Building Trust in Puerto Rican Neighborhoods

Building Trust in Puerto Rican Neighborhoods

“If I tell you I can, I will. This is how trust develops.”

It is with these words that Mariny Vázquez directs the series of community assemblies “El Barrio Habla” (The Neighborhood Speaks) in 14 Naguabo communities on the east coast of Puerto Rico.

After being invited by community leader Tayna Fernández, we at Atma Connect, had the honor of witnessing communities gather together to foster citizen participation. Indeed community development is one of Atma’s main missions.

These conversations have already been carried out in three communities in Naguabo: Peña Pobre, Fernández’ community; Estancias de Húcares; and Tropical Beach, and will soon spread to the rest of the communities in the municipality.

With the purpose of gaining perspective on the needs and interests of each community, Vázquez developed three maps of affinity with community participants. Each map addressed:

  1. the community’s biggest concerns
  2. identifying the tangible things residents would like to accomplish, and
  3. how one, as a resident, can actively participate in government

Despite their geographical closeness, the three communities each have a unique character, particular needs and different dreams.

For Peña Pobre residents, the most alarming concern is its infrastructure. Schools, recreational areas and roads are in a state of neglect and deterioration. The school, above all, represents a place where children can go to educate themselves, make friends and cultivate their culture. Sometimes, the need is not limited to having a physical school structure; there is also a need for a robust educational program that can offer opportunities to children. Recreational areas are lost, covered by weeds or debris, and roads encourage residents to travel to other municipalities to avoid possible damage to their vehicles.

Given these needs, the community of Peña Pobre reached a consensus on three projects that they will develop as a priority:

  1. attend to the school and provide tutoring services for children,
  2. have a space to attend to the health of residents, and
  3. improve roads.

The group selected a slogan – #chooseyourhoyo (choose your pothole!) – to raise awareness and possibly make their road improvement project go viral.

Meanwhile, residents of Estancias de Húcares presented their concerns in the areas of security and the number of abandoned houses that have become public nuisances, attracting, among other things, wild animals. Despite being a marginalized community almost since its inception, the residents of Estancias have come together in recent years and have championed the betterment of their community, even setting up a house as a community center. As they say, “Before they didn’t see us, they didn’t listen to us and they didn’t feel us. Now we are the ones that are seen, the ones that are heard, and the ones that are felt.”

The first community project, as part of El Barrio Habla, is to rescue its recreational areas so they can be enjoyed and used for community projects. Community members plan to carry out sports clinics and art and culture workshops focused especially for their children.

How Atma and The Nature Conservancy Joined Forces to Share Resources for the Disaster Risk Reduction Community

How Atma and The Nature Conservancy Joined Forces to Share Resources for the Disaster Risk Reduction Community

While headlines from around the globe can seem overwhelming, a certain set of people are too busy to despair —  people who specialize in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate adaptation are racing to put innovative ideas into practice to use nature to reduce risk.

When the Atma Connect tech team landed a contract to build a robust learning platform to serve this audience, the team leapt into action. Here’s a look at how the tech team quickly created a platform for The Nature Conservancy to support DRR professionals and humanitarian organizations in how to use nature to reduce coastal disaster risk in Indonesia, Micronesia and the Caribbean.

The result: NatureProtects.org

The focus of the site is nature-based solutions, which, the homepage explains “can protect life and property from disaster risk through the protection, sustainable management and restoration of both natural and modified ecosystems.” The website is filled with resources in three languages: Bahasa, Spanish and English.

Among the resources:

  • The Blue Guide to Coastal Resilience, the basis for the website, is also available as a downloadable, 100-page compendium of scientific guidance, dozens of video case studies and a larger suite of tools on using nature-based solutions to reduce climate risks.
  • Nature-based solutions to reduce disaster risk in six categories: Reefs, Mangroves, Seagrass, Marshland and Swamps, Dunes, and Shelterbelts.
  • A library searchable by material to read, watch, or apply as in put into practice; as well as by ways to connect with eco-initiatives, media and networks.

The information is part of the Nature Protects People Project, an initiative funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/BHA) and implemented by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Indonesia with the nonprofit YKAN (Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara), Micronesia and the Caribbean.

“The original plan was to offer in-depth information on nature-based solutions to practitioners in person, but when the pandemic hit, we quickly made the decision to make the extensive information and case studies available online,” says Dr. Moushumi Chaudhury, TNC’s Community Resilience Program Director.

The Atma tech team, led by product manager Aisyah Gunung, used human-centered design to understand the core issues, such as figuring out the best way to take information-laden PDFs and transform them into a truly interactive and useful website.

“I really enjoy implementing a human-centered design process into a real platform, not to mention one instantly utilized by the TNC team,” says Aisyah. The first step, as with any software project, was to create an initial design for a minimum viable product or MVP. Then came implementation, first in English, then in Indonesian along with added features, then in Spanish.

