Africa rising (against African elitism)

I seldom waste time blogging about Newspaper editorials. I understand these people are paid to vomit through a keyboard. The less nuanced an opinion, the better the clickbait. But this Guardian series about whether Africa is or isn’t “rising” triggered my ire.

Eleven years ago I wrote a novel called The Devil’s Right Hand. In it two men go into the jungles of Sierra Leone on a manhunt to bring down a warlord who betrayed his people and helped Charles Taylor, enslaving child soldiers and lording over the maiming of a generation. Writing this fictional book helped me understand the nature of war and warlords, and the nuances behind taking sides. It also surprised me as Timboki (the warlord) turned out to be a lot more resourceful and wise than the men who sought him, and understood “magic” on a psycho-social level.

Much of this novel was lifted from headlines of the 1990s and from researching the Kamajors – a secret society of hunter mystics who believe they can turn bulletproof and invisible as they charge into battle. The Kamajors are not a fringe group, but more the heart of how half of Africa thinks. But Americans are no different. Half the world accepts science with one foot planted in superstition.

Enter Ebola.

When faced with the ebola epidemic, it is natural for so many people to respond with superstitious cures or quack remedies. And these examples of rampant fears from The Guardian article illustrate the reaction I’d expect any society to have when half of the population doesn’t fully embrace science:

A Cameroonian friend shares a conversation between two of his fellow nationals in an airport. One of them remarks that he is not feeling too well. The immediate, and hysterical, reaction of the other is that he must have Ebola.

“Maybe you’ve been infected with Ebola from those Lagos passengers at the arrival hall,” my friends recounts one of them saying.

On Twitter, a Kenyan user notes that passengers on flights from Entebbe to Nairobi are not being screened for Ebola. The checks are inconsistent, he notes, implying that the disease could be brought in to the nation via Uganda.

Last week, a hoax did the rounds on Whatsapp as Zimbabweans shared a Photoshopped version of a local newspaper with a headline claiming that the country had confirmed its first Ebola patients.

Their mistake it to explain it as an African problem. It is not. Their interpretation:

Over the last few years, meticulous work has gone into crafting the ‘Africa rising’ narrative; a narrative founded upon the continent’s rising economies (like South Africa and Nigeria), the emergence of tech and innovation (think Kenya) and the growth of a middle class that we might call ‘post-African’; savvy, urban, cosmopolitan with no flies to swat off their faces and no begging bowls in their manicured hands.

In a May editorial, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote about ‘The Real Africa’ in which he cited various economic measures – trade and mobile phone growth among others – to show why Africa has become “the test case of 21st-century modernity”.

The problem I have always had with this narrative is that while the statistics do point to a truth, another truth still prevails.

What’s missing from this two sided debate (is Africa rising or is it just a hopeful myth?) is the nuance that economic prosperity is happening despite another reality remaining entirely unchanged: Ever since the 1960s there has been a small group of African elites that hoard power and money and live above the law. This is the kleptocracy culture Nigeria is famous for. Recently the masses have gotten a larger share of the prosperity than they did before (good!), but without these elites having to let go of their privileges.

When the rule of law doesn’t apply to you as en elite, why should a quarantine? The ebola epidemic is spreading because in case after case, of one these elites break quarantine, leave the country and hide from the health system. In the process they infect 60 others. Ebola will continue to get a foothold wherever the masses have low mobility and limited power and elite doctors and government officials can breaks the rules with impunity.

This is the pattern. Ghana is entirely ebola free and Nigeria is not. Sierra Leone and Liberia spiral out of control while Guinea and Senegal doesn’t. Check the corruption indexes on these places and you’ll find it fits my narrative. And so in the rewrite of my novel The Devil’s Right Hand,the ebola epidemic continues to spread wherever elitism is rampant, making Nigeria ungovernable six months after the outbreak there and leaving Ghana unaffected.

So the question of Africa Rising misses the point. The debate should be about where in Africa is elitism and a two-class society entrenched and where is it going the way of Apartheid and segregation? Prosperity will follow wherever citizen masses wake up and realize that corruption (and the culture it creates) are disarming the quarantine meant to protect them all. Quarantines cannot work amidst corruption.

What took me 11 years of mulling on this novel was on how to tell a story about the crumbling of society under war without trivializing the people into caricatures of Africa. Here are some parts of telling the story that helped to avoid caricatures:

  • One of the foreigners in the novel plays the ugly American, using “African” and Sierra Leonian interchangably (as newspapers do, sadly).
  • In this mystery-suspense thriller, the African characters and the foreigners seem equally witty, devious, and resourceful.
  • The ebola quarantine story provides a perfect foil to show how power held by anyone – white or black – can endanger all of society when abused. It becomes a story about the destructive nature of people against nature, set in Africa, instead of being about the destructive nature of Africans against each other (the usual way conflicts are framed by news media). Understanding Africa as a “man vs (human) nature” conflict is richer and more accurate than seeing events as a “man vs man” conflict.
  • Part of the novel was already about the nature of magic in modern society. Juxtaposing it with a battle of modern medicine against nature provides a stronger contrast to sharpen the insights between the lines of dialogue here.

I’ll be kindle publishing my novel at the end of this month, with a new parallel narrative of how the ebola outbreak foments a new warlord rising as the rule of law disappears from rural areas. Page 1 now describes the chaos that ensures when the WHO imposes a quarantine around Sierra Leone, Liberia, and southern Guinea (a bad idea, but great fiction).


Storytelling to understand the needs of ebola victims and war victims

When you think of storytelling, I’m guessing that your first thoughts are more about the emotional potency of stories to enrich our lives and expand our awareness, and less about about rigor. But over the years GlobalGiving has developed an approach to storytelling that allows organizations to map much more of the complexity of any social problem or conflict than they could do with surveys and old-school evaluations.

A crux of our approach is to get organizations to embed people in communities and teach them how to listen. A “listening project” can be focused on any issue, so long as the question is open-ended, and it is the storyteller deciding what to share, not us. All of these stories are fed into a global collection where patterns emerge out of the sheer volume.

