Teachers start powerful #ArmMeWith movement to speak out against guns in classrooms

In the wake of yet another tragic school shooting, teachers have started an eye-opening movement on social media to let the world know what preventative measures really need to be taken seriously to protect students.

In response to the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Trump suggested that some teachers receive gun training so they can be armed in their classrooms. But rather than adding more guns to educational environments, teachers are using the hashtag #ArmMeWith to share far more peaceful resources they wish to be armed with, such as school supplies, mental health resources and funding, impactful changes in curriculum, and stronger gun control legislation.

The movement was started by two educators: Brittany Wheaton, a teacher in Utah, andOlivia Bertels from Kansas. Both 27-year-olds met through Instagram, according to Buzzfeed, and eagerly asked the online teacher community to share their personal thoughts on how to ensure the safety and proper education of students.

Teachers across the U.S. have been using the hashtag.

One high school English teacher requested a “curriculum that tells the truth, the ability to teach the truth, a society that believes the truth, and political leaders who make laws based on the truth.”

Others asked to be armed with more on-site mental health professionals, like school counselors and social workers, as well as self-care classes, bullet-proof glass, an enhanced library, and a range of other resources that focus on the physical, mental, and emotional care of students and faculty members.

#Armmewith is a movement by @thesuperheroteacher and @missbertels_ and I invite you to join in! Skip through my pics and post your own (I’ve included a blank template) or go to goo.go/52XggF to print your own out! . . . The Arm Me With movement is to make our leaders aware of what teachers really need in the classroom. As some of you know, I’m a gun owner and I can shoot a gun, but I do not believe guns belong anywhere near a classroom. Teachers have enough burdens and the classroom is an unpredictable place. Also teachers are outnumbered by kids 30:1 oftentimes. Guns are not the solution here, and I think they’d be catastrophic. Please flip through my ideal solutions and feel free to use the blank picture to create your own solution! . . . . . . #armwithme #schoolsafetynow #educatorsagainstgunviolence #teachersofinstagram #teachersfollowteachers

A post shared by The Whimsical Teacher (@the_whimsical_teacher) on

“Since teachers are the individuals in the classroom when it happens, I like to think we know what’s best for our students,” Wheatontold Buzzfeed. “If you’re an educator, you know that [more guns] is not a solution to stopping the violence that’s happening in our schools.”

For those looking to participate in the movement, Wheaton has shared a blank #ArmMeWith template that can be downloaded and filled out. 

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/23/armmewith-twitter-teachers-guns/

4 strategies to avoid #resistance burnout

Image: vicky leta / mashable

I was listening to The Read recently — it’s my favorite podcast — and I was struck by co-host Kid Fury’s observations about reaching the end of the year and feeling tired. 

I posted how I felt on Instagram: “Can’t add one more plan tired. Hard to get excited about exciting things tired. Can’t project, assume, or read minds tired. I’m letting myself be tired, be imperfect, be how I am. It is time to hibernate and make meaning of this year, understand the lessons.”

Five hundred people gave it a heart within a few hours. People reached out to me to say they are also tired — exhausted, really. Falling out in meetings, losing things, fighting with loved ones, letting hopelessness have our tongues. 

I am a social justice facilitator, practicing and teaching a methodology called Emergent Strategy. The goal is to learn how we do justice work that is adaptive, focuses on the small things that make up all large systems, and prioritizes critical connections over critical mass. I am also a visionary fiction writer (part of the Octavia’s Brood team) and a pleasure activist, which means I believe pleasure is an important measure of freedom, and that we need to make justice the most pleasurable experience we can have. 

And, even as someone focused on ease, nature, future, and pleasure, 2017 was a daunting year. 

And, even as someone focused on ease, nature, future, and pleasure, 2017 was a daunting year. But I am still going. Movements for social and environmental justice are still moving forward. 

Which gets me curious about how we are surviving, how we are generating energy to move forward in 2018 when everything is heavy and everything hurts. 

What do we do? 

The first thing is to give ourselves lots of room and respect for whatever we have done. It got us this far. So, shout outs to alcohol, sugar, sex, and weed, which have been doing the work of comforting and numbing millions. After the 2016 election, drinking definitely became one of my coping mechanisms for that “They all want my death” feeling that has become daily life. 

I know the newness of feeling this every day is as much an indication of my privilege as it is of political change; things aren’t getting worse, they are getting unveiled. Whatever I didn’t see before this moment is a sign that I was somehow benefiting from not seeing it. It feels worse nonetheless. 

But we need to be careful about numbing. The long-term impacts of numbing move us away from the very aliveness we are fighting for, that erotic level of presence, alertness, and feeling our miraculous existence in real time. Audre Lorde taught us that, “In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.”  

I wanted to offer some strategies beyond numbing that have helped me protect my aliveness. I invite you to practice these throughout 2018.

1. Reconnect with our movement ancestors. We are not the first to be in impossible conditions. And what we know is that we have survived, that our ancestors found ways to survive, to be in dignity and resistance. Focus on ancestors of your own lineage, knowing that every lineage on earth has individuals and groups who have left lessons behind. For me this year has been lit by the north star of Harriet Tubman. You might call on freedom fighters like Berta Cáceres or Bobby Sands — there are so many who inspire. Ancestors can and should humble us. 

