A Rustic Base Camp in Patagonian Paradise

The long road to Mount Fitzroy from El Chaltén.

The OZY Top 25: Each week we share an irresistible vacation hideaway, chosen by OZY staff.

A group of strangers gathers one night in a dark room of wooden tables and melting cheese, lit only by candles, to trade stories. Did you see the valley where everything looked dead? How long did it take you to get to the second glacial lake? Did you drink the river water? 

Just another night in El Chaltén, Argentina’s outpost town deep in the country’s southern Patagonia region, embedded in Los Glaciares National Park. Here, the air is thin and fresh, and the people are bearded and backpacked. Wedged into an Andean valley, the town is the set off point for the iconic hike to the magnificent Fitz Roy, a rock formation that rises above the clouds like an arrow tearing at the sky. At its feet, a surreal, brilliantly turquoise lake of melted glacial waters. To get there, of course, you’ve gotta hike. But El Chaltén is the perfect place to stretch your legs. “This is a place of fresh air and clean water,” promises Caterina Dzugala, a representative of Los Glaciares. 

Though the surroundings have been there for millennia, the town has only existed since 1985, when it was founded as a flag in the ground of Argentina’s disputed Patagonian border with Chile. Today the town, officially Argentina’s Trekking Capital, counts 1,500 year-round habitants, almost all of whom work within the tourism industry. But while the surrounding area is astonishingly beautiful, El Chaltén is not a beautiful town; the small grid of slick black asphalt and clapboard houses might seem like a place you pass through to get to the mountains.

Still, it’s here where a spirit of community happens: Trekkers gather in bars and restaurants each night, lending a ski lodge air to the entire town, which has blissfully spotty cell service. It’s simple to make friends at the only grocery store, bumping into someone getting the salami and cheese for tomorrow’s trek sandwich, or when curled up by the fireplace in one of the hostels, each brimming with adventurous souls far from home. Life in the valley is relatively cheap. The hostels run about $20 a night, and a bottle of wine and a trek sandwich is less than that. To get there, you’ve got to take a lonely route, usually via a three-hour flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate (about $400 round trip), and then via a three-hour bus up to El Chaltén (about $100 round trip).  

Laguna de los Tres is a world famous lake just outside of El Chaltén.

Laguna de los Tres is a world-famous lake just outside of El Chaltén.

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One important note for any El Chaltén planning: Watch your seasons. Show up too late in the fall, and you could end up socked in by brutal weather and iced roads. Show up during the prime-time months of December to February, though, and your solitary hikes might be supplemented by the background chatter of fellow voyagers. Plus, you might not find a bed at all among the limited options — a very real risk during high season. 

Against warnings of being too late in the season, I voyaged down there in April. What I found was a quiet town packing up for the winter, and a surrounding environment highlighted by the blasts of season-changing colors: valleys of red-leaved trees, mountains of graying greens, riverbanks of golden grasses, all enhanced by a perfect blue autumn sky and total silence. I couldn’t wait to tell new friends about it over wine and fondue.

 

Lebanese Entrepreneurs Are Coming Home, and Bringing Billions

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For 34 days in the summer of 2006, the world’s attention turned to Lebanon, where a bloody war erupted between the country’s militant group Hezbollah and longtime enemy Israel. But for Habib Haddad, who was hundreds of miles away from family at the University of Southern California, searching for local-language updates was almost impossible because he did not have access to an Arabic keyboard. Enter Yamli, the online transliteration service he invented that allows searches in Arabic using phonetic English. 

When, in 2012, Yahoo acquired the company’s licensing rights, Haddad joined the ranks of an impressive group of industrious Lebanese entrepreneurs who have dominated multiple global companies across industries — telecoms, logistics, automobiles. In total, the 35-year-old Haddad has been involved as an engineer, angel investor or founder in no fewer than 10 companies in the Middle East. “Things that don’t work excite me,” says Haddad, speaking over the phone from Beirut. “It’s the same reason I live in Lebanon. A lot of things are broken in this country.” 

