organization raise its online profile and reach out to more Kenyan youth. MIK expects to launch their new website in October 2015. 

Deliverables Summary
  • Website development
  • Training
  • Branding

PeaceGeeks Contributors

Renee Black Executive Director - Magdi Rizkallah Projects Director - Rozmin Parpia Project Coordinator

Maisha Initiative Kenya Contributors

Jeremiah Kuria Finance Manager - Laban Asila Project Coordinator

Child Mining: The Cost of Technology

One hundred kilometres inland from the Congo’s lush green forests and deep blue rivers, seven-year-old Lukoji awakes at five o’clock to begin work in the local heterogenite mine. He lives in Katanga Province, somewhere on the outskirts of civilization. As he walks three miles to the mine, in the early light of the morning, the landscape blends into the road, making it almost invisible. The dull colour of dirt and dust seem to blanket the whole earth, like a sweeping and unconditional misery of tedium, a lack of freedom, diversity, or opportunity. The rest of the world seems unreachable beyond the horizon.

Lukoji will spend his morning above ground, sifting and washing heterogenite, before he heads out to school in the afternoon. His older brothers, twelve and thirteen, are not so lucky. They will work eleven hours today, extracting minerals from inside the deep, narrow, and precarious tunnels of the mine. With bare hands and feet, and zero protective gear, the boys risk sickness, permanent injury, and death. At the end of the day, they may earn anywhere from $0.75 to $3. Then, tomorrow morning, they will do it all over again.

Child mining is pervasive. Though mining is a difficult and dangerous job for adults as well, children are particularly susceptible to trauma and illness, as they are in the midst of development. The International Labour Organization estimates that over one million children around the world work in mines and quarries. This is considered among the worst forms of child labour, and one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. It’s not difficult to see why. In Guatemala, children as young as five work in stone quarries, carrying heavy loads, breathing in fine dust, and suffering dehydration from prolonged hours working in the sun and heat. They risk injury from explosives and flying shards of rock, as well as disease from tainted water. Children in salt mines in Niger and Senegal suffer exposure to corrosive salt elements, which can permanently damage their skin and vision. Similarly, child gold miners in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mongolia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, are exposed to mercury – a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system, used to separate gold from rock in the local gold mines. Child miners risk tunnel collapses and falling rocks, as well as disease from breathing in toxic gases. With little to no protective gear or proper training, serious and permanent injury, illness, and death, are common.

An estimated 6 children die each month due to soil collapses in heterogenite mines in the DRC alone. The DRC has approximately 64% of the world’s coltan reserves, and in fact, serious conflict has arisen over coltan mining, including the eight-year-long Ituri conflict. Coltan is a fundamental mineral in most modern electronics for its capacity to hold high electric charges. The mine where Lukoji works is Chinese-owned, and the cobalt and coltan that he helps clean go into making automobiles and cell phones for the world market. In fact, Apple products (such as cell phones) are most commonly assembled in China, with coltan extracted from mines in Africa. Of course, Lukoji is unaware of this. He thinks that the minerals end up at the local (Chinese-owned) depot down the road, when in fact, that cobalt went into making the rechargeable battery in my iPhone. Knowing all this, it’s difficult not to feel guilty somehow. But the story is further complicated.

Child miners face hardship long before they enter the mines. They are born into poverty and like Lukoji, they often live on the outskirts of civilization. There may be a school nearby, even a local clinic, but in general, they lack the most basic public services. Most child miners are school dropouts. Their decision to work in the local mine hardly qualifies as a ‘decision,’ given their lack of options. Sixteen-year-old Adam from Tanzania risks his life twelve hours a day for a bag of rocks which, if he’s lucky, may contain traces of gold. Without even the illusion of choice, Adam travelled fifty kilometres last year when his local mine shut down and he needed to find work elsewhere. With their lack of education, twelve-hour workdays, six to seven day weeks, insignificant pay, and vulnerability to injury and illness, those who work in artisanal mines are the poster children for poverty traps.