2. Tune in to the three Gs every day: gratitude, good news, and genius. If you look, all three are within reach.

a) Start and/or end the day with gratitude. It’s a gorgeous world; pay attention to the beauty, the connection, the generosity and growth.

b) Read between the lines and find the good news. It’s always there, but it might be very small. For me, it’s often in the news of what movements for social and environmental justice are doing to resist. Boost it, grow it with your attention.

c) Our continued survival is actually a long, iterative practice of collective genius. Pay attention to the people and organizations who are doing more than reacting to the daily news or pulling each other down. Tune into the work of the Movement for Black Lives, the Women’s March, #MeToo, Cooperation Jackson, Movement Generation, #ourpowerpr, Mi Gente. These initiatives are attempting audacious, visionary, and difficult work that relies on the genius that arises from people working together across difference to address the challenges and opportunities of their real lives.

3. That thing about putting on your oxygen mask before helping others? It’s real. It’s not like other masks that hide your true face from others, which is an important distinction here. You don’t need to put anything over your truth right now to cover the emotional rollercoaster of being a human who is paying attention. But you do need to take care of yourself at a material level. Soothe without numbing, rest without guilt, hydrate to replenish your foundation, and use your body while there is still miracle in it. Hibernate: turn inward, get still, write down what you have learned from surviving the last year as well as what has been liberated within you, and what you are ready to grow. 

4. And I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t remind y’all that an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away. Remember that your body is literally wired to feel good, thread with nerves that communicate pleasure and let you know what to move toward. And you can choose between the orgasm and the orgasmic — do a massage exchange with friends, eat delicious home-cooked meals, watch comedy shows. There are so many ways to turn up your aliveness.

None of these practices are small or trite. We are in the worst of times right now. If you need to be convinced to care for your body, mind, and spirit so that you can care for your community and this planet, let’s just review the past 12 months. 

There was a period of denial and grief for many of us. Perhaps you also spent some time under a blanket, wondering why our species is so self-sabotaging and embarrassing? Maybe you too called friends to discuss where you could run to, and realized, again, that there was no place far enough, no place beyond the reach of the United States?

Those of us with an intersectional analysis of our current situation know that every uphill battle we’ve been fighting is at least twice as steep. We are looking ahead at battles around the tax plan, net neutrality, protecting the planet as a livable planet for our species, resisting a police force encouraged to unleash increased violence on our devastated vulnerable communities. All while watching 45 play nuclear roulette with North Korea on Twitter.

For those of us working to create social change, 2017 was a wild year. We take our whiplashed necks and try to keep up the pace as we run from protest to petition to planning meeting. We have held some lines, we have shown up and said no to racist bans and efforts to strip us of hard-won rights, and we have reached for each other. We’ve been surprised and excited as scientists marched and national parks workers used Twitter to resist fascist policy making.

And, in our exhaustion, we have sometimes turned on each other. Interpersonal beef drains organizational resources. Tactical differences become landmines. Places where we could learn together instead become battlegrounds that play out on social media. We long for something different but are stretched too thin to practice new approaches. We want each other to be perfect and to be transparent about our flaws. We are punitive and transformative in the same breath. 

We are in a fight for our survival and there’s no turning away from it, no turning back. 2017 was a reckoning, an unveiling. An embarrassment, yes, but it’s honest. And now we are at a very real risk of becoming too exhausted to continue our fight, our journey. 

Ella Baker taught us that “we who believe in freedom cannot rest.” 

Ella Baker taught us that “we who believe in freedom cannot rest.” I wrestle with these words all the time, because I believe in freedom, and I believe my body is a crucial part of the fight for freedom. So I interpret these words through my work. I do not rest in terms of how I work. I tirelessly show up for movements I believe in, to hold planned or unexpected hard conversations and mediations, to invite transformation in the face of frustration. I tirelessly seek out old and new ways of moving through our current paradigm and into a viable future. 

But when it comes to my body, I rest. I rest in myriad ways that allow me to show up fully for each facilitation. I ensure that I have quiet time each evening, a bath when there’s a tub, at least seven hours of sleep each night. I want to give us more permission to rest our bodies so that we don’t burn out our spirits and minds in our lifelong commitment to liberation.

It is in that spirit that I invite you to honor your ancestors and remember that they believed in you before your first breath. They believed you could generate gratitude, uplift good news, contribute to genius. Put on your oxygen mask and open to the pleasurable experiences of life. This is our moment to shape.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2018/01/12/resistance-burn-out-activism-new-year/

This visionary organization wants to improve the lives of 50 million people by 2030

Image: pixabay

Imagine delivering a child in a place where you’re required to bring your own water to the delivery room, in a healthcare facility in which there’s no viable way for the staff to wash their hands before bringing your baby into the world.

This scenario, says Dr. Greg Allgood, the vice president of water at World Vision, is more than simply a disturbing hypothetical. In fact, he explains, it’s the reality for more than a third of healthcare facilities in the developing world. A lack of latrines and education about proper sanitation leads to rampant disease (and often death) in these rural communities, particularly among young kids.

One of the largest relief and development organizations in the world, World Vision aims to combat water shortages and health-compromising sanitation practices such as open defecation. World Toilet Day, coming up on November 19, is a prime opportunity to examine these types of initiatives — and the partnerships that make them possible.

Collaborative, community-centric approach

Bringing World Vision’s ambitious goals to fruition requires a global, collaborative effort. To effectively enact change on a mass scale — the organization aims to improve the lives of 50 million people by 2030 — World Vision employs a number of partnerships. The organization works with major corporations like the Hilton Foundation, Procter & Gamble, and Kohler. Support from these partnerships helps meet objectives like bringing improved water and sanitation systems to 3,000 healthcare facilities in the next five years.

Not only does World Vision raise funds remotely from overseas, they also have boots on the ground in developing communities. As the world’s largest child sponsorship program, World Vision staff spend up to 15 years working and living in rural communities around the globe. When it comes to initiatives like introducing modern latrines, success largely depends upon the community relationships that have been established via on-the-ground efforts.

