RYLA pals put their skills to good use
Jonas Larsson (left) and Måns Gårdfeldt (right) with a fellow RYLArian at the 2010 International RYLA in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Photo courtesy of Jonas Larsson
Two students who met at a district Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) event used their friendship and talents to help travelers stranded by the volcanic eruption in Iceland in April.
Måns Gårdfeldt and Jonas Larsson became friends at the District 2340 (Sweden) RYLA in 2008. After ash from the volcano grounded more than 100,000 flights and disrupted travel for millions of passengers, the two alumni collaborated to create a website that offered volcano-related news, car shares, and housing.
"The biggest problem seemed to be the lack of organization from airlines, governments, and transportation companies," says Gårdfeldt, explaining that he and Larsson were moved by stories of distraught travelers. "People were paying extremely expensive taxi trips, and some had no way to get home at all."
The website featured discussion threads for people looking to share rides to destinations across Europe, with ride offers at a variety of prices, says Gårdfeldt.
Word spread quickly. Their website drew 1,500 visitors an hour the first day. After five days, the site registered more than 40,000 visitors and received about 170,000 page views, according to Larsson, a computer programming student.
"We knew it could be something very big if we did it right," says Larsson. "We used Facebook and Twitter to market the website. It was an overnight success."
Their site was mentioned in several newspapers and received radio and TV exposure.
"We had reporters call at every hour of the night, which of course was thrilling," says Gårdfeldt. "It felt really good to succeed and see people use our site."
"Knowing that there were thousands of desperate people out there needing help, it was a wonderful feeling to see them come to our website," says Larsson. "Seeing the connections made by visitors fueled Måns and me to work day in and day out that week."
Because site visitors mainly posted their e-mail or telephone numbers to connect, Gårdfeldt and Larsson don't know exactly how many people they helped, Gårdfeldt says. However, they received confirmation from several people that the site helped them get home.
"We had about 1,000 posts, so we know there were a lot of people who came to the site and organized their travels together," Gårdfeldt says.
Rotarians in their district also noticed their success and brought the two RYLArians to Montréal, Québec, Canada, to share their story with participants at the 2010 International RYLA in June.
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