It is difficult to underestimate the hardships they face. Young boys in the DRC are exploited both as miners and child soldiers, as many of the small-scale mines in Katanga are owned by local militias. In Côte d’Ivoire, boy miners are so overburdened by the physical abuses of mining, including constant sickness and exhaustion, that they commonly abuse amphetamines just to get through the day. One can only imagine the traumatic experience for a five-year-old girl who is forced to go down into the deep, narrow pits of a mineshaft in order to drain water. Story after story illustrates the endless shocking tragedies of child miners all around the world. In general, the mines that employ child labour are local, small-scale ‘artisanal’ mines, often illegally operated. In fact, most countries that employ child miners have explicit laws against child labour, though these are rarely (if ever) enforced. The raw minerals from these mines are exported on the world market, to surprisingly little benefit to the country.

But this is not just Africa’s, or Asia’s, or Latin America’s story. Child mining has a long history in the West through the Industrial Revolution. Until the early twentieth century, children were favoured to work in coal mines, due to their ability to fit into small passages. They were also favoured for their cheap labour and because they were easy to manage. Eventually, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a series of laws were passed which began to limit working conditions for children. For example, in 1833, a Royal Commission in Britain recommended that children 11 to 18 should work a maximum of “only” twelve hours a day. Coal miners commonly suffered from respiratory ailments, mutilating accidents, and exhaustion. Children were killed frequently. Of course, children didn’t just work in coal mines. They worked in textile factories, mills, department stores, and more. In fact, the very notion of ‘childhood’ as a developmental stage is fairly recent in history. Children have been labouring alongside adults for as long as we know.

Today, however, child labour is recognized as an egregious human rights violation. It is heavily legislated against in most countries, although, as mentioned earlier, not always enforced. To be clear, child labour is considered to be any kind of work which interferes with a child’s health and/or education, and impedes physical, mental, or emotional development. This is in contrast to child ‘work’ where, for example, children help out on the family farm, but still have time to play and go to school. Children who work in mines and factories represent some of the most common experiences of child labour today.

So we can all agree that children should not be allowed to work in mines then, right? Actually, no. Certain development economists, such as Ha-Joon Chang for example, believe that developing countries would be better (or at least should be allowed) to follow the development models undertaken by now developed countries back in the dark days of the Industrial Revolution. That is to say, if child labour helped Britain and the Netherlands and America develop economically in the beginning, then why should Niger and Ghana and China (where children are employed as factory workers) be told that they cannot employ child labour? In essence, maybe lax laws (among other things) will actually increase incomes, promote development, and eventually children won’t need to work in the mines anymore. This is not to say that child mining is a good thing. It is to suggest that it may in fact be the lesser of two evils. As Martin Wolf puts it, “these children work not because their parents are more wicked than those anywhere else, but because of their poverty.” What other options do they have? It is possible that the only sustainable solution to such a horrendous crime against children is the slow and brutal (and in no way inevitable) process of development itself.

So what can we do? In the late 1990s, campaigns against blood diamonds focused on boycotting. Diamond mines were operated by African warlords under inhumane conditions to help finance wars in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia. These campaigns were largely successful because they encouraged the public to insist that their diamonds be conflict-free. Unfortunately, assuming that cobalt and copper and gold mining in Ghana is the same as diamonds in Liberia is problematic. Boycotting minerals from small-scale mines around the world may in fact only contribute to the problem. With few resources in artisanal mines, child miners are already paid so little for so many hours of work, and do without costly protective gear. With less money going to artisanal mines, the children will most likely end up working just as hard for less, given their desperation and lack of options.

One must also be careful not to throw money into the situation. Of course, it would be amazing if we (those of us with even the smallest amount of excess resources) could substitute a child’s labour. Indeed, some organizations promise that you can do this. By giving them money, which they will then directly offer to the child, who will, because of you, no longer have to toil in the mines for twelve hours a day. Beware, first of all, that this may not be true, or at least not in a way where your money is directly puts into the hands of the child. Not to mention, it does nothing to address the systemic causes of child mining. As well, it may contribute to a system of aid and giving which has the potential to counteract positive development initiatives. Development economist William Easterly refers to this idea of development as “the white man’s burden.” We may think that, as people with resources, it is up to us to save those child miners, when perhaps it is not.