When implementing sanitation solutions, World Vision stresses sustainability and ownership. “We empower communities to take charge of their own sanitation needs,” explains Allgood. “Community-led total sanitation methodology is something we’ve really embraced. It works really well with our system because there’s so much trust between our staff and the volunteer network of people that they set up to inspire healthy behaviors.”

We empower communities to take charge of their own sanitation needs.

In Zambia, one of the 45 countries for which World Vision has a long-term business plan, nearly a third of the country’s 15 million people lack access to clean water and modern latrines. In the next five years, World Vision hopes to reach one in every six Zambians. The comprehensive plan for meeting this goal spans every corner of the community — from individual families to schools to religious leaders. The support of authority figures like village chiefs, says Allgood, has also been huge.

Private-sector partners are another critical piece of overarching strategy. “We work with a number of private-sector companies; the thing we offer them is access to new markets based on our strong community presence,” says Allgood.

In September 2015, when World Vision announced a game plan to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (which include specific goals for clean water and sanitation), the response from the organization’s partners was overwhelmingly supportive. Kohler, for example, made a commitment to help World Vision scale up its water/sanitation/hygiene work.

“Kohler’s aspirational goal is ‘Gracious Living.’ They recently changed that to ‘Gracious Living for All’ in recognition of the desire to help underserved communities, and it was great to see that commitment. To have them in this space has everyone in the development sector really excited,” says Allgood.   

Next week, World Vision will host a team of Kohler researchers in Malawi and Lesotho in an effort to ideate how to bring new products to Africa. In addition, World Vision has helped introduce the Kohler Clarity filter into a number of communities.

“We’re seeing how people love having this well-designed filter in their homes,” says Allgood.

Empowering via education

Academic and educational partnerships also have a significant impact upon World Vision’s efforts — particularly on those that target kids and families. 

A partnership with Sesame Street, for example, in which the beloved children’s program introduced a new character named Raya to focus on sanitation, hygiene, and water, is proving promising.

“Raya and Elmo go into schools with World Vision to help teach kids about healthy sanitation, water storage and conservation habits, and hand-washing,” says Allgood, who adds that World Vision is now in 11 countries with Sesame Street. “We started in Zambia, and the program was so successful that the Ministry of Education embraced it. Our goal was to reach 10,000 kids, but we quickly reached more than 50,000 because of that support.” Now, similar efforts are expanding to countries in the Middle East like Afghanistan and Lebanon, as well as to Asia, Honduras, and numerous other African nations. 

“When you empower kids and teach them these habits in a fun, loving way, they take those habits home to their brothers and sisters — and even to their parents,” says Allgood. “It really affects the entire household.”

World Vision’s efforts are paying off. In the parts of the world in which the organization operates, an average of eight communities every day become certified as open-defecation free. On the water side of the equation, Allgood adds, World Vision provides clean water at an unprecedented rate of one new person every ten seconds.

Another one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals? Revitalizing global partnerships. Here, too, World Vision and partners like Kohler are exemplifying how collaborative efforts can help turn these lofty visions into concrete realities.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/11/06/world-vision/

Bill Gates announces major donation to advance the fight against Alzheimer’s

Bill Gates speaks speaks at the Goalkeepers 2017 event on Sept. 20, 2017, in New York City.
Image: Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Bill Gates just donated a piece of his fortune to advance the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

The philanthropist and Microsoft founder announced in a blog post Monday that he will give $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a public-private partnership that invests in innovative dementia research. Gates will also donate another $50 million in startups working in Alzheimer’s research.

Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates has a long track record of supporting research to eradicate diseases like malaria and polio. But Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia that progressively affects memory and other brain functions, is the first noncommunicable disease he’s fighting.

The $100 million is his own investment, not his foundation’s. That’s, in part, because it’s personal. 

“This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s.”

“It’s a terrible disease that devastates both those who have it and their loved ones,” Gates wrote in his blog post. “This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s. I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you’re experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. An estimated 5.5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s, and someone new develops the disease every 66 seconds. People of all ages are affected, but 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Gates said he spent the last year learning everything he could about Alzheimer’s disease, speaking with researchers, academics, and other industry experts. Those conversations led him to focus on five areas: understanding how the disease unfolds, figuring out how to detect it earlier, funding more innovative and lesser-known drug trials, making it easier for people to enroll in clinical trials, and using data to inform better approaches.

Gates’ investment in the Dementia Discovery Fund will help support startups as it explores “less mainstream approaches to treating dementia,” he explained.

“The first Alzheimer’s treatments might not come to fruition for another decade or more, and they will be very expensive at first. Once that day comes, our foundation might look at how we can expand access in poor countries,” Gates wrote, explaining how he might look at the issue beyond his personal investment in the future.

The announcement is timely, coinciding with National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in November. The goal of the month is to increase awareness and drive home the fact that as many as 16 million people could live with Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2050.

“People should be able to enjoy their later years — and we need a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s to fulfill that,” Gates said. “I’m excited to join the fight and can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/11/13/bill-gates-alzheimers-disease-donation/

Bearded dudes pose for merman calendar to raise money for a worthy cause

Behold the “Merb’ys”—a breed of Canadian bearded mermen flapping their fur and fins for a good cause. 

The gentlemen of Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Moustache Club are posing in nowt but their merman garb for a dudeoir-style calendar to raise money for mental health organisation Spirit Horse NL.

And, the photos certainly don’t disappoint. The calendar—which can be previewed online—features bearded mermen posing in pumpkin patches, pubs, and on various beaches. 

The Merb’ys are thus-named because “the Newfoundland mermen are a different breed,” says Hasan Hai, founder of the beard and moustache club. Hai came up with the idea of a merman calendar after a friend of his posted a photo from a mercreature themed dudeoir shoot on his Facebook wall. 

