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LATISM: Using Social Media for Social Good

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From Rob Halper, Director, Video Communication
July 28, 2011

I’m in a small, impoverished village in Haiti, just over the border of the Dominican Republic. The heat is sweltering, and there’s no electricity or running water. Dozens of pregnant women, many of whom are in their teens and already mothers, are attending a free pre-natal health clinic staffed by volunteer doctors from the U.S., found via Facebook and Twitter. The women are advised to get regular checkups, though this is problematic as they are so isolated. The doctors perform a routine examination, and if they suspect any serious conditions they are referred to a hospital in the Dominican Republic, where they will be treated for free. One frequent condition is fistula, a serious medical complication that sometimes occurs in pregnancy, particularly in younger girls. In addition to advice, the doctors also dispense folic acid, and give out JOHNSON’S® Baby products. Dulce Soto, a medical officer from the Johnson & Johnson operating company in the Dominican Republic, and her colleague Josephine Abreu, have also volunteered their time, travelling over 4 hours to get to participate in the clinic. 

This is part of a month long sustainable development project set up by Ana Roca Castro and her LATISM (Latinos in Social Media) organization. Ana, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, is shuttling us (myself, a video producer and a cameraman) from one location to another, so we can document the project. Back across the Dominican border in Monte Cristi, another isolated, but beautiful village on the northwest coast, we visit a “cyber room”, set up with dozens of computers donated through Latism.  Here, local “trainers” help educate artisans, and hotel owners, to use social media to connect with potential customers and organizations. The trainers will stay behind after LATISM departs, thus fulfilling the promise of sustainability, and ”using social media for social good,” philosophies shared by Johnson & Johnson.

We were able to meet the artisans, mostly all women, who were visibly excited about taking pictures of their beautiful handmade pieces, and enthusiastic about sharing them on line. Many of the crafts will be sold at the upcoming blogging event, BlogHer.

Finally, the last aspect of the program is a summer camp, attended by the children of both the LATISM volunteers and cyber room participants, where they get to work on their English, their Kung Fu skills and to generally have fun. It’s amazing how a relatively small, but extremely focused organization like LATISM can achieve so much in so little time. What they will leave behind are practical skills, knowledge, the promise of economic sustainability, and most importantly, increased self-worth and hope for a population too often ignored.

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