That is one of my favorite quotes from the cult B movie Buckaroo Bonzai. That is how I feel about our journey as humans… Wherever we go, we are surrounded by others like us. Our common denominator is being human, not the country from which we came. We were all nomadic at one point in our collective history. Some of us, like me, remain nomads. I’m not an economic migrant per se. I’m a cultural migrant, or a wanderer. I’m also a hybrid, an American hybrid, a mixture of African (by way of Haiti on my paternal grandmother’s side, and some other slave route on my paternal grandfather’s side), Cherokee (my paternal grandfather’s side, and I have reservation rights because I am 1/16th Cherokee) Irish, Scottish (on both my mom and dad’s sides), German Jew (my maternal grandfather) and Mexican (my maternal grandmother’s dad was a Mexican piano player in a silent movie theater and her mother was a madame).
You can probably imagine where this is going. It is impossible for me not to feel for the people leaving their countries because of war and hunger. migrants and refugees. Most of my family immigrated to the US, those that weren’t native Americans or transported on slave ships. As an American I truly feel that immigration has been a great and natural thing. I, like many, followed the refugee crisis on the news. But when I saw the drowned baby on the beach, I thought of my own losses, my own journey through dark times. And it was clear that the people escaping what most of us cannot imagine were no different from me… in fact, they are me. I haven’t tried to escape war, but having lost my own child I can totally imagine what any parent would do to get their children away from danger.
What could I do? At first I thought I would volunteer in Calais or somewhere else. But I have a small technology company that needs me; my investors count on me to do what is right for my company. So do my employees. But I needed to do something. And then it hit me. Maybe my company’s technology could make some contribution to helping refugees coming to Europe. The idea of RefAid was born in September. The Refugee Aid App platform was my version of a life preserver. So on one weekend in November, after having spoken with about a dozen NGOs working in refugee aid, me and my team came up with a new use for our app creation platform and proprietary content and communication system. Because we spent 3 years building this platform, creating the RefAid app took us only two days.
This is how it works: When aid organizations post their aid in the RefAid platform, the information instantly appears in a location-based list and map view in the RefAid mobile app for refugees with color-coded icons for types of aid. Aid organizations can also use the platform to send geo-targeted push notifications for more urgent news, such as storms that will make travel difficult or critical aid being delivered in a particular town or region. In addition to helping migrants find aid where they are (the app shows them the services within 50 miles or 80 km of where they are), the platform is truly disrupting aid delivery. With most of the largest aid organizations now using the platform it is the de facto central database for refugee aid in Europe (and soon other regions of the world). Technology is amazing. NGOs can be much more efficient now, and migrants and refugees can feel much more independent, autonomous and welcome; they don’t need to wait to be told where they can find help, they can see it on their smart phone.
So, in filling my need for family, after having lost my own, I am responding to the needs of those who are fleeing danger, heartbreak and poverty. Creating RefAid gave me a sense of belonging to something bigger, part of a family, the human family. I didn’t need to go anywhere in order to find a way of helping others, and in so, helping myself. Wherever I go, there I am.