Two lawyers, two doctors, and an army officer walk into a Zoom meeting and make Bright the best digital social community in the world. The team’s education and diversity of experience have given us the tools to confront some of the toughest tech and social problems.
The concept of "charity" has ancient roots but a very modern impact. The word itself comes from Latin’s caritas, a word with a variety of meanings, from “expensive or dear” to a particular kind of self-giving love for another person. That range is important, because charity is hard to pin down; generally, it involves both a sense of value, a giving of value, and a sacrifice for another person. There’s also the religious sense: zakat is one of the pillars of Islam, and for Christians, charity carries greater weight than other values, such as faith and hope.
When we talk about charity today, we may or may not relate it back to religion or its ancient origins, but the fundamental component — care for others — remains. And although Bright is not a charity, care for others is what drives each of our core team members, and it's the core principle of what we're doing every day.
We asked our core team members to share a charity or a broader issue they care about outside of social media, and why it matters to them.
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Médecins Sans Frontiéres
My first interaction with Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) was in Angola in 2005, with the Spanish branch of the international organisation, Médicos Sin Fronteras (MSF). We responded to an outbreak of Marburg Haemorrhagic Fever in Uige, a city of more than 300,000 people in northwestern Angola, quite close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I led a team providing laboratory-based diagnostics near the point of care supporting the MSF operated isolation hospital, whilst a team was managing the overall response and fieldwork from the World Health Organisation. Without our field laboratory, all patient samples from the community and the isolation hospital would have been sent to the US-CDC run laboratory in the capital city. This would have added days to the time to get results, complicating case management and slowing our response to the epidemic.
We worked closely with the physicians and nurses in the isolation hospital with triage and monitoring potential or confirmed Marburg patients. As in many stressful situations, we formed a close bond of friendship. This relationship helped cooperation between our two groups because we were more likely to talk to one another if and when problems occurred.
MSF is often criticised because it deals exclusively with crises and does not build local capacity or resilience. To some extent, this is true. However, they don’t claim to focus solely on these situations, and they don’t pretend they are set up to do that type of work. MSF was founded to expand access to medical care across national boundaries and irrespective of race, religion, creed, or political affiliation.
Therefore, I feel that these criticisms are unfair and unjustified, and often seem to come from organisations who think they have lost funding to MSF because their work isn’t as sexy and newsworthy as that of MSF. In my view, though, the people who work with MSF volunteer to work in war zones, refugee camps, in famines and deadly disease epidemics. They aren’t doing it because it brings in money. They are doing it because it needs to be done, and no one else will do it.
The Marburg epidemic is a perfect example of this. Like its better-known cousin Ebola, the Marburg virus takes a heavy toll on health care personnel (16 died in Uige hospital due to the absence or inefficiency of infection control measures). In the 2014/15 Ebola virus outbreak in Sierra Leone, the loss of health care personnel was so bad that the already fragile system collapsed. The teams from MSF worked daily with patients who were highly contagious and where any mistake with a needle would almost certainly be fatal. In 2005, no treatments or vaccines were available to the public, and very few people recovered naturally from Marburg. This placed a tremendous emotional burden on the team, because almost everyone admitted to the isolation ward died. The MSF team worked with family members to help them understand the need for Marburg patients to be buried safely. Their expert team constructed infection, prevention, and control infrastructure at the hospital where the outbreak started. Almost all the situations that MSF works in are difficult. The people I worked with had all been in significant danger before, usually physical danger from violent confrontations. It takes a genuine and exceptional commitment to keep doing the work in those conditions. I support MSF and the work they do.
Veterans of Foreign Wars
My life membership to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) was purchased for me by my stepfather, himself a veteran, after my first deployment. I had seen VFWs in many of the communities we lived in and even knew my grandfather, a WWII Navy man, was a founder of a chapter in his hometown. I had always thought they were just local bars where servicemen went to drink and tell stories, but over the next 15 years, I began to see what they were about. The VFW is one of the largest veterans’ service organizations in the United States and is composed solely of combat veterans. The organization is engaged at every possible level to aid veterans, from helping them fill out paperwork for disability benefits to lobbying Congress. Most chapters also conduct charity projects within their local communities, all while offering veterans a place to socialize with those who understand their unique challenges. They strive to enrich their local communities while ensuring future veterans have access to services and a continued sense of military community.
Science Research Groups
Science has always been a big part of my life. I remember my level of excitement at being shown how to use a microscope at age 12, which motivated me to pursue that interest into adulthood. Along the way, I gained a greater understanding of how lucky I was to be able to pursue a scientific research career, and how important it is to encourage girls and young women to follow those early interests and contribute to the scientific community. Charities like the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, and many others facilitate projects to move scientific knowledge forward and provide factual information that we can use as building blocks for the future. Increasingly we are seeing just how important science is in the development of technology, which has allowed us to tentatively return to a more ‘normal’ way of life.
James J. Ward
Pro Bono Immigration Work
Many lawyers will tell you that the pro bono work they’ve done is among the most rewarding parts of their careers. For me, the very best experiences were the times I had a chance to take on immigration pro bono work. These cases are usually about helping someone secure their right to stay in the country, or clearing up their right to work, or – more often than I’d like to say is true – helping the client deal with someone taking advantage of their unfamiliarity with the law. Sometimes it was an employer who would withhold additional money, or a landlord who forced a family to move out so he could re-let the property at a higher rate, but it was always about abusing power.
I can remember working with one client who had refugee status in the US, but was told she had no rights to an apartment for her or her family by a landlord who was trying to evict them. After we won the case, she explained that it was the first time the law had ever worked in her favour, and that it made her feel like she really mattered.
That was the best moment of my legal career, and I know many other lawyers have similar stories. I think the underlying truth is that lawyers would like to spend their time helping people the law is designed to protect, even if we don’t actually get to. There are some amazing pro bono organisations that help lawyers find clients, and state bar associations also routinely connect pro bono clients with lawyers looking to get involved. I always recommend doing so when I talk with other lawyers.
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