This is the best of both worlds: Humans engaging with each other yields deeper insights, while computers mining the narratives yields the hidden patterns that matter, and statically speaking, are the real story. Stories are anecdotes, but collections of anecdotes yield “meta stories” about peoples, incidents, issues, and conflicts.

Security forces control a checkpoint outside the Ebola quarantine area of West Point as relatives carry food and essentials for their family members, in Monrovia

The story behind Ebola headlines

Take the current ebola epidemic. I’ve been mining blogs for the past two weeks in search of the rare authentic first hand report from West Africa, and reposting them at It’s quite clear that for ebola survivors, social stigma is the number one issue they care about:

“The Lagos State government sent health professionals to check on me regularly to know how I was doing or if I had the signs of the virus manifesting. The officials created scenes with their visits. I was embarrassed and I was stigmatized…. It got to a point vendors stopped selling things to me, because of stigma.” – Dennis Akagha


Outside the hospital, they continue to face stigma. Some of Ms. Sellu’s staff spoke of husbands abandoning them and neighbors shunning them. One nurse told of returning home to find her belongings in suitcases on the sidewalk, and her spouse warning her to stay away. Another nurse, seeking lodgings, lied to the landlord, telling him she was a student.

“If you meet with them, they will balance this way and that not to touch you,” said Veronica Tucker, a nurse who survived an Ebola infection, doing a little jig to demonstrate her experience on the streets of Kenema.


But I only have three stories mentioning stigma so far (out of a dozen blog posts), so how would I make quantitative predictions and design a good social-stigma fighting programme? Let’s face it folks, this the 21st century. If you’re not working with quantitative predictions, you’re not innovating; you’re a dinosaur.

Using our current collection of 60,000 stories as a benchmark, the storytelling method and tools returns 120 stories that mention “HIV” and “stigma” – a pretty good proxy group for designing a solution to the impending problem of “ebola survivor” and “stigma.” The meta-narrative comes in many forms. Visually, I prefer to read a wordtree map of these stories before digging into specifics:

There are many aspects to the problem in that chart. So I reran it ( with all stories split into blue or red, depending on whether the outcome of the story was positive or negative, respectively:

Here some themes emerge. A submovement called “living positively” seems to be yielding some positive stories about people living with HIV. Also, counseling and taking care of people helps. In Dennis’s ebola story, the worst thing the Nigerian government did (or failed to do) that augmented his stigma was, in his words:

“It took them two straight weeks to visit my home and to disinfect it.” – Dennis Akagha

With just a few minutes of searching, I have a ton of useful leads and at least one behavior change framework to research (“living positively” movement). But I’m not done. This is a form of “iterative learning.” I reinserted my assumptions back into the story search ( and compared hiv stigma stories with those that also meantion counseling, or talk or listening. To my surprise, stories with these elements are successful for men but not for women, and they are not associated with this “living positively” approach:


Understanding “stigma” is an issue that keeps coming up. Maybe it’s time for funders to mine stories to understand what they ought to be prioritizing?

Getting our partner organizations to try this more potent but very different approach has been a journey. One of them has shared her own insights about it on a blog:

Over the past three years storytelling has become central to most of what I do. I never paid too much attention to it before, but since first coming to Bosnia I have begun to purposely acknowledge how both myself and others around me used it. I had positive experiences: listening to inspirational stories that in one way or another changed my life and the path I followed, and negative (but constructive) experiences: witnessing hopelessness, trauma, anxiety, anger, disillusionment.

Basically Globalgiving does not only provide you with the basic tools that any other fundraising website would, they also put a lot of time into training community based organisations. A new, easy to use analysis tool was developed and all the stories now make up a huge database. Organisations can input their stories, analyse and improve their programmes according to findings from the analysis. This led to a new model to be adopted by globalgiving: listen, act, learn.

Last night I got a tip from a globalgiving staff member, used it, and got a great reaction from a volunteer I trained, which was very rewarding. I met some volunteers from another local organisation which has a soup kitchen and a hostel for people in need of food and shelter. Once I witnessed a violent scene with a homeless person who was very drunk. I asked people what was happening and they said he was an alcoholic who lost his whole family during the war, developed an alcohol addiction and lost everything. The locals I was with said that no one pays attention to him, and ignore him completely. It is a memory that really stuck with me. As a peacebuilding organisation that focuses mostly on youth, we don’t usually have access to people in such situations, and I think it would be good for us to document their stories. So we did.

It was heart-breaking when people who are some of the most disadvantaged in the community had their houses completely destroyed, and now, once again they are left with nothing. First their families were killed in the war, and now, just when they managed to rebuild their homes and move on, the catastrophic floods occurred, and they lost everything again. There were many organisations people mentioned helped them. One person in particular really moved us by saying how grateful he was to us personally and to CIM for recording their stories and telling the world what conditions they have to live in. Indirectly, the lack of services, the poor economy, and most of these problems that people face are a direct result of the conflict, and poor political decision-making and cooperation at the national level. Whilst we try to overcome these obstacles and do our best to have programmes that address the issue of national and grassroots reconciliation, I am also thankful to Fenix and all other organisations in the local community who deal with the consequences of the political and economic situation in Bosnia.

Adelina’s story captures both the promises and the woes of embracing the complexity of really listening. We may find that we are small against problems so big, but at least we can feel the edges of the monster and work together to overcome it – the way charity work has to be done going forward.

Local reports on the Ebola epidemic


I’ve been scanning the Internet nightly for any reputable eyewitness accounts on the ebola epidemic. Sadly, nearly everything appears to be repostings of the same soundbytes recycled in the 24/7 news echo chamber. These are the noteworthy exceptions – first hand accounts and important developments about the ebola epidemic:


Today: Nigerian government postponed the resumption of primary and secondary schools across the country a month, until October 22nd, instead of September 22nd. This announcement came just hours before claiming that officially, ebola is contained and exactly one patient has it in the whole country.

Vectors: Are Bats Spreading Ebola Across Sub-Saharan Africa?

