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

AtmaGo – supporting each other in this time of COVID crisis

AtmaGo – supporting each other in this time of COVID crisis

As the impact of the coronavirus spreads across the nation and the world, we’re reaching out to let you know that our focus remains on empowering community members so they can respond to this pandemic and help one another in this time of need. COVID-19 is affecting us all and, as in times of disaster and crisis, marginalized populations are hit the hardest. These folks are AtmaGo users and they are already on the app to support each other and slow the spread of the virus. So far, from January 1, through March 14, 2020 there have been 69,643 views of posts related to COVID-19.

AtmaGo users are:

Sharing life-saving information

Connecting online and taking action

  • We are addressing social isolation by building community engagement online. Those who cannot leave their homes can make a difference in this time of crisis.
  • On AtmaGo people uplift each other, post positive content, and use it for psychosocial support

Fighting the spread of fake news

  • We fight the spread of misinformation and fake news with community ambassadors and staff who monitor and approve content.
  • 81% of users say they trust the information on AtmaGo. Accurate and trusted information is critical for appropriate action and resilience.

AND we need your support to take this effort to the next level

We are already hard at work developing new processes and features to support those who are most vulnerable. We are creating a dedicated COVID information and communication system so neighbors can help neighbors during this crisis. Atma needs support in developing: 

  • An I have/I need system where people within local areas can provide and request immediate support to/from their neighbors
  • A way to communicate emergency relief and services being rolled out during this period in their immediate area
  • A way to connect people to organizations providing psychosocial support during the lockdown period
  • A way to share and highlight resources and solutions around caring for family members, especially children and elderly
  • A needs assessment, via AtmaGo, to support government officials and iNGOs in identifying unmet needs so that aid and services can be more effectively delivered
  • Virtual citizen journalism and community advocacy training to engage and bring in new users to our platform. The crisis is just beginning and we need to continue to train communities on the importance of advocating for their needs to create the public policies that will support their resilience.

This is one of the most critical moments of our lifetime and we need your support to flatten the curve and help those most affected by this crisis.

We could not do this work without you!


Ari Turrentine

Operations and Program Director, Atma Connect 

P.S. Every dollar counts so please donate something meaningful to you whether it is $5 or $5K.


Citizen Journalism Empowers Local Activists in Puerto Rico

Citizen Journalism Empowers Local Activists in Puerto Rico

On Presidents Day, a circle of women and neighbors came together to learn how to build community resilience through citizen journalism. Citizen journalism, as the name suggests, is a movement to empower people to report, responsibly and accurately, on local stories that are overlooked by government and larger media organizations. 

Atma Connect’s training focuses on how citizen journalists can use AtmaGo to bring attention to local problems, build social cohesion, and improve disaster resilience. And after the terrible blows that this island has taken, we need that resilience more than ever.

Participants in Atma Connect's first Citizen Journalism workshop held in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

With that as the setting, the workshop, held in Arecibo, met for three hours of instruction and discussion. Attendees learned about best practices in digital reporting, ethics of journalism, and how to amplify their community’s voice with AtmaGo, which was launched just a few months ago in Puerto Rico.

Atma’s Citizen Journalism Workshops always ask attendees to get out and make a post — and our first class in Puerto Rico generated some fascinating stories and posts. 

One participant wrote about an illegal dump site located near her home and the frustrations her community has with it — and she also highlighted that residents of her condominium and neighbors are organizing to place a community garden on the illegal dump site. She used AtmaGo to amplify her message that she wants “to transform the space into a place where neighbors can harvest health, hope and peace.” 

Another participant featured a recurring environmental awareness event in her community which highlights the diverse ecosystems within the community. The goal of the event is to educate the public and instill responsibility for caring for these spaces. She used AtmaGo to share her message that she wants each resident to feel “a sense of ownership of these ecosystems to ensure their commitment to conserving them.”

We are looking forward to bringing more communities together through these citizen journalism and community resilience workshops to showcase the powerful resilience work happening on the ground. The citizen journalists from this first workshop will create additional events in their community and share their initiatives on AtmaGo — we look forward to seeing their work make an impact.

Celebrating Leaders, Some Who We Lost Too Soon, and Some Who Remain Unsung

Celebrating Leaders, Some Who We Lost Too Soon, and Some Who Remain Unsung

This week the untimely passing of the incomparable Leilah Janah hit me hard. She was a rockstar in the world of social entrepreneurs, committed to ensuring that there were opportunities available for everyone to rise out of poverty. 

I first met Leilah at a friend’s holiday party, and she walked in like a glamorous royal guest, while being able to connect with everyone in the room.

I was drawn to her because Janah’s core belief is one I share: while talent is equally distributed around the world, opportunity is not. She spent her life and career creating companies and organizations that provide opportunities for work instead of charity.

Why did her untimely death hit me so hard? I wanted to see how many more incredible initiatives she would give birth to. The world needs more committed passionate visionaries like her, not less. And, I think it is part of the kinship I feel toward many social entrepreneurs. 