Among the approximately 15 million people of Lebanese descent who live outside of Lebanon, that doer attitude seems ubiquitous, if we are to judge by the success of the business community. (Carlos Slim, the telecoms tycoon and the richest man in the world, is Lebanese-Mexican. Ely Calil, whose father, George, founded an oil empire in Nigeria, is one of the richest men in Britain. Carlos Ghosn, who is French-Lebanese-Brazilian, is the chief executive of French carmaker Renault and Japanese carmaker Nissan.) But increasingly, a slice of this highly successful community is turning back toward their place of ancestry. It’s good news for the motherland, which is home to fewer than 5 million people, ancient infrastructure, shaky internet connections, and, these days, increasing startup activity. 

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Habib Haddad at the World Economic Forum.

Source Chris Ratcliffe/Getty

Just a few million dollars can go a long way in Beirut, Cairo and Amman, says Walid Hanna, who runs Middle East Venture Partners, a venture capital firm based in Dubai with $120 million of assets under management. “Mideast companies tend not to need a lot,” he says. “Their plan is to become Middle East and North Africa leaders, not global market leaders, so they don’t need $20 million; they need $5 million.” In 2014, invigorated by a predominantly Lebanese staff, Hanna, who is Lebanese himself, created a $70 million Lebanon fund aimed at startups in the country — but he didn’t find enough good deals at first, he said. In 2013, Lebanon’s central bank decided to set aside $400 million to guarantee investments made by local banks in startups. It created a highly competitive landscape where there are dozens of entrepreneurs to one investor, says Hanna. Rather than vie for business within the country, Hanna reached for his Rolodex and began calling the diaspora to convince them to bring their companies, or at least their back offices, back to Beirut.

This new generation of business leaders is, in many cases, imbued with a sense of mission about “fixing” the region. Haddad, now a venture capitalist at Wamda Capital, which is backed by Dubai-based Abraaj Capital, the biggest private equity fund in the Middle East, estimates that most of the projects he backs are companies tackling regional issues. He helps oversee a $75 million regional fund, launched last year, which has since backed multiple promising tech startups, including United Arab Emirates–based tech support company Geeks; regional Bitcoin wallet and exchange service BitOasis; and Jamalon, the Middle East’s largest online Arabic and English bookstore with more than 9.5 million titles.

For some who have lived outside the country, returning to Lebanon is just smart tax maneuvering. Ahmad Bizri, the founder of Domcontrols, a home automation system that remotely controls and monitors multiple electronic devices, was born and raised in France but moved to Beirut when he realized setting up a company in France would cost him thousands in taxes.

However, all hasn’t gone smoothly when it comes to talent, Bizri says — a bit surprising, given that in 2013, Lebanon was ranked globally as the fifth best country for math and science education, and as the 10th best overall for quality of education by the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Information Technology Report. It slipped to 28th place last year, a reflection of the less than 7 percent of public expenditures that went to education. Which makes hiring tough: “Lebanon is a consumer population,” Bizri said. “It’s been hard to find the right electrical production and the right hardware engineers.” As a result, Bizri has spent two years traveling back and forth to France to complete an initial prototype.

So it’s not surprising that only one regional company has reached the coveted “unicorn” status: Souq.com, proudly described as the “Amazon of the Middle East” and valued at $1 billion.

But just because it’s hard to get there doesn’t make it impossible, says Tarek Dajani, Lebanon resident and founder of web consultancy and design company Cleartag, which was just acquired by marketing giant J. Walter Thompson. “It’s not something that you try for a year and see what happens,” says Dajani, who founded his company in 2000. “I see a lot of impatience among the young people in Lebanon, but it’s rare to have an overnight success. Except with Arabs, it’s in our nature — we are very impatient.”

Designing Women of the Desert

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Under the abaya — or cloak — that is traditional for women to wear on the Arabian Peninsula, “we’re just like all women around the world,” says Bekita Ahmed, a young Qatari designer. “We love fashion, we love trends.” The abaya has become an object of high fashion, and a favorite starting point for young designers like Ahmed. After all, it’s the most publicly visible garment worn by women in these oil- and gas-rich regions of the Persian Gulf who otherwise indicate their designer tastes with handbags, shoes and sunglasses.

Watch our video to hear from the newly educated generation of women who are transforming not only style but also society, by starting small, entrepreneurial fashion ventures. And maybe the rest of the world is listening: Dolce & Gabbana just launched its first line of abayas.