He decided to organise a calendar, and posted an “open call to the universe” on social media, which received an unexpectedly high response. 70 or 80 people got in touch with Hai, offering to model or photograph. 

Hai knew he wanted to raise money for charity, but hadn’t yet settled on a charity. When he came across Sprit Horse NL and heard the stories of the people they help, he suggested using the calendar to raise money for the organisation. 

“It basically uses horses to provide equine therapy for people with mental illness, people who want to live better lives, people with physical limitation,” Hai told CBC. 

Donning a fin was a challenge for the men during the calendar shoots. “Moving around in a fishtail is not as easy as you would think,” Hai continued, adding that there was “a lot of hopping” and squirming involved behind the scenes.  

The calendar, which has received an overwhelming number of pre-orders, can be purchased online for $25 CAD ($19.70 USD, £14.99) from the Beard and Moustache Club website. 

Major props to the Merb’ys of Newfoundland!

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/11/10/mermen-dudeoir-calendar-newfoundland/

IBM will use data science and tech to tackle the world’s biggest problems

IBM Watson's computer housing case.
Image: Andrew Spear for The Washington Post / Getty Images

IBM is channeling its science and tech expertise into tackling some of the world’s biggest problems.

On Wednesday, the tech giant announced the launch of Science for Social Good, a new program that partners IBM researchers with postdoctoral academic fellows and nonprofits to take on societal issues through data.

With the new initiative, IBM announced 12 projects planned for 2017. Each Science for Social Good project aligns with one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations’ blueprint to address some of the globe’s biggest inequalities and threats by the year 2030.

Science for Social Good covers issues like improving emergency aid and combating the opioid crisis, and the projects all use data science, analytics, and artificial intelligence to develop solutions.

The projects chosen for this years Social Good program cover predicting new diseases, alleviating illiteracy and hunger, and helping people out of poverty.”

One project is called Emergency Food Best Practice: The Digital Experience, which plans to compile emergency food distribution best practices and share it with nonprofits through an interactive digital tool. IBM will partner with nonprofit St. John’s Bread & Life to develop the tool based on the nonprofit’s distribution model, which helps the organization seamlessly serve more than 2,500 meals each day in New York City.

Another project is called Overcoming Illiteracy, which will use AI to allow low-literate adults to “navigate the information-dense world with confidence.” The project hopes to decode complex texts (such as product descriptions and manuals), extract the basic message, and present it to users through visuals and simple spoken messages. While this project doesn’t solve the global literacy crisis, it will allow low-literate adults engage with text independently.

“The projects chosen for this years Social Good program cover an important range of topics including predicting new diseases, promoting innovation, alleviating illiteracy and hunger, and helping people out of poverty,” Arvind Krishna, director of IBM Research, said in a statement. “What unifies them all is that, at the core, they necessitate major advances in science and technology. Armed with the expertise of our partners and drawing on a wealth of new data, tools and experiences, Science for Social Good can offer new solutions to the problems our society is facing.”

IBM hopes the initiative will build off the success of the company’s noted supercomputer, Watson, which has helped address health care, education, and environmental challenges since its development.

Six pilot projects were conducted in 2016 in order to develop the Science for Social Good initiative. These projects covered a broad range of topics, such as health care, humanitarian relief, and global innovation.

A particularly successful project used machine learning techniques to better understand the spread of the Zika virus. Using complex data, the team developed a predictive model that identified which primate species should be targeted for Zika virus surveillance and management. The results of the project are now leading new testing in the field to help prevent the spread of the disease.

To learn more about current and past projects, visit the Science for Social Good website.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/07/ibm-science-for-social-good/

The teenage developer who quit school to focus on coding

Image: getty images/

Like many developers about to attend their first major developer conference, Amanda Southworth is looking forward to the week-long event. Besides Monday’s keynote, when Apple will unveil the next version of iOS, MacOS and maybe even some new hardware, there will be deep dives into new developer tools and countless networking opportunities.

That’s enough for any developer to get excited about, but Southworth is not like most other developers.

At just 15 years old, Southworth has the distinction of being among the youngest to attend Apple’s developer conference, which awarded her one of its WWDC Scholarships a program that helps “talented students and STEM organization members,” travel to and attend the event.

Though she’s been teaching herself to code for the better part of six years she says it wasn’t until the seventh grade when she really began to throw herself into her coding projects and other “nerd stuff.” Soon, she was spending as much as 30 hours a week to her various projects: first building robots and programming micro-controllers; then picking up web and iOS development.

She was 12 and working on all this on top of her schoolwork. So after about two years of a lot of coding and far too little sleep she decided to leave public school and take up home schooling, which would allow her to spend more time on coding without sacrificing her health.

“Now I do coding about five hours a day and schoolwork for about two hours of the day,” she says.

Much like her, Southworth’s apps are not what you may expect from a young developer. Her first app, AnxietyHelper, is entirely devoted to providing resources for young people facing mental health issues. It has information about conditions like anxiety and depression, guidelines for dealing with anger and panic attacks, as well as links to crisis hotlines.

Image: courtesy amanda southworth

Amanda Southworth was once of the recipients of Apple’s WWDC Scholarships this year.

Image: courtesy amanda southworth

“Basically it’s just to make your life easier because dealing with mental illness as it is sucks,” she says. “This app is kind of reaching out and saying ‘hey, I’m sorry you’re in this predicament but I want to help make this better.’

It’s a message that’s resonated with her peers. The app has around a thousand users and the app’s Tumblr page, where she regularly posts tips on self-care, uplifting memes and words of encouragement, and the occasional baby animals photo, has more than 3,500 followers.