“We have no idea how it’s moved from Central Africa to Guinea,” says primatologist Christophe Boesch of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. A leading suspect is fruit bats. In Central African rainforests, several species have shown evidence of infection with Ebola without getting sick. And at least one of the species, the little collared fruit bat, Myonycteris torquata, has a range that stretches as far west as Guinea. “We’ve always been very suspicious of bats,” says William Karesh of EcoHealth Alliance in New York City, who studies the interactions among humans, animals, and infectious diseases.


Conflicting info:

There has never been an Ebola outbreak in West Africa before.

The EBOV strain from Guinea has evolved in parallel with the strains from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It came from a recent ancestor and has not been introduced from the latter countries into Guinea.

Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in a village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the other in a remote area of Sudan.

It would seem that even though outbreaks are rare, they happen in multiple parts of the world simultaneously. This suggests to me a migratory vector – like locusts that swarm once every 30 years with imperfect precision. (I’m not saying “locusts” but something that carries the disease and has the same chaotic rise and fall).

Source: bush meat:

The rise of this epidemic comes from a tradition of buying “bush”meat, specifically monkey meat in Liberia back in January of 2014.

EBOLA: Ghana To Place Blanket Ban On Buying & Selling Of Bushmeat

NIGERIA: The women under the aegis of Bushmeat Sellers Association protested that since the announcement that the deadly disease could be caused by eating bush meat, spell had been cast on their sales.

Senegal and Gambia – August 12, 2014

Right now I just returned from Dakar, as I was visiting my brother who came from the USA with his colleagues from Purdue to implement a grain storage set up in Senegal, on flying out all officers where in gloves immigration to customs etc, flying in you arrive at the terminal, you have a sanitiser at the entrance to watch your hand prior to going straight to medical clearance where you get your passport checked by the medical officer to see country of departure and if you stay in Gambia when you left, after thast you get a sensor temperature meter pointed at your eyes to get your temperature if its good, you cleared to go to immigration, this also applies at all Gambia border post.

West Point slum in Monrovia Liberia

The policy implications of this next item are what started me researching everything Ebola-related as fodder for a fiction novel:

The army has moved in and surrounded a slum of over 50,000 Liberians with orders of “shoot to kill” in order to contain the possible spread of Ebola. This act is in effect isolates a 99.99% healthy population inside a zone with known Ebola carriers. …

Liberia said a ban on travel to the region imposed by neighboring countries was complicating the fight against Ebola and leading to shortages of basic goods.

“Isolating Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is not in any way contributing to the fight against this disease,” Information Minister Lewis Brown said. “How do we get in the kinds of supplies that we need? How do we get experts to come to our country? Is that African solidarity?”

At least 1,427 people have died and 2,615 have been infected since the disease was detected deep in the forests of southeastern Guinea in March. A separate outbreak was confirmed in Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday.


The characters in this next story are fictional, but the events occurred on Saturday, 8/16/14, and are tragically true…

Charles Smith had been afraid when he first heard of Ebola. Rumors had been swirling for weeks, but he had not believed them until men from the government rode through West Point with loudspeakers telling them that Ebola was in West Point. They warned to watch for people with fevers and vomiting.

That was also when his doubts about Ebola began. Fever, vomiting? Malaria causes those symptoms too. After 14 years of civil war, he had been lied to by the government before and this did not ring true. His doubts were increased when “health workers” came to West Point wearing suits that we all white and covered them head to toe. He had seen things like this in American films.

West Point, a peninsula in Western Monrovia, was known for its poverty and squalid conditions. 50,000 people share two groups of public toilets (that most can’t afford). The beaches are littered with human waste waiting for the tides to come in and wash it away.

When he heard from friends that even doctors were saying there was no such thing as Ebola, he knew this was a coverup for something else. Something evil. Rumors were spreading that white men were eating people in the white tents and at the ELWA hospital. The posting of signs throughout Monrovia did not impress Charles. Like 75% of Liberians, he couldn’t read them, but signs told more lies that truths in his mind.

Charles took comfort that the Ebola liars were mostly on the other side of Monrovia. The JFK Hospital is uncomfortably close, but still far enough away. West Point had its problems, but the Ebola liars were not one of them.

He was awakened Sunday morning by his friend Thomas. The Ebola liars had come to West Point. A clinic had been opened in West Point itself!

“How can this happen? How can we let them eat our own children,” asked Charle
He went to visit several friends to discuss this new clinic. Many could die if they don’t act quickly. The small crowd around him swelled to about ten as he discussed fervently how they must stop the clinic. Joseph, an old friend ran up.

“Charles, they have taken Jimmy into the clinic.”

Jimmy, one of Charles’ nephews, had been sick for a few days with Malaria. Now they had brought him into that death trap.

“Come with me friend. Come, let’s stop this madness” cried Charles. The crowd of ten swelling to over one hundred within minutes. Fueled by a smoldering anger at the lies about Ebola, burst into an angry trot.

The clinic was a converted school which was now going to hold patients who had been identified as having Ebola. The plan was for these patients to then go to a hospital when a bed became available.

The shanty gates to the clinic were easily ripped off their posts. The small clinic compound was quickly filled with several hundred people.

“The President says you have Ebola. You don’t have Ebola, you have malaria” Charles yelled, “Get up and get out.”

Many of the patients in the clinic left, including several children. Charles was quite relieved when he saw Jimmy. He had not been sent away to those hospitals to be eaten. Jimmy, clearly weak but able to walk, stood gingerly. Charles walked over and grabbed him under the arm and assisted him out of the compound. Jimmy was safe.

The others did not have such charitable motives. The mass of humanity quickly stripped the clinic bare of all food, mattresses, sheets, and gloves. Charles was indignant with the mob. He was here to save his nephew, not to steal from the clinic. He knew right from wrong and this was wrong.

With his nephew in tow, Charles was in no position to stop the mass looting. Within minutes, it was done. There was nothing left in the clinic except about ten patients who refused to leave and some desperate nurses who wondered what to do next.

Charles took Jimmy back to his small home. Jimmy was feverish and clearly needed Charles’ care. He brought him food and water. Jimmy was shivering despite his fever. Charles laid next to him on the mattress and pulled him close to warm him. As they both fell asleep, Charles took great comfort that those he loved were close.