One Teenager’s Escape From Afghanistan

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Hugh Biggar is a writer in California, with stops in D.C., Eastern Europe and Indonesia. The following is an edited version of his interview with Hussain Raza, an Afghan refugee. 

At 15, I landed in Quetta, Pakistan, full of excitement to see my family again. Three years before, we had left Afghanistan to get medical help for my brother. He had been tortured by the Taliban because they suspected him of helping NATO forces.

In Quetta, my brother didn’t make it, and after his death, my mother faced a difficult choice. Just like in Afghanistan, she knew we faced persecution for being ethnically Hazara — people who came from Mongolia long ago, and who have distinct faces and light skin. For my safety, she sent me to a place in Iran where young boys could work in unskilled jobs. But the police found me and sent me back to Afghanistan.

I finally made my way back to Quetta, excited to see my mother and sister after three years. But my family wasn’t there, and I learned they had left for Australia. I knew I must go too. I missed my family, I had never been to school and there was no life for me at home. A former landlord and family friend helped me find a smuggler and, even better, agreed to pay the $5,000 cost.

Soon after, I found myself in a van with three other Hazara refugees heading in darkness to the airport. There, protesters armed with rocks blocked the road. Two days earlier, a multiple-bomb blast in a pool hall had killed and injured many people. People responded in protest, demanding security and justice from the government. The protesters angrily asked where we were going. The driver, thinking quickly, said we were protesting too. They cleared the road and let us pass. We made it to the airport and flew to Karachi, and then Sri Lanka.

I saw the ocean for the first time and understood the enormity of what lay ahead.

In Colombo, the hotel was crowded and smelled of other men. We ate dry biscuits and water. Sleeping was difficult because of the sounds of men praying and music thumping from a disco next door, so I headed to the beach in search of peace. There, I saw the ocean for the first time and understood the enormity of what lay ahead.

The next morning, we took a flight to Bangkok, and then an all-day bus trip to Dannok, near the Malaysian border. We were all scared of Malaysia, which we’d heard was the worst place to get caught because they beat you or sprayed you naked with water hoses before they deported you.

Then the smuggler told us to get in the trunk of a white car. We squeezed in, with one guy’s shoes at another’s mouth and elbows jammed into ribs, and stayed that way, barely able to breathe.

After about two hours, the car stopped and someone approached, footsteps scuffling on the dirt. Our hearts hammering, we held onto the trunk from the inside while someone tried to open it from above. He won, and we saw a policeman staring at us. The policeman — maybe corrupt, maybe someone in a fake uniform — let us stay in the car and drove us through the rain forest until we were transferred to a taxi.

The taxi brought us to a wooden hut. There, I saw three guys I had met in Karachi. They had arrived after midnight, injured and bloody, having nearly been caught in Thailand but escaping through a hole in a barbed-wire fence. Five others in their group hadn’t been so lucky and were caught by authorities.

After darkness fell, two cars arrived, and we traveled to the boat that would take us to Indonesia. We drove to the edge of a jungle. Crouched down and attacked by mosquitoes, we ran toward the boat in a single file. When we reached the shore, we waded in until the water was up to our chests and then climbed onto a speedboat.

The boat ran like a bullet over the water. We hunched low so passing boats would not see us. Our lips dried out from the salty water, and we hit our heads against the side of the boat with each wave. Then it started to rain. Being stuck in a car trunk had been bad, but this was worse, especially since I didn’t know how to swim.

I prayed for forgiveness for all the bad things I had done; I prayed to see my family again. Everyone else shouted out prayers too.

After two days with no food and only rainwater to drink, we suddenly saw lights in the distance. The captain steered the boat away from the lights so we wouldn’t be spotted.

We reached the shore under moonlight. I stumbled onto the sand, exhausted. A new smuggler rushed us into two waiting cars. We drove to a cabin, where we rested uncomfortably in a small room, piled head to toe again. We stayed locked in for two days. The walls were covered with handwritten names, places and dates. All day we read the walls. We tried to sleep, sang songs and peeked through a hole in the wall. We hoped for food and water, but none arrived.