I’m very open and I want to help people

Southworth, who describes herself as a kind of “motherly figure” to her friends and social media followers, says she regularly talks on the phone and exchanges messages with her Tumblr followers and those who use her app.

“I’m very open and I want to help people,” she says of the interactions.

It’s this drive of helping those around her that lead her to create her second app, Verena. Like AnxietyHelper, it’s also focused on supporting young people who may be in distress. But instead of mental health, Verena offers tools for people in the LGBT community who need help feeling safe a kind of “security system for the LGBT community.”

A poster for Anxiety Helper.

Image: courtesy amanda southworth

A diagram Amanda made to help her plan out how her app will work.

Image: courtesy amanda southworth

Seeing her friends many of whom are part of the LGBT community worry the day after the presidential election in November 2016 inspired her to create the app. “That day I saw all of my friends crying and it was really upsetting, you know, when people you love are scared,” she says. “So I decided, I’m going to make something so that I know they’re safe.”

I decided I’m going to make something so that I know they’re safe

Verena, which takes its name from a German name that means “protector,” allows users to find police stations, hospitals, shelters, and other places of refuge in times of need. They can also designate a list of contacts to be alerted via the app in an emergency.

Conscious that some of the app’s users may not be able to be open with their families or those around them about their identity, Southworth included some clever features that help users disguise the app on their phones lest they be caught with an app for LGBT people on their phone.

Go into “incognito” mode and and the app transforms into an app that looks like it’s meant to provide help with math homework (users can get back to the real app by logging back in.) And should somebody need help while in incognito mode, they can hold down the log-in button to automatically send an alert to their contacts.

Image: verena

Though she says Verena is her main priority right now she’s working with translators to make the app available in 10 different languages her ultimate goal is to work in the space industry. SpaceX is her number one choice

“I relate strongly to Elon Musk,” she says of the notoriously hyper-focused CEO.

But with college still two years away she’s content to focus on AnxietyHelper, Verena and her other projects for now in between studying for finals and the rest of her schoolwork.

Even though she sees herself as ultimately having a career in embedded systems, rather than iOS development, she sees WWDC as something of a turning point for her.

“I’m looking forward to meeting people who do the same thing as me because everybody tells me I’m really crazy for like just dropping school and going for this with all of my might.

“But I know there’s other people who do this and I want to meet those people. I want to be inspired and I want to make my app better, so I guess this will help me.”

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/04/amanda-aouthworth-wwdc-profile/

How a Silicon Valley veteran created an app that 400 nonprofits use to help refugees

Image: Mashable Composite; RefAid / Trellyz

Shelley Taylor calls herself a Silicon Valley veteran. Veteran, she tells me, “means old.”

Raised in Palo Alto, Taylor has an extensive tech background. She isn’t an engineer, but she wrote the “bible of user interface” back in 1995 at the dawn of website creation, inventing a lot of the language still used to this day to describe websites and ecommerce. She’s launched a bevy of startups and advised companies like AOL, Cisco, Microsoft, and Yahoo in their early days.

“My approach to being a technology founder, which I pretty much have always been, is starting with the user experience and then using that to do product design development,” she says.

That’s exactly what she’s doing with her latest project, albeit with a more humanitarian twist. Taylor is behind the Refugee Aid app, or RefAid, which connects refugees with crucial services when and where they need them most. More than 400 of the largest aid organizations in the worldfrom the Red Cross to Save the Children to Doctors of the Worldall use it.

In many cases, they even rely on it.

Through a simple, easy-to-use interface, the free mobile app uses geolocation to show migrants, refugees, and aid workers a map of the closest services for food, shelter, health care, legal help, and more. Aid organizations can communicate with each otherand touch base with the refugees they’ve helpedthrough a web-based content management system, as well as update and keep track of the services they offer.

The app began as Taylor’s passion project in early 2016. It’s an offshoot of her company Trellyz, formerly known as Digital Fan Clubs, which launched four years ago to help people manage their brands and monetize their fans on Facebook. But about 18 months ago, Taylor, who has lived in Europe on and off for the last 25 years, felt compelled to do something a bit different.

“I was impacted by the horrible images, and just felt a sense of frustration. I just thought, ‘What can we do?'”

“I was struck, like many other people, by the refugee crisis,” she says. “In Europe, it’s much more prominent. Where I am in Italy, just looking out over the sea where I am, there are people who have been drowning trying to get to Europe, to safety. And so I was impacted by the horrible images, and just felt a sense of frustration. I just thought, ‘What can we do?'”

Since Digital Fan Clubs already created geolocation-based apps with real-time data, Taylor wondered how they could adapt that technology for refugees, who she knew were already using smartphones. So she asked a number of large organizations like the UNHCR and the British Red Cross if an app like RefAid would be helpful. They all had the same answer: “That would be great.”

Over the course of just one weekend, Taylor and her team created RefAid using the company’s app creation platform technology. It launched in February 2016, first in the UK and Italytwo countries where refugees can have very different needs. In the UK, many refugees have already reached their destination, and are focused more on integrating into a new society. Many refugees in Italy, meanwhile, are just arriving off boats after extremely harrowing, dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean.

Image: RefAid / Trellyz

Image: RefAid / Trellyz

Nel Vandevannet, director of Belgian projects at Doctors of the World, and Mark Forsyth, refugee support services coordinator at the British Red Cross, both say RefAid has proven extremely useful for their organizations. Spreading awareness of their services has been difficult, but the app has streamlined the entire process.

“I think the application is perfect for very vulnerable groups of people.”

