Women leaders are building mutual support in the time of Covid-19

Women leaders are building mutual support in the time of Covid-19

As the Global Pandemic hits certain communities harder than others, people are turning to each other to solve local problems. And, women are on the front lines of creating and spreading these solutions. A group of women in the barrio of Garrochales in Arecibo, Puerto Rico are spearheading an urban farming movement in their backyards which they are documenting on AtmaGo. Marta Santos, one of the leaders of this effort,  emphasized that “this initiative seeks to create a sense of community and support families in Garrochales to achieve sustainable development.”  

In her piece on AtmaGo, Marta highlights that the movement has secured four agricultural specialists to support community members through virtual trainings and serve as a resource while families transition their backyards into urban farms. The training is divided into two parts: urban gardening and urban poultry production. 

Puerto Rico es un pueblo solidario, Puerto Rico is a nation in solidarity. To me, the way this is demonstrated in Puerto Rico is through people showing up for other vulnerable people. Community members show up with the little resources they have, and they show up for others with even fewer resources. I see this from the participants in the citizen journalism trainings, and the stories of mutual support on AtmaGo. AtmaGo is the portal for documenting all of these incredible stories of solidarity and mutual support. From neighbors shopping for each other, to taking collective action to address food insecurity, AtmaGo is helping to document and amplify these incredible moments of solidarity. 

AtmaGo is connecting users to online and offline community building activities and resources in their neighborhoods, and users are highlighting community members and initiatives meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. In one post on AtmaGo a user highlighted an Americorps volunteer who is educating low income communities on environmental conservation and sustainable waste management to alleviate poverty levels. In another post users are sharing resources being made available to small, locally owned businesses to ensure that these small entrepreneurs can continue offering goods and services during the pandemic and stay afloat. And in other posts, users are documenting how their households have reinvented their day-to-day lives with the shelter in place orders. 

Citizen Journalism Trainings

Since the start of the pandemic Atma has moved all of our programming online. COVID-19 has greatly reduced the ability to gather in person, and the needs in Puerto Rico have increased with the pandemic. Through remote connection, our virtual citizen journalism and community empowerment trainings continue to build networks of leaders throughout the island, enabling community members to elevate needs and mutual aid initiatives by their community and other leaders throughout Puerto Rico. All of the participants of our trainings have been women who are active in community development initiatives or are interested in getting involved in mutual aid. In one of our trainings in July with Garrochales Produce, we trained participants involved in an initiative to address food insecurity and household income diversification through urban gardening and urban poultry production. One of the leaders for this initiative had this to say about their work:

This group of women participating started with the Garrochales Produce initiative which was born out of this pandemic. We as a community have seen how certain issues do not get the attention they deserve. We want to bring attention to our community garden initiatives so that other community members can feel inspired and replicate it in their communities.

We wanted to continue being productive during this period of social distancing through our community garden initiative.

In another training, the group of women participants were trail guides for the Punta Tuna Wetland Reserve, a wilderness reserve in the eastern part of the island, in the municipality of Maunabo. These guides have taken on the responsibility of being stewards for this reserve, educating the immediate community and visitors about the flora and fauna of this particular ecosystem, and carving out for themselves a source of income in a municipality with a median household income of $20,000 per year and an unemployment rate that can fluctuate between 13-20% in any given year. These women also participate in other community building efforts, like the care of the elderly community and supporting families who care for family members with Alzheimer. They are sharing accounts about their work and community organizing on AtmaGo. Diany, a guide and environmental educator for the wetland reserve, has shared information on AtmaGo on the inception of the trail guides for the reserve and the importance of their work for the reserve and their community. 

In another post, Johanna, a reverend, wrote about a support group for families caring for family members with Alzheimers started at the congregation she serves. In her post she highlights the generosity and kindness of the people of the municipality of Maunabo and also shares that there is a high population of elderly people, some of whom have been diagnosed with Alzheimers. In her post, Johanna chronicles the lack of social support services available in her community, the resources the support group has been able to tap into like membership to a national Alzheimer’s association, and how other community members can participate in the group.

