By Angad Dhindsa and Emily Conron
This summer John Green, the author of A Fault in Our Stars and one half of the video-blogging VlogBrothers, took a trip to Ethiopia with Bill Gates. Despite John’s admitted fear of mosquito-borne illness, he enthusiastically traveled to East Africa to witness the region’s dramatic improvements in health care and reduced infant mortality. In addition, John was able to learn how he – as a video blogger and public figure – could improve the health of poor communities in the region.
Throughout his trip, John captured a series of video blogs to share with his devoted followers – referred to as “Nerdfighters.” John mentions that in contrast to the United States, poor communities in Ethiopia lack access to social media, YouTube and other mediums often used to connect with others far away and amplify important messages.
To cap off the trip John started a fundraising campaign with water.org for Ethiopia to continue developing sustainable water solutions. Bill Gates decided this was a great idea and agreed to match $100,000 of donations if they were raised.
For more on John Green’s trip, read some of his quotes and watch his videos below:
John: “Hank, I’ve found humans to be extraordinarily generous within their social networks, like think of how quickly we support friends and colleagues in need. But lack of access to like, Tumblr and YouTube makes most people living in absolute poverty totally voiceless in our online world, and inevitably we begin to imagine their problems as others, as things that don’t happen to us.”
John: “But this brings up an interesting problem, which is that the internet in Ethiopia is CRAZY SLOW. [Dial-up modem noise plays] I mean, like, yes, that slow. That makes it hard to watch a lot of creators, it makes it hard to comment; it also takes forever for Tumblr to load. And we talked about how that makes it hard to be an active participant in online communities. Almost all of their social media interaction happens with people they know in real life. To which I said, “What is real life??””
John: “But it was also hard to watch, it’s hard to see kids suffer, and mothers worry, and to feel powerless before it, and it’s hard because these are problems that I was unaccustomed to, I mean the poor are voiceless in too much of our contemporary discourse. This kid’s mom doesn’t have a Twitter or a Youtube channel. And so we don’t hear about her challenges as directly as we hear about others. Maybe that’s part of what makes it easier to look away too, but regardless, I kept doing it; I have hours of footage of my camera looking away.”
Clearly, the VlogBrothers have a fresh take on the challenges of international development after this trip and a unique platform with which to share their new insights. Their “Nerdfighter” community is famous for their generosity – and creativity – in responding to social problems, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a variety of causes through their annual Project for Awesome, a YouTube crowdfunding campaign where members of the Nerdfighter community compete with creative videos advocating for different charities to win part of a pot of money raised by the community. This year, END7 will be encouraging our growing community of student supporters to create videos for the contest in the hopes of both raising money for NTD treatment programs around the world and raising awareness of NTDs among a new audience. We’re excited to see what the VlogBrothers think of next!