On the third day, a man unlocked the door, and we were loaded onto a bus to Jakarta with just biscuits and water.

After two more days, the tall office buildings and lights of Jakarta came into view. Dropped off at 4 a.m. near the U.N.’s refugee office, we lined up to register as asylum seekers. That morning, I received my registration card, and, for the first time in years, I felt safe.

Hussain Raza waited for asylum for two years in Jakarta, home to more than 13,000 refugees. With the help of the Roshan Learning Center, he received a visa in the summer of 2015 and left for Melbourne to join his family and enroll in school for the first time.

Crochet Queen: London Kaye

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See London Kaye in person at OZY Fest, OZY’s festival of ideas, music, food, comedy, art and film, taking place on July 22nd in NYC’s Central Park. Find out more

It’s 10 a.m. in Brooklyn as London Kaye slips into a REDValentino shirt. Just shy of her 28th birthday, the bright-eyed artist giggles when asked about the garment’s provenance.

“It’s a London Kaye original,” she sings. “They just sent them over.”

The new capsule collection from the couture label isn’t cut from beaded chiffon, lace or organza — it’s hand-knitted yarn designed by Kaye herself. 

At 13, Kaye first experimented with crochet needles, making hats and scarves for fun. While she continued to crochet through her teens, it was actually a dance scholarship at NYU that took Kaye out of California and to New York City. Immersed in the proliferating street-art scene of the city, Kaye’s deep passion for cultivating craft remained dormant but not dead. 

Like all good love stories, eventually, the truth came out.   

Her Say Anything boombox scene came to fruition at an Apple store as she was selling a computer to an artist with a crazy crocheted bag. After the sale, Kaye immediately ran home to her Brooklyn home and wrapped a handmade scarf around a tree.

It was in this moment that Kaye decided to challenge herself. For 30 days, Kaye indulged in “yarn-bombing.” This practice takes the conventional notion of crochet and invites the outside world to interact. Whether it’s crocheted pieces completely covering a mailbox or woven into a chain-link fence, yarn-bombing brings “hand-knit goodness” (as Kaye calls it) into the streets and, in turn, defies typical definitions of art. 

Her 30-day challenge quickly grew to 50 days, and each new mysterious, unsigned installation served as a breadcrumb in her journey to artistic fame.

Since leaving Apple in December 2015 to pursue crochet full-time, Kaye has been enlisted to create pieces for major brands, including Starbucks, Miller Lite, Chex Mix and, most recently, REDValentino, where you can buy her clothes and see her installations in their storefronts around the world. 

As we wrap the interview, her phone is flooded with notifications. With a growing following on social media, she has fans who are desperate for more. But Kaye laughs. She’s not used to the term artist and she says she’s still not sure this isn’t just a dream. But what she is sure of is the intoxicating feeling she gets when people find delight in her work — whether that’s through a world-renowned fashion label or on a Brooklyn fence around an abandoned lot.

The Imagined Persian Gardens of Painter Kimia Ferdowsi Kline

I come bearing mangoes

It’s an age-old story, paradise lost. But for Iranian-American artist Kimia Ferdowsi Kline, the story is personal. After all, the word “paradise” has its roots in the old Persian word for gardenparidaida.

The Ferdowsi family had everything in Iran — houses with lush gardens and pools, orchards and shared stories about how their juicy watermelons would spontaneously burst, as if they couldn’t contain their happiness. The idyll ended abruptly when the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution began to imprison and execute religious minorities, like Ferdowsi Kline’s Baha’i grandfather. The family lost their Eden and scattered across the globe.

Ferdowsi Kline grew up in Nashville and attended art school in San Francisco, which, ironically, almost halted her fledgling career. Teachers, perhaps overly concerned with modern, Western notions of art as something that challenges social order, discouraged her tendency to paint “beautiful” things and encouraged, in her words, “shock value.” But Ferdowsi Kline reconnected with her source of inspiration once out of school. She began a painterly exploration of the Iran that was lost to her, and in the process found reverence for her ancestors and the old country. When she’s not painting, you’ll find her at Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel, where she curates not only the hotel’s gallery but also the art in each room.