They were safe.


(Another first hand account from West Point slum via local newspaper)

Youths angrily threw stones and tried to tear down the the barb wired barricades created to prevent the people from leaving the area which was written off by Government. soldiers were used to control the rebellious crowd, driving hundreds of young men back into the neighbourhood, a slum of tens of thousands in Monrovia known as West Point.

“This is messed up, They injured one of my police officers. That’s not cool. It’s a group of criminals that did this. Look at this child. God in heaven help us.”

LIBERIA: This boy suspected of having Ebola. Residents in Monrovia dressed him and then left him in the streets before he was transported to a hospital.

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John Moore / Getty Images / Published by The New York Times


Ebola has definitely changed the way we do things…and this will probably have to keep evolving until we kick this bug. The catholic churches have suspended ‘offering each other the sign of peace’ which involved handshakes with people all around you. In the same way, I see people becoming more orderly as they try to reduce body contact with other people in the market and outside of the market.


(This post was writer’s gold for actual details on the medical side.)


I have been here for 7 weeks, working as a nurse and emergency coordinator for the Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) Ebola response. Today we’re lucky: it’s raining, so we won’t be too hot in the personal protective equipment (PPE) we must wear. We control who goes into the isolation area, how often, and for how long. No one should wear the PPE for longer than 40 minutes; it’s unbearable for any longer than that, but it’s easy to lose track of time, so we have to monitor our colleagues. The process starts in the dressing room, where getting into the PPE takes about 5 minutes. We have a designated dresser, responsible solely for making sure that we are wearing our equipment properly and that not a square millimeter of skin is exposed. In case one layer is accidently perforated, we wear two pairs of gloves, two masks, and a heavy apron on top of the full-body overalls. When we exit the isolation area, we are sprayed down with chlorine solution and peel off the PPE layer by layer. Some of the equipment — goggles, apron, boots, thick gloves — can be sterilized and used again. Everything else — overalls, masks, headcover — is burned.

In the suspected-case tents most patients look well, but the probable-case area is a different story. Patients here have fever, pain, anorexia — but these symptoms could indicate malaria. A polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) test determines if a patient has Ebola. When results comes in, the patient is either moved to the confirmed-case tents or discharged. Knowing what it means to be moved to these tents, patients are understandably frightened. We have a psychologist, a counselor, and health promoters to help and support patients, but there are just too many of them.

Standard treatment for Ebola is limited to supportive therapy: hydrating patients, maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure, providing high-quality nutrition, and treating any complicating infections with antibiotics. Supportive treatment can help patients survive longer, and that extra time may be what their immune system needs to start fighting the virus.

There’s also a tent for the most severely ill patients. I try to spend more time there than in the other tents, if only to hold patients’ hands, give them painkillers, and sit on the edge of their beds so that they know they’re not alone. But spending time is always difficult — there are so many patients waiting for help.

Evading the quarantine

A doctor, who secretly treated a diplomat who had contact with the index case, Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, has died of Ebola in Nigeria.

The doctor, who has yet to be named, died on Friday. His wife has also taken ill and has been quarantined in Port Harcourt. Interestingly, the diplomat the doctor treated is still alive.

The diplomat, who was part of the team who met with Patrick Sawyer in Lagos, flew to Port Harcourt, Rivers State for treatment, evading Nigerian federal government surveillance for the disease. The late doctor then took him to a hotel for treatment.

As a result of this, 70 people have been quarantined. The doctor’s hospital, Good Heart Hospital in Rivers State, has been shut down. The unnamed hotel, where the secret treatment took place, has also been shut down.

History and ebola facts

Ebola first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks, in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.

Genus Ebolavirus comprises 5 distinct species:

Bundibugyo ebolavirus (BDBV)
Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV)
Reston ebolavirus (RESTV)
Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV)
Taï Forest ebolavirus (TAFV).

Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.

Signs and symptoms

EVD is a severe acute viral illness often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.

People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus. Ebola virus was isolated from semen 61 days after onset of illness in a man who was infected in a laboratory.

The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 21 days.


An Ebola treatment clinic in Monrovia was attacked by a group of youngsters claiming that the disease was made up by the West. In the process, many sick patients have just disappeared into thin air. The marauders looted the clinic (how smart is that?) and made off with mattresses and other items that were soiled by the body fluids of the sick. It’s worth mentioning that the virus is spread by contact with body fluids of those showing symptoms of being sick. In other words, those idiots just screwed themselves and anyone else that came in contact with the items from the clinic.

At the same time, there are sick people crossing from Liberia into Guinea, even though the Guinea border was supposedly closed around two weeks ago. It seems as though many people there don’t believe this stuff is real. I can’t grasp that given that there are reports that the government is very slow about picking up the dead bodies. It seems that leaving the bodies around will lead to the spread of this instead of trying to limit the exposure by picking up and placing the bodies in quarantine as quickly as possible.

There’s also the thinking that the current counts are underrepresented of the true number of cases. That may have some validity since patient zero was determined to have gotten sick in December of 2013. That’s eight months plus of this virus being spread around. I’m amazed that it didn’t jump the borders of the three original countries until Patrick Sawyer landed in Nigeria.


Introducing my other blog:

This blog aggregates anything worthwhile from google alerts, two google groups, globalgiving updates, wordpress ‘ebola’ or ‘liberia’ tagged stories, and other useful sources, since none of these feeds is more than 10% wheat to 90% chaff.

Ebola: Threat or Hype?

Curious about the health risks of the current ebola epidemic but too lazy to absorb all of the 125+ academic papers about it on PubMed? Then use the djotjog report tool to assimilate the papers into a quick summary.

Here is a wordtree built from the full text of these four articles:

Reston ebolavirus in humans and animals in the Philippines: a review. Miranda ME, Miranda NL.

Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic fevers: neglected tropical diseases? MacNeil A, Rollin PE.

Assessment of the risk of Ebola virus transmission from bodily fluids and fomites. Bausch DG, Towner JS, Dowell SF, Kaducu F, Lukwiya M, Sanchez A, Nichol ST, Ksiazek TG, Rollin PE.

