PopTech Blog

Refugees saving refugees: On the front lines of the Ivorian crisis with Dr. Raj Panjabi and Dr. Yesero Kalisa

Dr. Raj Panjabi (left) and Dr. Yesero Kalisa (right) at Tubman Hospital in Zwedru, Liberia

The post-election crisis in Ivory Coast has been transformed from a political standoff to a humanitarian catastrophe. Ethnic groups loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo and those loyal to president-elect Alassane Ouattara have clashed with horrifying results: last week the Red Cross discovered 800 bodies in one village alone; on Friday the U.N. discovered another 118, many burned alive.

While Gbagbo's arrest on April 11 represents a turning point in the crisis, this shockwave of violence has created a refugee crisis in neighboring Liberia, as an estimated 100,000 Ivorians have poured over the border into the country in recent weeks. Their arrival has overwhelmed the already fragile and under-resourced rural public health system in southeastern Liberia.

2010 Social Innovation Fellow Dr. Raj Panjabi and his colleagues are on the front lines of this unfolding crisis. Their community-based health organization, Tiyatien Health, is working with the Liberian Ministry of Health and other partners at one Liberian district hospital and sixteen clinics in some of the areas most seriously affected. We spoke to Panjabi and Dr. Yesero Kalisa, Tiyatien Health's Clinical Director, who are heroically trying to provide care at the only hospital in the county, Tubman Hospital.

PopTech: What are you seeing on the ground right now?
Yesero Kalisa:
There are now more than 30,000 Ivorian refugees in Grand Gedeh, the county where we operate on the border with Ivory Coast. We’ve been seeing a rapid increase in refugees since January. Our small rural hospital, with only 80 beds, has been overwhelmed. People have been arriving with all manner of problems: gunshot wounds, injuries suffered in the wilderness, severe malaria, diarrhea, and worst of all, malnutrition. We’re running dangerously out of food.

Ivorian refugee at Tubman Hospital

Raj Panjabi: We lost a two-week old child last night in the hospital from hunger because the mother could not afford food and her breast milk had ceased.


Thinking ahead: The Hybrid Age

“We are living in a hybrid age,” explained Ayesha Khanna, Principal at the Hybrid Reality Institute, at the PSFK conference yesterday in New York City.   From the Stone Age to the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution and the Information Age, we’ve now entered into this Hybrid Age. Taking place over the next few decades, this time period will be defined by a handful of specific factors, Khanna elaborated:

  • Technological proliferation where we’ll see an increase of objects – including ourselves -  embedded with technology.
  • Technological intelligence where machines will become smarter, will respond to our needs and as a result, will become social.
  • Technological innovation that'll be constant and disruptive.

OK, so perhaps the fact that we’re heading in this direction is no surprise, but the essence of what Khanna was insinuating during PSFK’s “What’s Next? A Panel on the Future” session yesterday was that we’re currently evolving and adapting into a new hybrid reality as our everyday lives become more entrenched with technology.


This week in PopTech: High flying and feather powering

There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: SugarMtnFarm.com

Image-wise: The Earth is lumpy...and made of clay?

A model of Earth's gravity field made with data from ESA's GOCE satellite.

It may look like a mangled lump of Play-Doh, but this colorful object is actually the most accurate digital model yet of Earth's gravity field, scientists say.

via National Geographic


6 questions with...Jonathan Zawada

PopTech’s series, 6 questions with… gives us a chance to get into the heads of social innovators, technologists, artists, designers, and scientists to see what makes them tick.

Over Time, the solo show of Australian-based artist Jonathan Zawada, recently closed at Prism Gallery in Los Angeles. A recent post on Triangulation described Zawada’s surprising process to create the large-scale landscape topographies he exhibited:

Zawada collected and compared a variety of data series that extrapolate information over time, such as “Marijuana usage among year 12 students vs. CD and Vinyl record sales between 1975 and 2000” or “Value of land per square meter in Second Life vs. Value of land per square foot in Dubai between 2007 and 2009.” The data is then manipulated through a 3D fractal program and the resulting environment becomes a virtual abstraction that mimics a mountainous landscape.

PopTech highlighted a piece from the show on our Tumblr recently, but we were interested to hear more about what informs Zawada's work. 

What’s the mark you’re hoping to leave on the world? Why is your work with Over Time relevant at this point in time?
I hope to at least be able to contribute to the artistic reflection of the impact that new technologies are having on how we construct our reality in our day-to-day lives. Over Time is really a part of my continued exploration of how to be able to create artifacts from my transient and ephemeral digital experiences. It feels relevant now precisely because of how unnoticeably this technology has ingrained itself in our lives.

Where is Ai Weiwei?