After the citizen journalism training, we survey participants about their experiences, so we can continue to improve the training and measure the impact they are having. In the post-training evaluations, 100% of participants said the training increased their knowledge on mutual aid support networks and on citizen journalism, and 93% said that the training increased their knowledge on engaging and inspiring others to take action.


Clinton Global Initiative – Effective Communication Strategies During a Crisis

In July, Atma was invited to present at a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) webinar for the members of their network on Effective Communication Strategies During a Crisis. Atma highlighted the importance of building community through crowdsourced information, showcasing how community generated stories can catalyze peer behavior change and how empowering community members to tell their own story allows them to be protagonists in the change that they envision for their neighborhood. We presented alongside Fernando Lloveras, President of Para La Naturaleza, a conservation trust in Puerto Rico, and Dervan Malcolm, Communications Specialist, and radio show host in Jamaica. We were honored to share our insight with the CGI Network members on communication tactics for compelling and effective online communications that build community, and to share the importance of user generated stories during post-disaster response and recovery. 

Thank you for your generous support in making all of this possible! We look forward to sharing more stories with you about the impact we are having together in empowering women and communities to rise to the challenges of Covid-19 together. 


With AtmaGo, communities rise to the challenge of COVID-19

With AtmaGo, communities rise to the challenge of COVID-19

We want to thank you so much for your support, guidance, and partnership as we work together with communities on the front lines of Covid-19 to meet immediate needs, lift up their voices, and spread the solutions of hundreds of thousands of AtmaGo users in response to the Covid-19 crisis. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and we want to share with you the impacts we’ve had to date, inspiring stories, and what we’ve learned.

  • People used AtmaGo to organize community efforts including making and distributing masks, creating new handwashing stations, training people in medical readiness, and educating people on how to communicate to elders about slowing the spread of Covid-19. 
  • There were over 2,000 posts related to Covid-19, and these were viewed 292,312 times and further amplified via AtmaGo social media.
  • And, these posts are changing behavior. In a survey, 85% of respondents said that they will change their behavior (handwashing, social distancing) as a result of information on AtmaGo.
  • To respond immediately to the need for psychosocial support, AtmaGo rapidly launched a free telecounseling service on covid19.atmago.com. There has been significant interest from women in the community to speak with female counselors. Cases of domestic violence have been increasing as a result of lockdowns globally. 
  • So far, telecounseling clients have reported an average 55% decrease in negative emotions (as measured by the Subjective Unit of Disturbance test, which was administered pre and post counselling). 
  • We also conducted a needs assessment on Covid-19 impacts. Within a few days we received 711 responses. Over 90% of respondents reported that they were concerned about increasing unemployment and the economic downturn, over 40% identified the need for better targeted government assistance, over 35% noted concerns about hoax information on Covid online and increases in crime.
  • People in Puerto Rico are using AtmaGo to build and amplify mutual support and resilience by recognizing unsung Heroes with Masks, and spreading awareness on gardening to improve food security.

Hamzah Ancha from Sulawesi says: “AtmaGo makes it easy for civil society or anyone who wants to share important news or information about events around us. AtmaGo is also a trusted source of information for the public, especially in the current pandemic conditions where hoax information is now scattered, especially from Facebook and other social media.”

We are humbled by the dedication of AtmaGo users in building mutual support communities to help one another and take collective action during this critical time. We look forward to sharing with you more about the incredible impacts your investment and belief in the power of people helping people will have in the months ahead.

With gratitude,

Meena Palaniappan
CEO and Founder
Atma Connect

Heroes with Masks – Héroes con Mascarillas

Heroes with Masks – Héroes con Mascarillas

In every crisis, there are heroes. In the Covid-19 crisis Puerto Ricans have praised police, nurses, and doctors by hanging banners and posting memes on social media about their heroic efforts. These are the most visible heroes of this pandemic. And, there are others  who are behind the scenes and also on the front lines — people who stock and work at grocery stores, those who bring groceries to elderly and disabled community members, and people who are helping to bridge the digital divide for children continuing the school year at home.

On AtmaGo, an incredible user, Mariny (pictured below), is sharing the stories of these unsung heroes to amplify the spirit of mutual aid throughout Puerto Rican communities.