Management of accidental exposure to Ebola virus in the biosafety level 4 laboratory, Hamburg, Germany. Günther S, Feldmann H, Geisbert TW, Hensley LE, Rollin PE, Nichol ST, Ströher U, Artsob H, Peters CJ, Ksiazek TG, Becker S, ter Meulen J, Olschläger S, Schmidt-Chanasit J, Sudeck H, Burchard GD, Schmiedel S.


There are many topics that spring out of the map. Here is the area I was interested in, because it pertained to the risks:


EBOV – abbreviation for the ebola virus – is transmitted via direct contact with bodily fluids. You do not need to worry about Ebola in the United States, unless you work in a hospital. The biggest problem in Africa has been that people who died of Ebola can infect others as their bodies are prepared for burial. It is uncommon for diseasses to be viable after the host is dead. Ebola is a rare exception. Given the difficulty in educating the public in rural Africa, it was no surprise that outbreaks happened. Nobody told the undertakers to take care.

The maps are probably not terribly informative. But I wanted to see what sense the algorithm would make of academic papers.

Other key phrases it pulled out were “breast milk”, “medical equipment”, “animal handlers”, and “day 4″.

The algorithm highlighted this sentence as a representative summary of the whole: “We found EBOV to be shed in a wide variety of bodily fluids during the acute phase of illness, including saliva, breast milk, stool, and tears.”

The function word patterns for medical journal text shows an absence of just about everything that makes language compelling to humans:

Function Word Patterns
(How much more or less often do they appear than expected?)

Relationships words appear 97% less often
Exclusives words appear 20% less often
Black White words appear 65% less often
Tentative words appear 23% less often
Positive Emotion words appear 83% less often
Question words appear 21% more often
Discrepancy words appear 31% more often
Gratitude words appear 67% less often
Analytical words appear 79% less often
Cause Effect words appear 73% less often
Negative Words words appear 60% less often
Organization words appear 80% less often
Aspirational Words words appear 88% less often
Negative Emotion words appear 91% less often
Cognitive words appear 71% less often

What FCC public comments on proceeding 14-28 are saying on the whole

I build tools that help nonprofits and activists listen to what a whole community is saying at once. It builds up the ‘meta story’ out of hundreds of stories. The FCC’s public comments on proceeding 14-28 are a perfect use case.

There were 271,710 public comments on the net neutrality ruling as of today. You can read them one at a time with this link, but the website was incompetently designed so as to make any bulk exporting of comments impossible – or cleverly designed – if you think the FCC never wanted us to understand what EVERYONE was saying.

Impossible is a relative barrier. With brute force (and Amazon’s mechanical turk) I was able to get the most recent 511 comments out and run them through my instant word analysis tool, found at

Here is a taste of what everybody is saying about net neutrality:


The first thing it tells me – by the shape of the overall wordtree – is that there are several very different issues being discussed. In a sense, people are talking past each other, because none of their words overlap in comments.

The second thing to zoom in on are those desnse clusters of words. Dense clusters are where many people are talking about the same thing in slightly different ways – just what you’d expect when a particularly contentious issue is at hand.

Third – net neutrality is at the heart of the map. Connected to it are four main branches of ideas:

  1. The principle of the Internet
  2. Business use of the Internet
  3. Internet is about Open and free speech
  4. Net neutrality is about access, and possibly destroying access, to the Internet


A fifth and totally separate branch of these comments are about the two corporations that essentially control all public bandwidth in the United States: Comcast and Time Warner.


The public seems to single out Time Warner and Comcast in their comments and narratives, mentioning some “trick they pulled” or “this time that Comcast…” did something. The public doesn’t trust these two companies in particular.

Computer written summary of all comments

Djotjog chose these sentences to represent the sentiment of everybody:

While the system of accessing the internet via subscriptions to service providers such as Comcast may give the appearance of a luxury service defined by a free market which we are welcome to avoid should we so choose, this view is, at best, anachronistic and out of touch with the role the internet plays in today’s world. What we all need to understand is this: Internet service providers already charge a premium to content providers in that the more popular a website is, the more they have to pay for bandwidth and traffic from their servers – to the network of computer servers that represents the structure for what we call -the internet- – in other words, the -on-ramp- to the internet. Were we in a country with true competition among internet service providers then the market would be able to respond by choosing the providers who refused to engage in this practice.

When ISPs can slow your site and destroy your business at will, how can any startup attract investors? For Internet service providers, I am lucky to have a choice of two companies. If big, powerful companies can do things like that to WikiLeaks I am sure Internet service providers can and will do the same thing to any organization that rubs them the wrong way, if they are ever allowed to treat some customers less favorably than others. My friends, family, and I use the Internet for conversation and fun, but also for work and business.

As you know, without guaranteed Net Neutrality, internet service providers such as Time Warner and Comcast can provide better service to preferred web sites. When you let ISPs mess with our Internet experience, you are attacking our social lives, our entertainment, and our economic well being. I ask that you treat Internet service providers as utility providers and make sure that all, rich and poor alike have adequate access.

Word usage patterns

Mouse over each word category for examples of such words.

Compared to other writing samples, this group wrote…

Relationships words appear 96% less often
Exclusives words appear 42% more often
Tentative words appear 93% more often
Positive Emotion words appear 40% more often
Question words appear 3X more often
Discrepancy words appear 4X more often
Gratitude words appear 46% more often
Analytical words appear 79% less often
Negative Words words appear 31% less often
Organization words appear 93% less often
Aspirational Words words appear 16% less often
Space Time words appear 51% less often
Negative Emotion words appear 52% more often
Cognitive words appear 41% more often

Pronoun usage

Overall, 5.9 percent of the words in your text were pronouns. Typical reports have 5.6% pronouns and stories have 7 to 9% pronouns. How many times does each type of pronoun appear?

first singular:2386
first plural:1192
third plural:1005
third singular:67

Note: “I” = first singular, “you” = second, “we” = first plural, “he/she” = third singular, “they” = third plural, and various words organizations used to decribe themselves are “fourth” person point of view.

