Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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by Rebecca Wear Robinson on November 20, 2013

Trending topicsNothing can propel us faster and further in our fight against drowning than using social media to network, share information, and issue calls to action. Last week I talked about how we need to collect and use data to link the bottom-up voices of the people affected by drowning and the top-down organizational/policy levels. This week I’m going to talk about how networking via social media makes that linkage work effectively and show some examples of how it is being used.


Dan Graham told me about the #KhartoumSinking @NafeerCampaign movement. A core group of 15 youth started a social movement to mobilize aid and action following catastrophic flooding in Sudan. Within days, the group numbered in the hundreds, quickly growing to around 7,000, drew more than 35,000 likes on Facebook, and raised tens of thousands of dollars from within Sudan and abroad for relief supplies. While an estimated 90% of the relief work following the flooding will be done by established aid and humanitarian organizations, the first 10% was provided thanks to the rapidly organized youth who leveraged social media to get resources on the ground and in place before the larger organizations could mobilize.

The youth volunteers did not replace the larger, older and established organizations, but they provided a critical early linkage of aid in an impressive display of ‘fast response’. They have also used social media to collaborate their efforts with other humanitarian and youth groups.   The aid effort also has begun to change what have sometimes been negative perceptions of the younger generation in Sudan. “Young people showed a high level of responsibility and willingness to lead such a campaign,” “The role of women and girls also has been remarkable in the effort, extending beyond traditional tasks to hands-on delivery of humanitarian aid, clearing drainage ditches, and building terraces to prevent erosion.”

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children has taken advantage of the internet to expand, but now social media technology is fighting back. Thorn.org states clearly, ‘We Are Digital Defenders Of Children’, dedicated to using technology to address child sexual exploitation and trafficking. Ashton Kutcher recently spoke at a Human Rights Watch conference on the role of technology in advancing human rights and facilitating working together to deal with abuses. “The Internet has eliminated the excuse of ‘I didn’t know’ and ‘there’s nothing I could do’…Now we are all held responsible.”  Google, Microsoft and YouTube are actively involved in cracking down on perpetrators and postings, thanks to pressure from British politicians.  Further examples were given at the conference of how social media and technology are being used to assess the use of chemical weapons.

Lesson learned:

  • Social media can facilitate collaboration.
  • Mobilizing the skills and passion of younger people to supplement and support the infrastructure of established organizations maximizes effectiveness and has social value. (I feel especially strongly about the importance of cross-generational collaboration)
  • Social media allows a much bigger reach faster than any other form of communication. 10 people on Twitter can reach thousands of people in the time it takes to hit ‘send’.
  • Technology and social media are already being effectively leveraged by a number of social causes, drowning prevention needs to step up it’s efforts.

We are having success in the drowning prevention world. I’d like to share the story of Triam Suksa School in Thailand.  The school serves many children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with special learning needs, but has attracted high-level attention to their SwimSafe program in Thailand thanks to social media. In the words of Andrew Stenning, “We live in a wonderfully changed environment due to the internet and the small guy can make a difference in the long run. Social networking can make a big difference – but you can’t get immediate results – you have to work hard and be patient sometimes. However in a very short time span so much is possible.”

Next week I’ll talk about what a successful social media strategy looks like, but in the meantime, think about using #stopdrowning as one of your regular hashtags when you tweet about drowning prevention initiatives. If we can create our own movement, like #KhartoumRising, we will start seeing similar levels of success.

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