Mariny, a community leader of Naguabo, a municipality located in the eastern portion of the island, began highlighting community members going about their everyday lives and how their small and yet inspirational gestures are having a lasting impact in their communities on PR.AtmaGo.com. Her posts celebrate the courage of everyday individuals on the frontlines of this pandemic, grocery store attendants, nurses, community leaders, and small, family owned corner stores meeting the immediate needs of the community, educating on hygiene practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and organizing to prepare for the short and long term impacts of this pandemic on their communities.

In one post she highlights the work of Maribel, a 2nd generation community leader who runs the community space her father established to serve as a resource for the residents of Naguabo. Her work during the pandemic has been to organize the distribution of groceries to elderly community members and coordinate a group of volunteer nurses to follow up on bed ridden community members. Through the community center Maribel provides support to families with children making sure students in the community have access to their lessons by printing them, understanding that the digital divide is a reality for most of the residents in Naguabo and that most children would not have access to their lessons if it were not for the printing facilities available at the center. Maribel also utilizes her skills as a graphic designer to create educational resources on COVID-19 for her community.

In another post, Mariny highlights Cynthia, a community leader of barrio Duque in Naguabo. Mariny writes that Cynthia is a hero from a threefold battle: she is a survivor of cancer, her spouse is a dialysis patient, and she is a clerk at a supermarket chain in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mariny shares that like many, despite the concern of getting infected, Cynthia has no choice but to continue going to work to make a livelihood for her household. After work, Cynthia checks in with residents in her community, ensuring the wellbeing of her neighbors, especially those who live by themselves, and coordinating the delivery of any donated resources to the most vulnerable in her area. In this post, Mariny highlights that Cynthia’s strengths, her superhero powers, are her lived experiences and her faith, and this is what gives her the courage to continue. 

 In her posts, Mariny emphasizes the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling out the courage of these heros with masks, even when having to confront people who are not taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. In several other posts Mariny highlights other community leaders in the region of Naguabo using the opportunity of bringing cooked food and groceries to elderly and families in their communities to teach about important hygiene practices to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and how to correctly use a face mask. 

 Our goal is to build and amplify AtmaGo’s role as a tool that will create behavior change to save lives during the COVID-19 crisis, create localized mutual support communities to address immediate needs during the COVID-19 crisis, and address long term recovery through governance and economic empowerment on the platform.

 There is a need for a central resource hub that synthesizes official information and that serves as a repository for community members to share their needs and stories during this period. The power of these stories to shift behavior and foster online and offline mutual support communities will have rippling effects in saving lives and mitigate the impact of economic loss by bolstering social stability and cohesion. 

En solidaridad,

Natasha Mevs-Korff
Partnerships and Operations Associate
Atma Connect

Ramadan and Community in the time of Covid-19: Conversation with Zain Ahmed

Ramadan and Community in the time of Covid-19: Conversation with Zain Ahmed

“Let’s welcome the blessing Ramadan as a moment to break the chain of transmission of the plague for the sake of personal safety, relatives and the entire nation.” – Indonesian President Joko Widodo

The holy month of Ramadan is vital for Covid-19 response in Indonesia and around the world. This fasting month, focused on community, family, and charity, has already begun. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and, each year, millions return home to their villages across the archipelago at the end of the month. To date, over 590 people have died from Covid-19 in Indonesia – the highest toll in Asia outside China – and experts fear that travel will spread the disease further. Ensuring community members receive support during this time, connect online, and adhere to health guidelines is critical to slowing the spread of Covid-19.