NPR reports on a larger sample of FCC comments (August 13, 2014):

Source: Quid (commissioned by the Knight Foundation) analyzed of a sample of 250,000 public comments submitted to the FCC about net neutrality. Templated responses were collapsed into a single node. (About 30 percent of the sampled responses used “copy pasta” templated language.)


Download 511 FCC comments (August 1-4th, 2014)


You can also find a curated article on what people are saying about net neutrality on Singlehop.

Deconstructing a letter from a Birmingham jail

Martin Luther King’s historic letter about civil rights has inspired millions. It clarifies when and how we must work towards justice. But why is his language so compelling? Can computers help explain it? I put the text through my story analysis tools to see what my program would say about it on a meta level.

Function Word Patterns

How much more or less often do they appear than expected?

Relationships words appear 81% less often
Exclusives words appear 87% more often
Black White words appear 3X more often
Tentative words appear 4X more often
Positive Emotion words appear 22% more often
Question words appear 7X more often
Discrepancy words appear 2X more often
Analytical words appear 75% less often
Negative Words words appear 35% less often
Organization words appear 87% less often
Aspirational Words words appear 3X more often
Negative Emotion words appear 3X more often
Cognitive words appear 17% less often

Computer rewritten synopsis

- We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist.

- I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

- But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust.

Pronoun usage (point of view)

Overall, 6.9 percent of the words in your text were pronouns. Typical reports have 5.6% pronouns and stories have 7 to 9% pronouns.

The point of view mostly shifts between “I” and “WE.”

Note: “I” = first singular, “you” = second, “we” = first plural, “he/she” = third singular, “they” = third plural, and various words organizations used to decribe themselves are “fourth” person point of view.

How many times does each type of pronoun appear?
first singular:169
first plural:111
third plural:73
third singular:40

letter from a birmingham jail


Full text

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]“

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Published in:
King, Martin Luther Jr.

A Rosetta Stone is now available for NGO sentiment analysis

Until the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799, no one could read Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Because the inscription on this stone is identical in three languages, we were able to decode this ancient script.


By analogy, I am publishing a dictionary that allows us to understand what people on the receiving end of international aid really mean when they are given a chance to tell stories about how organizations have affected their lives. It works because the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project collected such a large sample of beneficiary feedback about every sort of community effort that we can reverse engineer what people mean in other contexts.

Building the word-tone dictionary

  1. Starting with the over 60,000 stories we’ve already collected from Kenyans and Ugandans about NGO work, I pulled a dictionary of 100,000 English words and queried the collection for stories that contained each word.
  2. Each story is associated with a series of mapping questions about what happened. Was it positive or negative? These outcome mapping questions allow me to associate specific words with specific outcomes on a range from positive to negative. For example, if everybody who tells a story about “measles” assigns the outcome to negative (the person wasn’t cured), the word “measles” would generally be a negative word in other NGO contexts.
  3. There are many kinds of positive and negative outcomes in the data already. We asked, “Who Benefited?” nobody? the wrong people? or the right people? Or “who did you feel about your story?” So even with just 100 stories that use a word, we often have several hundred data points averaged. As you would expect, most words are not strongly positive or negative.
  4. I then filtered out any word that wasn’t used in at least 100 stories, so that the remaining 1944 words (of 100,000) are pretty reliable as a reference dictionary. I will probably publish a larger dictionary with the remaining words if people ask for it in comments below.
  5. I then normalized the scores on a range from roughly -500 to +500, centered around zero by “turning up the gain” on the negative feedback. (Ask me how in comments in comments if you care). This step allows the data set to be used in other contexts, such as the import your own text analysis tool, where we don’t know whether stories had happy or sad ending.

This reference dictionary allows anyone to take a quick glance at the overall sentiment in any unstructured language from people who are affected by international development, based on how tens of thousands of people have used the same word previously.

Download your free word-tone dictionary

Click to download the 1944 word dictionary either as a CSV or a python pickled dictionary.







(Rename the files afterwards)


If you plot all the words in excel and their sentiment scores, they look like this:

normalized word distribution from tone dictionary

If you turn that plot on its side, it will become a normal distribution, like this:


The corrected plot is centered around zero. That’s good. It means that these words are a good mix of positive and negative sentiments. I chose to adjust the raw positive-negative scores because there is such a huge positive-bias in all NGO feedback that it becomes ridiculous just how skewed the stories are, compared to how much peoples lives are really affected by these efforts.

If people really benefited as much as they say they are, we would have no poor people left.

Case in point: What word is outlier at the top of the chart?

full scale normalized word distribution from tone dictionary

Give up? This word has a positivity score of 10,125 after I corrected the data. The score of +10,125  is a measure of how consistently that word appears in positive success stories versus negative failure stories. A word with a score of zero is neutral, or used in stories with mixed positive-negative outcomes. And because only words used in at least 100 stories are used, these dots are not like to switch sides (or signs) if we repeated this experiment a different story collection from the aid world.

Still don’t know the mystery word?

Here is the answer:

annotated full scale normalized word distribution from tone dictionary

The outlier is the word ‘organization.’ People are very eager to tell positive stories about organizations. Literally thousands of times more likely to be positive in stories with the word ‘organization’ than in stories that contain the words that fall along the zero line of the chart.

Previously, my other means of measuring positive bias in stories concluded that people tell 10 to 30 positive stories for every negative story, across all 60,000 stories. By this measure, the positive sentiment in stories that include the word ‘organization’ is even higher still. Positive bias is a real problem. But using the word dictionary I’ve published, you can find the negative sentiments within a sea of rosy feedback.