In Belgium, where many refugees are quickly passing through to get to the UK and other parts of Europe, Vandevannet says the app has helped Doctors of the World explain to them their rights. And, in many cases, it helps point them in the direction of life-saving health care. It’s not always easy to translate this kind of vital information and convince refugees of what they need, but tapping into their smartphoneswhich Vandevannet calls “their compasses”has helped develop more trust between aid workers and refugees.

“I think the application is perfect for very vulnerable groups of people, who, because of bad experiences, repression, violence they had through their traveling … don’t really go to services,” she says. “The application is something they can control. If the police would give information, [refugees] would never go. Because they would think that it’s controlled by police, you would have to give your identity, and so on.”

The app protects refugees’ identities by only requiring an email address, not names or other personal information. There’s also a double-login function that protects their accounts, in case they ever lose their phones.

According to Forsyth, the British Red Cross has mainly used RefAid as a directory of relevant services across the country. It enables them to search for up-to-date information about services, such as locations and opening times.

“It’s not uncommon for refugees and asylum seekers to be moved all around the country,” he says. “So it’s really useful that RefAid covers the whole country, so we can contact services in other cities and refer people on.”

RefAid is now available in 14 countries: Greece, the UK, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Malta, Turkey, and the U.S.

They weren’t planning to launch the app in the U.S.at least not so soon. But as one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 to create a 90-day travel ban for citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, as well as a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program. (The ban was ultimately blocked by lower courts, a ruling that a federal appeals court upheld just last week.)

“Because I’m an American, I was so upset by the Trump [travel] ban,” Taylor says. “I’m an expat living in Europe, and I’m so proud of our American history of welcoming immigrants. I thought about it all weekend, and I thought, ‘Well, we just have to do it.'”

She invited her team and a group of friends to her house on the following Monday, and they all got on their phones and called as many organizations with real-time legal services as they could. They wanted to make sure that people who were being detained had access to essential phone numbers. Even though the ACLU and others had set up free legal resources at international airports, many people couldn’t even get out of customs to reach them.

“I thought, if we could at least make this available to people so that they can make phone calls, that would be a great start for RefAid in the U.S.,” Taylor says.

In just that one day, RefAid went live in 21 U.S. cities, focusing on legal services in areas with big international airports.

RefAid isn’t the only app on the market helping refugees and immigrants at various stages in their journeys. But it’s especially novel because of the unexpected problems it solves for nonprofits overall: managing their resources.

What Taylor and her team didn’t realize is that most of these organizations didn’t have centralized databases of the services they were offering. Information on the different categories of aid they provided and what satellite offices offered was all in aid workers’ heads, or on pieces of paper filed away in drawers.

“Because it’s on my phone, it’s available wherever, whenever, even if I’m not in the office.”

“The first organization that said they would love to use our system said, ‘We’ll get back to you when we’ve collected all of the services.’ I asked, ‘Well, how many are there?’ And they said, ‘We don’t really know,'” Taylor says.

That same organization, which Taylor didn’t name, had 60 offices in the UK. It took them two-and-a-half months to compile everything and give her an Excel spreadsheet with 300 lines of services.

Forsyth says it’s been a similar case for the British Red Cross.

“Services are changing all the time, especially these days, so paper and PDF directories are virtually obsolete from the second they are made,” he says. “RefAid is updated regularly, and because it’s on my phone, it’s available wherever, whenever, even if I’m not in the office.”

It was a revelation, and Taylor saw a market opportunity. She dropped everything else, changed the name of Digital Fan Clubs to Trellyz, and pivoted toward exclusively helping nonprofits manage their resources.

Now, the company is applying RefAid’s technology to a new app called LifeSpots, in which all nonprofits can compile their services by location, helping people find the assistance they need as well as local volunteer opportunities. It’s expected to launch within the next month. Trellyz also plans to do the same thing for cities, offering another app for local governments to list and manage the public services they offer.

RefAid is updated every few weeks or couple of months, as more nonprofits use it and provide feedback. Even governments are starting to hop on board Washington State uses the app to help distribute information about local services available to refugees, as well as the UK’s National Health Service and cities across Europe.

Doctors of the World is also working with Trellyz to integrate a “medical passport” into RefAid, allowing refugees to put their own medical histories in the app. It’s all secure, staying in the hands of users, and solves the problem of not being able to keep such important paperwork with them as they’re traveling.

Ultimately, it all comes down to what Taylor said about focusing on user experience understanding who’s using the app and then developing it to maximize the impact. And with RefAid, that human-centered approach is clear as soon as you register. You immediately get a short, two-sentence email sent to your inbox.

“Thanks for registering for the RefAid app,” the email reads. “We all hope that you find some support near you, and that you have a safe journey.”

With that attitude and the technology behind it to create real, positive change, RefAid is quickly becoming a must-have addition to any refugee’s phone.

WATCH: This is what refugees face when coming to America

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/29/refaid-refugee-aid-app-shelley-taylor/

How ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has become the meme of the resistance

Image: Christopher Mineses / mashable 

Earlier this week, 18 women dressed up in red cloaks and white bonnets, stood in pairs in the rotunda of the Texas state capitol, and began chanting, “Shame!” in unison. They didn’t stop shouting for eight minutes.

They call themselves the Texas handmaids. You probably first saw them back in March, when images of their original protest in Austin went viral. That’s when they sat silently in the Texas senate gallery, watching as lawmakers debated bills that would make it harder for women to get an abortion.

What you may not know is that their demonstrations, inspired by Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale and Hulu’s vivid TV adaptation, are slowly spreading across the country.

Women are holding sewing parties to turn yards of blood-red fabric into capes. They’re swapping ideas on private Facebook pages about how to stage protests. They’re even planning a coordinated demonstration where dozens of handmaids simultaneously show up at state capitols or in other public places in cities across the country.