Ferdowsi Kline is about to have a major solo exhibition, in Detroit — another paradise lost, of sorts. Painting, she says, “fills her up,” and she is proud to show her artwork to her grandmother. The day after her show opens? She’ll make her first journey to the Baha’i pilgrimage site in Haifa, Israel. 

The Ice Queen of Brooklyn

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Penguins blanketed the landscape for as far as the eye could see.  But one member of the expedition to Antarctica had her camera pointed in the opposite direction, where mammoth white and blue shapes stood on the horizon. “I was there for the ice,” explains artist Zaria Forman.

Forman has a thing for ice, and a talent for re-creating it — hyperrealistically — on paper. Her work must be seen to be believed. (While editing our video, I was often confused: Was I looking at a photo of the ice? Or one of Forman’s drawings?)

Forman’s methodical and driven approach may seem cold for an even colder subject, but her work is deeply emotional. It’s about the tragedy of landscapes that are being lost to global warming — Arctic ice is melting at ever faster rates, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It’s also about creating a psychological landscape, one where Forman can reconnect with her mother, whom she lost to a brain tumor in 2010.

Forman is working on her next solo show, which is set to open in Seattle next year. But if you can’t wait until then, you’ll be able to catch one of her drawings at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next week. Her contribution, Greenland No. 60, will be part of Truth to Power, a show that aims to shape the political conversation around the DNC by touching on health care, police violence and climate injustice — a topic close to Forman’s heart.

Antarctica images & footage courtesy Zaria Forman and Weston Serame.

Timelapse footage courtesy Stone Dow. 

Unseating a Dictator? No Problem for Young Gambians

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The author is the founder and executive director of Safe Hands for Girls, an organization working to end female genital cutting. 

Very few Westerners can point to Gambia on a map, let alone name its president. But this tiny West African country has become a microcosm of the incredible change sweeping Africa and the world. On December 1, Gambians elected a new president for the first time in 22 years. Led by a wave of millennial political activism on social media and in the streets, Adama Barrow unseated Yahya Jammeh — a man many Gambians thought would rule the country until his death. 

This incredible and unexpected change shows the true power of young people — in Africa and across the world — to stand up to power and change their culture. In a country where 55 percent of the population is under the age of 35, millennials represent an unstoppable force that is changing politics and culture in important and inspiring ways. A peaceful transition of power is far from guaranteed. Despite initially accepting the election result, Jammeh has since cited voting “abnormalities” and called for another election. Even more troubling are rumors of a planned coup. But younger generations are demanding change, and change we will have.

I was mutilated as a baby myself, and at age 15 was sent to marry a man more than twice my age.

Earlier this year, young people in Gambia, led by women’s rights activists like anti-female genital mutilation advocate Sait Matty Jaw, initiated conversations via Facebook and Twitter about political change, our values and our hopes for the future. Millennials started a WhatsApp exchange called “We’re engaged” and encouraged young Gambians to get involved. Activists went out into the streets and registered voters. For the first time in more than two decades, Gambians decided they didn’t have to accept the status quo. 

Not only did millennials in Gambia have the power to elect an underdog, but they also had the vision to support a candidate who himself supports women and girls. The country’s girls have long been subjected to violence, especially to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage. More than 75 percent of Gambian girls have been mutilated, and some 30 percent of underage girls are married nationwide. Many millennial women have suffered from these practices, and now they are ready to end them. I was mutilated as a baby myself, and at age 15 was sent to marry a man more than twice my age, living in New York. But I, like so many other women, refuse to be victim to these experiences. 

I returned to Gambia two years ago and, alongside thousands of other Gambian millennials, won a countrywide ban on FGM/C. Earlier this year, activists won another victory: a ban on marrying off girls younger than 18. We will not accept our culture as is. We will not accept our country as is. Instead, we are fighting every day — in the streets, online, in politics and in our communities — to change Gambia for the better. To build a new culture that respects women, protects girls and allows all children to grow up safe and happy.

Now we are taking another step toward progress: electing a president who listens to women’s voices, who has included long-time women’s rights activists like Dr. Isatou Touray and Amie Bojang-Sissoho as his advisers and who will appoint them to cabinet positions once he assumes power. Gambian women will finally have a voice in government, a role in policy decisions and a chance to create a better future for girls and for Gambia.