At the end of a long article depicting the shameful and deplorable conditions of child mining, it is difficult to write that perhaps there aren’t any easy solutions. Maybe the first thing we need to do is understand how complicated the situation really is. Maybe that will lead us to understand the invaluable experience of those who live within those communities where child mining is prevalent. In fact, development initiatives are in many ways moving away from international aid donations, towards the promotion of grassroots movements. We understand more and more, that communities on the ground know better than us what is needed to incite change. We should, first of all, understand that child mining is a serious problem attached to many of the modern products we see on the world market today. Secondly, we should give credence to the fact that social, economic, historical, and moral factors make this a complex situation without any simple, guilt-free, Band-Aid solutions. Thirdly, let’s keep talking about this.

By Layne Carson

Jan 12, 2015
Category: Issue Briefs

PeaceTalk #16: Technology for Human Rights

Guest Speaker:
Scott Nelson
Mar 5, 2014
6:00 - 7:30PM
Calabash Bistro

The 2013 revelations of US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, Edward Snowden, helped reveal the real extent of how much of our online activity is monitored, stored, and analyzed for later use. This PeaceTalk will walk through the major disclosures by Snowden and what they mean for how environmental and human rights campaigners use information technology, and how some of the major geo-political shockwaves from his leaks are likely to play out. Register on EventBrite:

Speaker Bio:

Scott has over 25 years experience as an information technology steward. His expertise includes implementation of commodity and re-purposed hardware, open standards and free software - Ubuntu for servers, workstations and netbooks, Android for tablets and mobile - as well as Bitcoin-based e-commerce and social media strategy and web service development centered around the Drupal Content Management Framework. He is a co-founder of Free Geek Vancouver and Indymedia, and has served on the boards of several progressive non-profit organizations, including the Vancouver Community Net, Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, and the Artists' Legal Outreach Society. In 1993 he founded progressive technology firm Communicopia, which he subsequently sold in 2000.

Event Video:
Thank You To:
Partnership With:
Feb 12, 2014
Category: PeaceTalks
Time 2:
6 PM

A PeaceGeeks at ICCM

PeaceGeeks will be attending international conferences in November in Nairobi, Kenya.

We will be sending our very own geek, Johanna Khisa who is a member of the PeaceGeeks Board of Directors. Johanna is a technology management consultant with over 15 years of international experience and is inspired by technology because of the possibilities it allows us to create. She will be bringing her passion in technology and peace by representing PeaceGeeks at the two events in Nairobi, Kenya. Johanna will be attending in Nairobi is the International Conference of Crisis Mappers in Nairobi and the annual summit hosted by Digital Humanitarian Network.

The International Conference of Crisis Mappers

PeaceGeeks has been invited to give a talk at the International Conference of Crisis Mappers. The conference is a leading humanitarian technology event of the year. It connects humanitarian, human rights, media organizations with top technology companies and software developers and academics. Many innovations and best practices in the developing field of Crisis Mapping have emerged from these conferences and this facilitates the advancements and partnerships in this field. This conference has had media coverage from some of the most prominent media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, and CBC News.

The theme for this year’s ICCM is “Humanitarian Technology Innovation In and Out of Africa”. Topics such as regional crisis mapping and early warning projects, grassroots, people centered mapping and development; communicating with disaster affected communities, crowdsourcing crisis information, social computing and information forensics will be explored.

The second event that Johanna will be attending is an annual summit hosted by Digital Humanitarian Network. The Digital Humanitarian Network is a “network of networks” to form an association between Volunteer and Technical Communities and to provide a platform for formal, professional humanitarian organizations to interact. Participants in this conference will be examining current humanitarian challenges in relation to technology, digital response, crisis management, and ways in which we can create solutions to those challenges using adaptable, agile methods and tools.

We look forward to Johanna's return so she can share her amazing experiences with us! The knowledge gained from these two events will definitely be an excellent resource for PeaceGeeks.

For more information about Crisis Mappers please checkout:

Nov 4, 2013
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