If the visually striking meme takes off, it could become one of the most effective acts of protest from the resistance. The sight of even a dozen women wearing the handmaid costume, while staying silent and keeping their heads down, offers a stark contrast to a group of mostly white men deliberating over what happens to their bodies. The imagery is practically made for the digital era.

The point, activists say, is to send a powerful message: We’re closer to a government that strips women of their bodily autonomy than you might think.

“The easiest way we try to explain it is that the handmaids represent a future where women are nothing more than their reproductive capacity,” says Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “Unfortunately, with the laws that are being passed, that future is not so unrealistic and not so distant.”

We’re closer to a government that strips women of their bodily autonomy than you might think.

The idea to enlist Texas women as handmaids started with Busby a few months ago. She happened to see women dressed as the title character from The Handmaid’s Tale at South by Southwest. That was a marketing stunt by Hulu, the streaming entertainment provider that brought Atwood’s novel to the small screen.

But Busby then joked on Facebook about how someone should send the handmaids down to the capitol, where lawmakers had been busy introducing bills that would curtail abortion rights. Soon NARAL Pro-Choice Texas ordered white bonnets from Amazon Prime and a volunteer rented red capes. A small group of volunteers quickly drew up a plan. They liked the element of surprise in showing up at the capitol in costume and wanted to let legislators know that women were watching.

After that yielded local and national press coverage of the legislative agenda in Texas, activists around the country started reaching out to Busby for tips on how to start their own handmaids brigade.

You could argue that all of this is moot, that the United States is nowhere close to becoming the Republic of Gilead, The Handmaid’s Tale‘s totalitarian, theocratic state that freezes women’s bank accounts, forbids them to work, sends them to re-education camps, and forces many of them to bear children for leaders and their wives.

The New York Times‘ conservative columnist Ross Douthat argued this week that liberals are seeing the wrong parallels. On the same day, Times op-ed contributor Mona Eltahawy wrote that the Republic of Gilead already exists in Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive and may be imprisoned for disobedience. For her part, Atwood has said that nothing in her novel hasn’t already happened before in history.

“I still have a credit card, I still have a nice car, but I can feel the future here.”

For the volunteers who are deep into the work of creating and wearing the costumes in public, it’s not about whether they still have credit cards or the right to get a job. What they see is the federal and state governments largely in the hands of conservative, even authoritarian, men who’ve vowed to defund Planned Parenthood and roll back reproductive health rights like abortion and access to affordable birth control. At the same time, those men plan to funnel money to abstinence-only education and vouchers for “school choice,” which includes religious schools.

The fact that they’re led by Donald Trump terrifies these women.

“We have somebody in the White House who thinks it’s OK to grab women and do whatever he wants, and I’m supposed to sit back and be cool with that?” says Emily Morgan, executive director of Action Together New Hampshire, an activist group that emerged in the wake of Trump’s election.

Earlier this month, Morgan contacted Busby for details on how to create handmaid costumes. But instead of bringing women into the New Hampshire legislative gallery during a debate or hearing, Morgan and her co-organizers asked them to appear at a press conference calling for the resignation of Rep. Robert Fisher, a Republican who The Daily Beast identified in April as the creator and former moderator of Reddit’s popular men’s rights “Red Pill” forum. The message board bills itself as a “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men,” and Fisher regularly questioned whether rape is real, according to The Daily Beast. (Fisher resigned later in the day following the press conference.)

A sexual assault survivor with handmaids demanding Rep. Robert Fisher’s resignation, on May 17, 2017, in Concord, N.H.

Image: Granite State Progress

“Fisher and the Red Pill embody exactly what The Handmaid’s Tale is a foreshadowing of or is a warning against,” Morgan says. “Saying that we’re not there it’s sort of degrading to what’s actually happening to women.”

In the days before the press conference, volunteers made six costumes, but some of the women bowed out after learning the media would be in attendance. Morgan says they feared in-person and online harassment. Nevertheless, she thinks more women will step forward to participate in upcoming demonstrations, particularly since volunteers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire are sewing new cloaks so that activists in New England quickly have access to them for future protests.

The time-intensive, costly aspect of buying the bonnets and making the cloaks is one challenge to growing the handmaid ranks. There’s also the danger that different groups will splinter in an effort to launch the first nationwide demonstration. Morgan is moderating a private Facebook page to coordinate a national action. A similar page started by one of the Texas handmaids has close to 300 members.

The handmaids’ signature costumes are also a relatively obscure reference compared to pussyhats, the knit pink caps that have become a symbol of the resistance. But they’re also memorable even if you don’t know the origin.

Ane Crabtree, the costume designer for the Hulu series, says the outfit’s visual power is rooted in both the bright red color, which can signify blood, birth, and passion, and how the cloak conceals women who wear it. The combination tells the viewer what she needs to know about how the body underneath the costume is oppressed.

“It’s an easy form of expression to say that everything’s been taken away and is being taken away, and its a real thing,” says Crabtree, who is encouraged and inspired by people making their own version of the costume.

Deborah Marsh, a 65-year-old retiree who is one of the Texas handmaids, says people who get the reference often approach her on the street or in the capitol’s rotunda to thank her profusely for the act of defiance. Some, however, have seen the symbolism and don’t like it. Marsh says a few people on the street have had “outbursts” or called the women “pathetic.”

Joe Pojman, executive director of the anti-abortion rights nonprofit group Texas Alliance for Life, seemed to criticize the handmaids a few times, focusing on the fact that they’ve used smartphones while silently protesting in the gallery, a silly point that Marsh feels makes their case about men who are obsessed with policing women’s behavior.