Ai Weiwei interviewed by "Never Sorry" director Alison Klayman
After a series of public clashes with the Chinese government, China's art superstar Ai Weiwei was detained at the Beijing airport on April 3 and has gone missing since. Alison Klayman, a documentary filmmaker who's followed Ai Weiwei from 2008-2010 for the upcoming film, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, expressed her concern about his whereabouts. She shared her thoughts about his detainment, his role in promoting free speech, the intersection between his art and social media, and the recently accelerated crackdown by the Chinese government on dissidents in a Huffington Post article this past Monday.

The speed and efficiency of the information network that came together around Ai Weiwei's detention and studio raid is a testament to how Ai and his followers have created an online space for free speech in their society. Transparency is a deeply personal value for Weiwei, and he and his staff have meticulously recorded the past several years of his life on film, in audio files, and on his Twitter feed (@aiww). The record is there for anyone who is interested.

Ai Weiwei is not a criminal. He is an outspoken proponent of free speech, human rights, and transparency in China's government and judicial system. Ai has violated no law. On the contrary, he has been scrupulous about working through and in accord with the Chinese legal system. His detention, then, seems to be without cause -- a violation of Weiwei's human rights and the rights guaranteed him by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, especially Articles 35 and 37.

This highly coordinated crackdown on Ai Weiwei is just one in a rash of dissident detentions in the wake of the "jasmine revolution." Nicholas Bequelin, China researcher for Human Rights Watch, recently told the Washington Post: "This is not a crackdown in the classic cycle of tightening and loosening. This is an effort by the government to redraw the lines of permissible expression in China, to restrict the most outspoken advocates of global values."


Tom Darden: Making it right after everything’s gone wrong

Rebuilding efforts are underway after the 9.0 earthquake the rocked Japan in March caused tremendous damage.  But as we’ve learned by now, the destruction and loss of life could have been far greater without Japan’s stringent building codes. There’s a lot to be learned from its approach.

Especially because, in our own backyard, we’re still rebuilding from the catastrophic damage that Hurricane Katrina ravaged in New Orleans over five years ago.  But we are making strides. 

One indicator of that progress is the Make It Right Foundation, founded by Brad Pitt and led by Executive Director Tom Darden. Building houses in the Ninth Ward that are generally smarter and better - i.e., that can withstand another flood, that are built with sustainable materials, and that are cost-effective to construct and maintain - are the primary goals of Make It Right.  Or as Tom Darden put it:

We had to build houses that were safe, affordable, green, adaptive, durable, designed by award-winning architects, designed around the residents’ needs…did I mention affordable?…and with absolutely no compromises.


Flashback: Ivan Marovic

With the ongoing uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Bahrain on our minds, here's one way to process the tumult: using nonviolent strategies through video games. PopTech 2005 presenter and Serbian activist Ivan Marovic shared his story, which is one that still resonates six years later, of his involvement with the uprising that overthrew Slobodan Milosovic and the video game that followed. Entitled A Force More Powerful, players can practice scenarios like battling corruption, fighting discrimination against women, or overthrowing dictators.

Festo's fantastic flying feats

If you happen to be in Hanover, Germany at the Hanover Messe industrial fair through April 8, you might want to swing by the booth of PopTech 2008 presenter Festo to see their latest innovation, the SmartBird. You'll have a chance to see the nature-inspired technologies they've been developing and "the secret of birds' flight decoded."  Festo describes the project:

SmartBird is an ultralight but powerful flight model with excellent aerodynamic qualities and extreme agility. With SmartBird, Festo has succeeded in deciphering the flight of birds - one of the oldest dreams of humankind. This bionic technology-bearer, which is inspired by the herring gull, can start, fly and land autonomously -- with no additional drive mechanism.

If you're not able to pop over to Hanover for the fair, have a look at their video, which explains the SmartBird project in more detail.


Ecomaterials Lab: Creating plastics from chicken feathers

PopTech's weekly Ecomaterials Labs series is part of our ongoing, focused look at next-generation sustainable materials innovation.

Ecomaterials Lab participant and textile chemical engineer Yiqi Yang of the University of Nebraska recently presented a study to the American Chemical Society that described the creation of a new type of plastic polymer comprised of over 50% discarded chicken feather fibers.

This breakthrough has the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of petroleum used in the creation of widely-used plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene. And the process takes advantage of a ready source of waste as the U.S. produces 2-4 billion pounds of feathers per year.

"[Prior] technology uses keratin as an 'additive' to polyethylene and polypropylene. Our work turns feathers into something like polyethylene and polypropylene," Professor Yang told BBC News. "If used as composite materials, no polyethylene or polypropylene are needed. Therefore [the plastics] will be more degradable and more sustainable."