Atma Connect community member and supporter Zain Ahmed spoke with Atma about the connections he has made between Ramadan, flattening the curve during Covid-19, and Atma Connect. Zain is an aerodynamicist working in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and a former coordinator at the (affirming) Calgary Alberta Unity Mosque. (Photo credit: Toronto Star)

“My perspective on Islam is seeing Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him) as having taken the role of a psychologist, speaking to people at their level and demonstrating excellent character in a relatable way. He strived to work within his culture at a grassroots level to bring out the very best in people. And this is why I value Atma. Atma works to provide tools that will bring out the very best in people in a way that is self-propagating. It too seeks to help and connect people, as they are, in a grassroots way.” – Zain Ahmed, Atma Connect Supporter

AtmaGo, our neighbors helping neighbors app and programming, is working to flatten the curve through digital events, trainings, and mutual support. People are using the app to inform their neighbors about Covid-19 risks and prevention and to catalyze behavior change for the good of their communities. The importance of honouring one’s neighbors from all walks of life, a connection Zain has made between Atma and Ramadan, is emphasized across many faiths. To Zain, the very premise of Atma is establishing and elevating the connections of neighbors, empowering people to help each other and share information and, inspiring improved livelihood and well-being. Another of the related Islamic teachings that have stood out for Zain during this time of Covid-19 is, “If you hear of a plague in a land, then do not go into it. If it happens in land where you are, then do not go out of it.” (Sahih Bukhari 5396). To Zain, this is social distancing. Additionally, one of the ideas of fasting during Ramadan is that it is an invisible worship and source of connection through inaction. It is connection through inaction — where Muslims are connecting with a higher power by not eating and drinking and by being extra conscious to not harm others. Similarly, in this time of Covid-19 we are abstaining from in-person connection, being extra conscious not to harm others, and finding alternative ways to support one another. 

Zain ended his conversation with Atma with a lesson from a teacher: “Often we get so stuck on trying to do what we are supposed to do that we miss its essence. Let us be good to our neighbors and uplift each other, this Ramadan and beyond inshaAllah. Let us spread rahmah (grace) through resilience, and let us spread resilience through Atma.”

Community Centered Communication for Behavior Change: Launching the AtmaGo Covid-19 Website

Community Centered Communication for Behavior Change: Launching the AtmaGo Covid-19 Website

“I’ve been on the ground responding to Ebola and Cholera outbreaks, and what I know is this: You can’t treat your way out of outbreaks. You need to “behavior” your way out of outbreaks. There is never enough treatment available – you need to change behavior to get the outbreak contained to a treatable level.” Harlan Hale, who has spent a career in disaster response at OFDA.

 The problem is that communication for behavior change is not reaching the last mile or the most vulnerable people, and people don’t trust the sources of this information. Indonesia and Puerto Rico are at particular risk for Covid-19. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, and had the highest death toll in Southeast Asia. And, Puerto Rico has an aging population with insufficient health infrastructure. 

The key to saving lives, and ultimately restoring economies, will be ensuring everyone, especially the most vulnerable, has trusted information to change their behavior, access to support and resources, and the ability to communicate their needs and receive help from governments and NGOs.

I am so proud of the entire AtmaGo team, and the long days and nights that have been spent in creating and rapidly launching a community-centered, all in one resource on Covid-19 (pictured below).

 The Covid micro-site we have built (covid19.atmago.com) is a real time, all-in-one community-centered resource that brings together:

  • Official information about Covid-19 cases and mortality;
  • Hotlines to access help;
  • An “I have/I need” system so that people can ask for help from their neighbors or volunteer resources for  community members;
  • Community-centered videos, infographics, and comics from our multi-talented Community Manager David Khoirul that make information on staying healthy and protecting against Covid-19 accessible to everyone;
  • Stories from Corona, where community members throughout Indonesia share on audio and video what they are doing to slow the spread of the Covid-19 and how they are coping with movement restrictions. Trusted communication from people in similar situations is fundamental to generate the trust needed for behavior change;
  • User-generated information from locations through Indonesia about government resources, community information and response to Covid-19 which links back to AtmaGo. 

 Covid-19 content on AtmaGo has already been viewed over 200,000 times. 

The Dalai Lama said: “This crisis shows us that we are not separate from one another—even when we are living apart.” 

 In the midst of the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic has brought, on AtmaGo we are truly seeing the many rays of hope, community and connection. 

 In the coming weeks, we look forward to sharing with you the impact that AtmaGo and AtmaGo’s resourceful and ingenious users will have in helping one another, amplifying their voices and needs, and setting the foundation for equitable recovery. 


Meena Palaniappan
Atma Connect Founder and CEO