What Marsh didn’t expect was how confident she would feel while wearing the costume. “It’s such a bold costume, it’s making such a bold statement,” she says. “And my body is inside that costume, so why wouldnt I feel bold? Why wouldn’t I feel empowered?”

Among reproductive rights activists like Marsh, the Texas legislature is infamous for its anti-abortion legislation. In 2013, the state passed a law that effectively led to the closure of dozens of abortion clinics, which the Supreme Court found unconstitutional last year. The Republican-led legislature recently voted to ban the safest type of second-trimester abortion and require hospitals and abortion clinics to bury fetal remains, including those from miscarriages that happen at home. Texas has already moved to keep Planned Parenthood from state and federal funding.

In other words, as Texas limits access to both abortion and reproductive health care like birth control, it’s easy to imagine a future in which women have little practical control over how and when they have children. That vision shouldn’t be limited to Texas either; other Republican-dominated states are pursuing a similar agenda with regard to limiting access to reproductive health care, as is the Trump administration.

“I still have a credit card, I still have a nice car, but I can feel the future here,” Marsh says. “If [people] aren’t affected by it today, they are going to be affected by it in four yours. Texas is a little bit ahead of the game.”

“Am I going to change someones mind who is pro-life? I dont expect that. Im aiming higher. I want to change the culture.”

Stephanie Martin, a mom from Round Rock, in central Texas, who recently dressed up as a handmaid for the first time, says she’s realistic about who the message is going to reach.

“Am I going to change someone’s mind who is pro-life?” she asks. “I don’t expect that. I’m aiming higher. I want to change the culture.”

It’s still early to gauge exactly how that culture will respond beyond the videos and photos that have gone viral. But the parallel between the male aggression and control that characterizes Gilead feels particularly fresh in a week where a Republican congressional candidate body slammed a reporter for asking a question he didn’t like, and the president appeared to shove aside a European leader to get a better position in a photo-op.

Let’s not forget the complicity of Ivanka Trump, who promotes herself as a champion of gender equality but says nothing critical about healthcare and budget proposals that are arguably hostile to women. Nor can we ignore the benign-looking malevolence of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who couldn’t come up with a single instance of discrimination at publicly funded schools that would give her pause when asked about it at a congressional hearing. In Gilead, after all, the women who are not outrightly oppressed get the privilege of wielding what small power they have against the vulnerable and marginalized.

Morgan admits that some people won’t make connections between what’s happening today and Atwood’s fiction. Yet she urges skeptics to focus less on a dramatic, sweeping end to women’s rights. What’s more important, at this point, is the underlying implication of attitudes and laws that see no harm in making it more difficult or even impossible for women to determine their own fate.

“These are steps on the same path,” she says of the parallels between Gilead and Trump’s America. “You have to start somewhere.”

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/28/handmaids-tale-protests-costumes/

This radical video by Shonda Rhimes and Dove is what unapologetic body positivity is all about

Fat girls dance.

That three word statement may seem simple and declarative. Yet, the assertion that fat girls do dance challenges a ton of assumptions and stigma around what plus-size people can and can’t do.

Cathleen Meredith, a self-proclaimed “fat girl,” knows the importance of dancing while people are watching. Meredith is the subject of the first video in an anticipated partnership between acclaimed producer Shonda Rhimes and Dove, called Dove Real Beauty Productions. The series spotlights real women redefining beauty and Meredith is no doubt doing just that through her brainchild Fat Girls Dance.

The video racked up over 1.5 million views in less than two days, exposing countless people across social media to Meredith’s story of self-acceptance. A shortened version of the video also appeared as an ad during the season finales of Rhime’s shows Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy on May 18.

Meredith started Fat Girls Dance in August 2016, pledging to post a video of fat girls dancing every single week for a year. Meredith calls the choreographed dance series a “radical act of fearlessness.” Her mission through Fat Girls Dance was to bring more visibility to the joy of plus-size women, and challenge ideas that fat women aren’t active, talented, or sexy.

“I had always loved myself and always thought that Cathleen was dope. But I didn’t think that Cathleen’s body was dope.”

Her story is one of resilience and radical body positivity, challenging a society rampant with fatphobia and bias to see the beauty in women like her.

“I think there is a negative connotation with the word fat,” Meredith says in the video. “But I never saw it as something negative, just something that I was. And I was not negative. I was awesome.”

But the year-long Fat Girls Dance campaign not only ended up challenging society’s views of fat bodies. Meredith says the watching herself dance on video began to challenge bias toward her body that she didn’t even known she had.

“When you’re dancing on a video and then you see it, you’re like, ‘Oh god, I am fat,'” she says in the Dove video. “And it’s very strange ’cause you knew you were fat. But you didn’t see it the way you see it on camera.”

Meredith says looking at herself over and over again in Fat Girls Dance videos helped her truly love her body, realizing its ability and power. Through that self-reflection and self-acceptance, she was able to truly embody a motto of Curvy. Confident. Conqueror.

“I didn’t know that it was a love affair I had been missing my entire life,” she says. “I had always loved myself and always thought that Cathleen was dope. But I didn’t think that Cathleen’s body was dope.”

That deep self-love is a lesson Cathleen wants to help spread to other plus-size women who are constantly told their bodies are not good enough. And she hopes to do that through Fat Girls Dance.

“If I could give that to every fat chick I ever met, then that would be worth it,” she says.

This thoughtful video on radical body positivity comes at a good time for Dove. The brand was recently criticized by some body positive activists for trivializing and capitalizing the movement by their body wash bottles reflect different body sizes for a campaign.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/20/dove-video-fat-girls-dance-shonda-rhimes/