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A Map For Haiti's Success Stories

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, January 16 2013

Over the past several years, the proliferation of crisis mapping has provided a hyperlocal perspective on the threats faced by people throughout the world — in conflict zones and corrupt states, under governments practicing human rights violations and in areas ravaged by natural disasters. Yet in Haiti, where crisis mapping played a significant role in the response to the 2010 earthquake, a group of community action workers wants to turn the concept on its head.

“The stigma that’s attached to this country, that it is needy and dependent, a lot of us knew that wasn’t right,” says Sabina Carlson, a project manager with Future Generations Haiti. Last summer, the organization launched Wozo Ayiti, a mapping project for social change and community initiatives driven by Haitians for the benefit of their fellow citizens — like a town that built and manages its own health clinic, or a dairy co-op founded to provide an alternative industry in an area threatened by deforestation. It’s a success map, created with the aim of contradicting perspectives in the international community that paint Haitians as the passive recipients of NGO aid. The fact that such initiatives have not been highlighted “actually hurts reconstruction in this country,” Carlson says.

"There are issues like reforestation that have been challenges for Haiti, where there have been countless projects that have been tried and have failed. When we find innovative strategies in communities like Valere [in south Haiti], where they have succesfully reforestated their area over the past two decades, you wonder why this home-grown strategy can't be used more broadly?"

As such, Wozo Ayiti also aims to raise the profile of community actors in the eyes of fellow Haitians, fostering collaboration across the country. To collect community success stories, Carlson says they were able to build off of a network of mappers who had been involved in Haiti’s Open Street Map, young Haitians used to “mapping and editing and using open source software.” They have since dispatched mapping agents to communities throughout four of Haiti’s ten départements, a kind of street team “climbing mountains and crossing rivers” to gather information.

Almost sixty success stories have been mapped so far, with more to be added on an ongoing basis. Though infrastructural limitations keep many Haitians offline, Carlson says that cellphones are ubiquitous in the country, and that smartphone ownership is on the rise. The next step for Wozo Ayiti will hopefully be a mobile platform, furthering the map’s reach and expanding its network of collaborators.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.