While the NatureProtects content is for a specialized audience, it’s also useful for community members, government staff, and staff and volunteers of NGOs or National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies working in coastal communities.

The issue of climate change is, after all, being felt worldwide. More than 600 million people worldwide live in vulnerable low-lying coastal areas. Atma will share highlights from NatureProtects on the Atma Go mobile app and platform, used by neighbors to help neighbors in Indonesia and Puerto Rico.

5 Questions with Atma Connect’s Head of Technology Ardy Satria

5 Questions with Atma Connect’s Head of Technology Ardy Satria

In honor of Atma Connect’s 5-year anniversary, we are highlighting our inspiring community including employees, supporters and board members.

Meet Ardy Satria, self-described tech guy. A technology strategy advisor and consultant as well as a software architect, he keeps the AtmaGo platform in Indonesia and Puerto Rico running and takes the lead on delivering technology solutions and features to meet strategic objectives.

Q: What Atma accomplishment are you most proud of?

A: I’m proud of how Atma has taken a leadership role during the pandemic by enabling neighbors to share trusted information about COVID-19 and the vaccine and reaching millions of people with education and tools through a microsite we built called Covid19.atmago.com

Q: How do you describe Atma’s vision?

A: We want to become the go-to application for people to share information, connect good people and support their communities in the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors.

Q: What are your goals with Atma Connect? 

A: We would like to reach and help more people and build more community by continuing to build the technology platform and product.

Q: What inspires you to be a leader within the Atma community?

A: I started a small movement in West Java called Pelukan Rakyat during the pandemic. It means “People’s Hug.” Volunteers join an action team to cook, package and deliver food for free to people who need it. Many people are living day to day, and we want to help. This to show that we are grateful to God. We believe in caring and giving back to people and the community. And motivating people to remember that you don’t need to be rich to take some action to help others.

Pelukan Rakyat uses AtmaGo to organize action teams. We use the new feature known as Ruang Komunitas AtmaGo (Community Room) to share updates, track our impact and reach new members to serve more people.

Q: What has been your favorite story from working with Atma Connect?

A: It is so inspiring to hear about people who have been helped through the power of AtmaGo. I was touched by a video of a woman who survived a tsunami, Tsunami Palu in 2018, and found shelter, thanks to AtmaGo.

5 Questions with Atma Connect’s Board Chair Lisa Diaz Nash

5 Questions with Atma Connect’s Board Chair Lisa Diaz Nash

In honor of Atma Connect’s 5-year anniversary, we are highlighting our inspiring community including employees, supporters and board members.

Meet Lisa Diaz Nash, seasoned business and nonprofit leader. She has advised Atma Connect since 2016. Currently serving as board chair, Lisa envisions a world where neighbors help neighbors build resilient, empowered communities. We asked her 5 questions, plus a bonus question.

Q: What Atma accomplishment are you most proud of?

A: I am most proud that Atma does not just “talk the talk” but also “walks the walk.” Our progress is measured in lives saved, livelihoods improved and people empowered. The most important thing that Atma has done is to give people the tools, platform and training they need to repair their communities, prevent preventable disasters and realize opportunities to create better lives for everyone.

Q: Why do you believe in Atma’s vision?

A: I believe in Atma’s vision because it is inspired by the people it serves. What we do, how we enhance our products, where we expand…all this is driven by what our customers – our users, our community members – say they need to solve their problems and improve their lives. Atma’s vision stays and grows because we listen to the needs of our users and do our best to meet and exceed those needs.

Q: What inspires you about Atma’s approach?

A: Everyone talks about changing the world and putting power in the hands of people to improve their lives. Atma unlocks the power that already is in people by helping them connect and create the lives and communities they want.

Q: What are your goals for Atma Connect? What would you like to accomplish in the next year?

A: We have proven the “concept” of Atma, i.e. the power of our platform to unlock the power of individuals, no matter who they are, to improve their community by working together toward common goals of good. Now we need to “supercharge” that capability, across Indonesia and Puerto Rico and across the globe. Local communities anywhere want to find the power to connect, educate each other and join together for change. I want Atma to enable more communities in more countries to solve basic problems and take charge of their futures.

Q: Why are you excited to be an Atma leader?

A: I have seen Atma grow from an idea to a small pilot to a platform that people use to create the change they want to see in their worlds. The reason Atma has grown to 7 million people is because it unlocks the power already in people. Atma connects people behind a common goal and helps them accomplish it. That isn’t “Power to the people.”  That is “Power OF the people.”

Q: What has been your favorite moment from working with Atma Connect?

A: I am humbled by the stories of people, time and again, who have used AtmaGo to connect with their communities to overcome disasters, rebuild their lives and create opportunities they didn’t have before. Being witness to the tragedy, hope, determination and joy that people find by working together, supported by Atma, is to see the human condition in total. I am very optimistic about what we can do, as long as we do it together.