Millennials have built an amazing and powerful movement, and we have succeeded in creating real and long-lasting change. Now it is time for the international community to stand with us and force Yahya Jammeh to respect the people’s will and step aside. I’m happy to see that the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations have threatened sanctions, and I hope many other nations and people will do the same. The moment of change has come: It’s time for us all to move forward.

The Secret to Surviving a Disaster Could Start Next Door

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In March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan, washing over seawalls and surging up to six miles inland. By the time the floodwaters receded, more than 18,000 people were dead or missing. Post-disaster research shows that some towns and fishing villages suffered mortality rates of up to 11 percent. But in communities where residents took charge of their own response, helping family members and elderly neighbors to safety on higher ground, there was almost no loss of life.

In an era when man-made and natural disasters seem to occur with greater intensity and frequency, emergency prep and response have become complex. A terrorist attack or a flood sets complicated machinery in motion — in the U.S., that can include local police and fire departments, regional and state emergency centers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Coast Guard, the National Guard, the Red Cross and other NGOs. There’s an emerging trend, however, to increase the efficiency of emergency readiness with what’s known as social capital. What that means is making communities more resilient through neighbor-to-neighbor connections — the kind that saved lives in Japan.

Communities that are more cohesive feel more prepared for a disaster.

Prof. Daniel Aldrich, director, Security and Resilience Studies Program, Northeastern University

Looking out for your neighbors in times of trouble — it seems obvious, but investing in social capital is not a priority in many communities. Policy makers often find it easier to fund more tangible disaster-prep assets — another fire truck, more robust levees, an emergency coordinating office. And yet neighbors helping neighbors accounts for 80 percent of rescues during an emergency, according to Daniel Neely, community resilience manager of the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO) in New Zealand.

The overarching theme of social capital is self-reliance — empowering communities to need less help from governments. In a survey of residents in a dozen towns walloped by Hurricane Sandy, which struck coastal New Jersey and New York in 2012, more than two-thirds of respondents cited neighbors as their primary source of help in recovering from the storm, as opposed to local and federal agencies. After Boulder, Colorado, took a double hit from a forest fire in 2010 and flooding in 2013, the mountain community set up a civilian network of HAM radio operators to help maintain emergency communications and a local social network called Nextdoor, which coordinates the bartering of goods and services during a crisis.

One of the major initiatives in this grassroots movement is called 100 Resilient Cities, which is funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — two large, decidedly hierarchical organizations. The program aims to bolster the response to disasters and long-term threats and improve everyday living standards in major urban areas. The focus on cities may seem like a misdirection for bottom-up community building, but according to Prof. Daniel Aldrich, director of the Security and Resilience Studies Program at Northeastern University, neighborhoods in New Orleans with both “horizontal and vertical” social networks recovered more effectively from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Although Katrina often is presented as a textbook case of FEMA’s ineptness, what is more significant is that rapid responses by self-organizing civilian volunteers and vertical organizations, most notably the Coast Guard and Navy, resulted in a dramatically reduced casualty rate.

According to Aldrich, “communities that are more cohesive feel more prepared for a disaster.” But what about fragmented, marginalized communities, which often suffer disproportionately from disasters? To address that issue in Boston, the city’s chief resiliency officer works across community lines to connect socioeconomically disadvantaged groups with historic mistrust of government. In Porirua, New Zealand, it meant finding a way to incorporate the city’s large indigenous population into emergency planning. When local leaders invited Rebecca Jackson from WREMO to join them for an aerobics class, she jumped at the opportunity to gain access to a typically closed group. Through that initial contact, Jackson was invited to coordinate emergency response with a local Seventh Day Adventist church. With Jackson’s help, the congregation distributed emergency kits just days before a major earthquake rocked the area in November 2016.

The key to it all is trust. Without it, says Andrew Notbohm, an emergency management coordinator in Boulder, “you can’t go anywhere with resiliency in a community.” Given the strained budgets and populist sentiments sweeping the globe today, it’s good to know that trust can’t be bought, and friendship can save your life. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the local social network in Boulder, Colorado, used for bartering goods and services during a crisis is called MyNeighbor. The correct name of the social network is Nextdoor.