My interpretations:

  • The most negative words were “came” and “time.” As in, “one time these people came to our village…” That meta pattern is quite alarming. I just finished reading Bill Easterly’s “The Tyranny of Experts” yesterday, which is all about getting the outsiders to leave people alone and instead focus on advocating for the rights of poor people. This pattern is consistent with the failure of outsiders to come into a place on a “one time” basis and make any sort of lasting positive change.The implications of these outlier words should be a wake up call to the aid sector.
  • People are more honest in Kibera and Uganda. Slum life in Kibera is poor, and people are ready to honestly talk about it. But across Uganda, people are almost as positive about everything as are people who talk about an “organization.”
  • Narratives are positively biased in the development world, but there is no reason to believe that numbers are somehow free of this bias. In any kind of survey, when some asks the citizen, “how much money do you make?” or “how many kids do you have?” they get back wrong answers, and always wrong in the direction of what a person knows the organization wants to hear. There are documented examples of women under-reporting the number of kids they have to Millennium Development Goals surveyors in Uganda because they knew the “smaller families” was the outcome measure outsiders were looking for. Likewise, people lie about income and say they are poorer when money might have handed out, or overestimate their income in surveys from micro-loan foundations that use this “success metric” as the basis for granting them larger loans.
  • You could throw up your hands and blame other people for lying, but I prefer to treat this as a symptom of the larger disease: Our programs are generally not making life better, and the only way to make life better is to play the game to get as much immediate aid as possible. No one has ever proven that putting money in a person’s pocket makes them poorer in the short-term. Yes, in the long term, they could become poorer, but poverty has a tendency to focus people on short term gains.
  • The difficulty is that there are two kinds of positive stories – the ones where things really turned out great, and the ones where they are saying good things but they’re still not happy about the outcomes. This one method alone doesn’t do enough to tease out these two kinds of positive, but when combined with other lines of evidence, other structural aspects in the narratives, it is possible to tell the difference between authentic praise and manufactured praise. For example, check out my first attempt at this.

Quick scan of the most positive / most negative words

Most negative words

came -3189
kibera -2540
time -2406
two -2244
kenya -2094
take -1755
come -1755
really -1478
place -1380
long -1375
decided -1368
years -1339
person -1292
lack -1265
mother -1208
green -1206
father -1182
able -1138
man -1116
ago -1092
brought -1081
certain -1040
things -1029
bad -979
told -943
water -923
belt -908
saw -907
going -907
hard -902
bring -867
see -848
young -848
girl -839

Most positive words

organisation 10128
uganda 4192
provides 2774
providing 2652
children 2501
standards 2286
done 2194
development 2110
poor 2050
helps 1901
living 1899
support 1882
community 1808
orphans 1707
giving 1595
improve 1548
district 1446
aids 1409
agriculture 1373
health 1362
education 1349
farmers 1312
gives 1309
counselling 1293
mbarara 1284
provided 1274
given 1272
helping 1250
association 1245
materials 1241
women 1219
vision 1202
world 1190
role 1169
town 1113
seeds 1113
scholastic 1052
care 1038
save 1025

Examples of organizations using Story-Centered Learning in their work


GlobalGiving has got a new crop of partner organizations trying out our storytelling method and adopting it to their local context. In every case, they try to get two stories from each person, and one of these stories can be on a narrower subject. The second story is very opened ended, about some community effort they know about. Here are examples of how each organization is adopting the storytelling method to their needs.

  • Center for Peacebuilding (Bosnia): We develop peacebuilding programs to foster peace and reconciliation among different ethnic and religious groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our activities are designed to bring about comprehensive social change focusing on youth.

Their story prompt: Talk about a time when a person or organization tried to help someone of change something in your community. What happened?

Reflections from the organization’s peace ambassador (copied from her blog):

“I thought that many community organisations would not have the capacity to do so much work… particularly since we already have our own internal evaluation system. On the other hand…  this made me even more committed to find local capacity for CIM to fundraise on globalgiving… In this way, we can ensure that feedback collection will happen on the ground, and I can still handle the communications and analysis from anywhere in the world.

I see globalgiving raising the bar by raising the standards for local organisations in terms of programming. So indirectly and slowly, globalgiving could create a network of grassroots organisations that have a professional level in fundraising, evaluation, and programme development. The tools they need are easy to use. The points based system is somewhat competitive. The rewards they get are too good to move away from. Those who will be serious about development work, will have adapt, improve and sustain an impact on the ground in order to keep getting the benefits.”

  • Encompass – the Daniel Braden Reconciliation Trust (UK): Encompass works to bring together young people from different cultures and backgrounds, supporting them to become more understanding and tolerant of each other while giving them the skills and confidence to promote intercultural understanding in their communities. This storytelling project is carried forth by youth in the UK, US, and Gaza (Palestine).

Their story prompt: Please tell a story about a time when a conflict arose because you had to work with someone from a different background (religious, cultural, ethnic etc.) to yourself.

Their revised story prompt: Please tell a story about a time when a person changed someone else’s perception of them or challenged a prejudice or misunderstanding.

  • Guitars in the Classroom (USA): Since 1998, Guitars in the Classroom (GITC) has been inspiring, training and equipping classroom teachers to integrate music making across the academic curriculum through “song-based instruction” so students of all ages have educational, musical access & opportunity at school every day. Our work prepares educators to lead music, employing it as a dynamic tool for reaching all learners, teaching all subjects, and building character, creativity and community.Programs & materials are free.

Their story prompt:  We are excited to learn about how your experience with Guitars in the Classroom has affected you personally and, if you are an educator, professionally. We also hope to learn about other experiences you have had as a volunteer or participant with another charity. Thanks for participating!

  • La Reserva Forrest Foundation (Costa Rica): La Reserva Forest Foundation is a Costa Rican non-profit working to restore and preserve native tropical forests, dedicated to creating “tree bridges” linking isolated forest islands using volunteers and the local school communities, and fighting global warming through various carbon neutral projects.

Their story prompt: Please tell a story about a time when you had to choose between protecting the environment and maintaining a livelihood. Include if/how individuals or organizations were involved in the conflict.

  • Partnership for Every Child (Ukraine): Our vision is the world where every child grows up in a lovely and secure family. Mission. We professionally assist families, communities and governments in their work to ensure the rights of every child to live and develop in safe and secure family environments. Our main focus until 2015 is to prevent separation of children from families and placement in institutional care; support and strengthening parental capacities of vulnerable families; support to children leaving care.