Being a social entrepreneur is a long and sometimes lonely journey, and I’ve often looked to people like Janah for inspiration and practical guidance. Those who have ridden the highs and weathered the lows, and who have built something that has, against all odds, succeeded in making the world more equitable and just.

I want to celebrate those world renowned social entrepreneurs who left the world too soon, and who have been an inspiration to me:

By giving work instead of charity, Leilah Janah transformed development. She created numerous companies and organizations including Samasource, Samaschool, and LXMI beauty products, and had just closed $15M in investment to grow her impact.

James Le Mesurier, who passed away in November 2019, founded and led Mayday Rescue Foundation, the organization that originated the Syrian White Helmet volunteer teams who were trained in search and rescue for conflict affected areas. 

And, Priya Haji, who Van Jones called “the best social entrepreneur of our generation,” died in 2014. She started numerous social enterprises including SaveUp and World of Good. A favorite phrase of Haji’s:  “Dream a solution the size of the problem you’re addressing.”

We should continue celebrating and carrying on the incredible work of Leilah, James and Priya — And, I also want to celebrate the many millions of unsung heroes. The everyday heroes who live in communities around the world — heroes who, with limited resources, develop brilliant ideas that make their communities better. It is their stories of grit and determination in the face of mountains of trash, or unresponsive bureaucracies, or disaster that are the stories of AtmaGo users, and are equally worthy of celebration. Like Erlina, who spread solutions to plastic waste in her community to hundreds of others. And, Joko, who uses AtmaGo to both organize garbage clean-ups and his disaster rescue team.

These everyday heroes give me hope in thinking about the impact of Leilah’s life. My first impression of Leilah is how she will remain etched in my memory — a spark who graced the world with her vision and passion, and whose work will live on forever.


Meena Palaniappan
CEO and Founder, Atma Connect

Update on 2020 Flood in the Greater Jakarta Area

Update on 2020 Flood in the Greater Jakarta Area

Dear Atma Community,

My belongings were destroyed during the flooding that struck Jakarta on the first day of the new year. This has been some of the worst flooding we’ve seen, and has been devastating for local residents and for the Atma Connect team in the area. Heavy rains struck and continued to flood over 308 villages over 15 hours, mainly in the Greater Jakarta Area, West Java, and Banten Provinces. Based on data from the National Disaster Management Agency, the floods submerged 308 villages, with water levels of up to six meters, and claimed the lives of 66 people. Over 92,000 people were displaced and evacuated to 189 shelters. The floods also affected public infrastructure and public service buildings such as schools, bridges, and traditional markets, as you can see through posts on AtmaGo

I don’t only want to update you on the crisis the floods have caused, I also want to lift up the direct impact that AtmaGo is having to help people prepare and recover. Through the mobile app, people received critical early warnings about the flooding. AtmaGo delivered over 200 alerts on the floods that reached over 30,000 residents in 74 districts. In over 100 user generated posts during this period, AtmaGo users were helping one another by sharing real time updates, warning each other about damaged infrastructure and flooded areas, sharing preparedness information, and communicating the location of aid and shelters. People used AtmaGo to ask for help, warn others, and seek moral support.

“Our neighborhood usually floods every year, so we got used to it. But this year it was so big, we never experienced anything like this before,” said Muhammad Jaenudin, an AtmaGo user in East Jakarta. His neighborhood was severely affected by the flood, and is working to secure clothing, food, medical supplies and also inflatable vests, to prepare for additional flooding that could occur during this year’s rainy season, which has just begun. 

He posted photos of the flooding on AtmaGo. You can see through the photos that the water height reached 4.42 feet. The flood had a strong current which made it dangerous for those who attempted to walk through the water. For safety reasons, the power company turned off the grids in flood-affected areas starting at 7 am on Jan 1. Most of Muhammad’s neighbors had evacuated to safer places, but all were affected. 

The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), one of Atma’s partners, is using AtmaGo to share their flooding response efforts. They dropped aid supplies and evacuated victims in Lebak, Banten and Sukajaya, Bogor (both locations in West Java Province) using a helicopter because that was the only way they could reach the area. PMI also provided ambulance services and set up communal kitchens to help flood victims in other areas.

Since the flood, the Jakarta Provincial Government and local communities are working together to clean up mud, garbage, and debris. So far communal cleanups have taken place in 390 villages, involving 800 civil servants and 12,000 sanitation workers. In addition, 1,400 garbage trucks, 20 heavy equipment vehicles, 50 road sweepers, and 100 pick-up trucks were also deployed to support the effort. Similar activities also took place in areas such as Lebak, Tangerang, and Bekasi. These post-disaster activities are ongoing because the floods have caused other issues such as excessive garbage and debris, damaged public facilities and infrastructure, as well as public health issues like diarrhea, typhoid, dengue, and skin and respiratory infections.

Atma is on the ground, connecting residents, sponsoring recovery activities, and building resilience. Thank you again for your support in building neighbor to neighbor resilience in the most vulnerable communities – we could not do this without you.


Alfan Kasdar

Indonesia Field Director, Atma Connect

P.S. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook to find out more about our work on the flooding in Jakarta and the disaster in Puerto Rico. If you’d like, donate to support this work. Thank you again.