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Isaac Broune (left) and April Gonzaga-Mercado lead a panel discussion on using communications as aid as part of the Game Changers Summit at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Isaac Broune (left) and April Gonzaga-Mercado lead a panel discussion on using communications as aid as part of the Game Changers Summit at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn

United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck gives the closing benediction for the Game Changers Summit at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck gives the closing benediction for the Game Changers Summit at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.

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Grab your cell phone in typhoon, flood, or war

By Kathy L. Gilbert
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

When it floods, or a typhoon hits, or you are caught in the middle of a civil war, grab your cell phones.

That was the bottom-line advice from three people who have been in the middle of all those scenarios. They spoke on a panel about communication as aid on the last day of a three-day summit that was all about technology helping rebuild and restore communities that had suffered devastating events.

Isaac Broune, a communicator from the Côte d’Ivoire episcopal area, spoke about bullets flying through the window and falling by the bed as he slept late after the 2010 elections. Those elections in his country sparked fighting in the street that led to a civil war. He lived at the United Methodist conference office to keep the radio station operating during the civil unrest.

“There were 3,000 deaths during that crisis and we were the voice of hope,” he said of the radio station.

His family — 20 people — lived in a two-bedroom house. “It was the size of the hotel room I am staying in now,” he said, smiling.

Broune, April Gonzaga-Mercado and Linda Raftree talked about their experiences as communicators suddenly facing being somewhere in the world after a disaster — with no way to communicate.

Game Changers Summit 2014, hosted by United Methodist Communications, was held in the Opryland Hotel, Nashville, Sept. 3-5. More than 240 people from nine countries attended the event that included world leaders in ICT4D—information and communication technology for development.

GPS and coconut trees

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Gonzaga-Mercado was awoken at 3 a.m. with a job offer she couldn’t refuse after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on Nov. 8. United Methodist Communications, the denomination’s communication agency, wanted her to be part of a four-person team sent to the disaster area.

She was a journalist and communications chairperson of her church, Taytay United Methodist Church, and an active member of the United Methodist Young Adult Fellowship. She had never been in the middle of a disaster, but joined the team sent in to help assess needs and spread information.

She said she flew into the area and was shocked.

“I wasn’t able to speak for two days,” she said, describing what she faced on the ground.

“When Haiyan happened, all communication towers were knocked down. Satellite phones were rendered useless because of thick clouds overhead. The only useful form of communication was ham radios.”

The team distributed tablets equipped with GPS, because as she said, “When you walk through a field of coconut trees, you don’t know which way to go.”

The team also distributed solar chargers to survivors to combat widespread power outages, and solar lamps to cut down on using oil lamps, which pose fire and health hazards.

Food, water and shelter are an immediate need in the aftermath of disaster, but Mercado also sees technology as a vital tool in keeping survivors informed of where to find aid, or where to go for safety.

‘It will rain again’

Raftree was in disaster work in El Salvador in 2001 after an earthquake and she too was suddenly faced with a situation no one had prepared for. That has led her to championing for being ready when disaster hits.

“In the middle of a disaster is the worst time to push something new (technology),” she said.

Jill Costello, project manager for United Methodist Communication’s ICT4D team, said a roofing business in her former hometown of San Francisco had a slogan she loved, “It will rain again.” Costello moderated Friday’s panel.

“It will happen again,” she said of natural disasters, epidemics and climate changes.

In wrapping up the summit, the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive for United Methodist Communications, said, the church needs to understand and use technology for ministry.

“We need to use these tools to lead local people to understand they are a gift from a loving God.”

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org