Their story prompt: (They plan to use the standard story question to learn about youth needs in their program)

  • Tanzania Development Trust (Tanzania): The Trust Deed of 1975 says “The objects of the Trust shall be to relieve poverty and sickness among the people of Tanzania by means of the development of education, health and other social services, the improvement of water supplies and other communal facilities and the promotion of self- help activities.” Interpreting the Trust Deed for the needs of the 21st Century we add: “In making grants, the Trust tries to promote equal opportunities and projects which improve the environment”.

Their story prompt: Standard story prompt

  • Vacha Charitable Trust (India): Our mission is to focus on issues of women and girls through educational programmes, resource creation, research, training, campaigns, networking and advocacy. Our vision is of a world without exploitation, oppression, discrimination and injustice against women or any other section of society.

Their story prompt: Standard story prompt

  • Vijana Amani Pamoja (Kenya): VAP’s mission is to integrate social and economic values through football/soccer by creating a proactive health environment.

Their story prompt: Standard story prompt

  • London Youth organization helps thousands of teens in the city. They measure impact as improved self-confidence, educational attainment, and long-term community involvement. Their programs help young people get “back on track” and help them find fulfilling careers.
Their story prompt: Please tell a story about a time when a young person tried to change something in their area
  • An NGO in Botswana works in many communities to curb gender-based violence. Instead of asking about the issue directly, they are trying an indirect way to learn about underlying issues through storytelling.

Their story prompt: Please tell a story about a time when a person or an organization had a conflict or disagreement or problem with money.

  • In Japan, IsraAid is running a storytelling project to gather stories about the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and how areas are recovering.

Their story prompt: Standard story prompt

Globalgiving Storytelling Project-Bosnia Edition

Originally posted on almondsasdiamonds:

Over the past three years storytelling has become central to most of what I do. I never paid too much attention to it before, but since first coming to Bosnia I have begun to purposely acknowledge how both myself and others around me used it. I had positive experiences: listening to inspirational stories that in one way or another changed my life and the path I followed, and negative (but constructive) experiences: witnessing hopelessness, trauma, anxiety, anger, disillusionment.

From an academic point of view, this conflict transformation approach was ruined for me, and I surprised myself that despite my very negative experience with that specific module, I have not given up on it yet, on the contrary, I am eager to learn both in formal and informal ways.

I happen to be back in Bosnia. Together with the CIM directors, we agreed to apply for a grant from Globalgiving for a…

View original 971 more words

Understanding street children: What can you do with narratives?

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to present findings about street children at the University of Manchester in UK. Eleanor Harrison (GlobalGiving UK CEO and former director of a street children program in Kenya) yielded her time to me, and I gave this presentation, virtually analyzing all the data on the spot.

Not being able to prepare in advance was a blessing. It helped me emphasize that we’ve come a long way in our quest to build simple, instant, intuitive tools for analyzing narratives and their meta data. These images are screen shots of the tools I’ve described previously at and

What can you do with noisy, minimalist, or totally unstructured narratives?

A demonstration with stories about street children 

street children headerimg

First, it provides a top level visual summary

You don’t even need to know much English. Just look at the pictures and you’ll get an overall idea. Everybody talks about street children, but kids talk about it a bit more than the rest.

street children summary 1173 of 61000

Analyze the point of view:  “Actor in the story” versus “Affected by events”

When people tell their own stories, they turn out more negative. But young boys are more positive and young girls are more negative.

compare street children actor vs affected

A story’s point of view affects the depth, nuance, detail, and likely “data” that can be extracted:

Street children stories have more “I” stories that we would expect, pulling stories from our collection of 60,000+ at random, so the “I” is bigger.

street children affected pov map

A Wordtree is an unsupervised algorithm that works with any text generates these for ANY search result in seconds. Here are branches from hundreds of street children stories.

street children street kid run away ran away

Zooming in you can see how words and phrases connect to form ideas: An old man frequently interacting with a young girl, with money being part of that sentence in the story.

street children wordtree man did street children wordtree food life

Food and life also form two branches of the story.

We can look at how stories intersect with mentions of specific organizations.

jitegemee drill down

Contrasting stories with different endings can yield more program-level design insights. (Using stories about success or failure we map outcomes)

This is the most interesting snapshot of them all. Failure stories are more complex than success stories. Wordtrees look for associated words within sentences. Success stories have branches that fan outward because the concepts are simpler, less interwoven. Failure stories are a chaotic birdsnest of interwoven social issues.

In failure stories, each storyteller tends to describe the events using similar words but in a different order so the map is simply more complex, more interesting.

As organizations, too often we focus on learning from the success stories – but it is the failure stories that offer us the keys to understanding the problem.

street children success vs failure stories

Compare two story collections

Side by side: Stories from Pennsylvania (N= approx 60) and East Africa about street children / run aways are remarkably similar in the issues they address.penn state run away narratives N=118

And here is a map of about 50 blogs posts about street girls in Cairo form Nelly Ali’s blog:

nelly ali street girl map

You can do this yourself. Go to and type

"street children" or "street kids" or "run away" or "ran away"

in the search box, then hit “fetch stories.”

street children search box

Note: you can export the narratives and meta data as a CSV file, for further exploration in a tool such as SAS, SPSS, or

Postscript: What MORE can you do with narratives? Try

I imported hundreds of stories that mention ‘child abuse,’ ‘child labor,’ or ‘child protection’ into and used their version of a text-mining function to build trees that map outcomes in stories. The types of outcomes are how people felt about the story they told, such as ‘inspired’, ‘horrible’, or ‘happy:

Horrible stories

bigml child abuse inspired

Inspiring stories

Have mixed outcomes, and don’t mention your aunt. But more importantly, they are not from people who were “affected” by the events in the stories they share.

bigml child abuse inspiring

Important stories

Are commonly organization-centric narratives.

bigml child abuse important

Happy stories

Have a very long pattern of words in them. This example begins to demonstrate the true scope and nuance of “success” that lies in narratives, and which cannot be captured with a simple “did the right people benefit” question.

bigml child abuse happy


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