[Guest blog post by Denise Roz Sewell who is in charge of Crisis Mapping for the Fletcher Team running the Ushahidi-Haiti Project. She just returned from a 2-week mission in Haiti. Roz is also Pickering Fellow and was a Fulbright scholar in Morocco prior to joining the graduate program The Fletcher School.]
I am a crisis mapper. I have been mapping need in Haiti. That means that I take a message (from Twitter, Facebook, SMS), and based on information contained within the message, I place it on a map. Primarily, I have been working with the Ushahidi Haiti Project and the Mission 4636 group of organizations. Through the short-code 4636 we created a picture of the evolving crisis in Haiti that was unprecedented in both its scope and timing. However, I live in Boston. I am from Atlanta. Honestly, it makes no sense for me to be the one mapping locations in Haiti when there are Haitians ready and willing to interact in the discussions of their own reconstruction.
So, I travel to Haiti. As a part of the Ushahidi Haiti project run by the Fletcher Team, one of our primary goals is to transfer skills and knowledge to the affected populations so that they can use everything we’ve learned through the 4 months we’ve spent working on this project. This means that the purpose of my trip was two-fold: 1 – assess the potential to transfer our knowledge to a single Haitian organization in Haiti and 2 – begin to transfer knowledge to any existing organizations that could use it.
Naturally, I went to Mirebalais. One of the key members of the Mission4636 group is Samasource – an organization bringing computer-based jobs to disadvantaged communities around the world. In a partnership with 1,000 Jobs they set up a computer center in Mirebalais, Haiti to translate messages coming into 4636 from Creole into English. I went to this computer center ready and willing to transfer my knowledge about crisis mapping, technology, and the Ushahidi platform.
What I have loved about my work in Haiti is that oftentimes when I feel like I have something to say or give, Haitians give it back to me ten fold. In my trip to Mirelabais I know I taught the workers how to find coordinates using OpenStreetMap, but I can definitely say that they taught me so much more–they taught me about Haiti.
The first day of my trip, the directors of the 1,000 Jobs site bring me to the center. Before my training, we sat in the office and talked about Haiti. We talked about their lives and ideas for the country, and how hard they’ve worked to get to where they are. I was afraid that my trip would be considered another burden or task they need to supervise. Instead, I received the resounding feedback, “No, this is the idea, we need to bring more skills to Haiti. Thank you.”
Later, I sat down with six intelligent, young Haitians eager to learn this new skill. I show them the Haiti Crisis Map and walk them through the training documents. Then, I show them the satellite imagery feature and how there is an image of this exact computer center building from the sky on the Internet. I teach them how to find their houses. They picked it up immediately and started laughing to each other, finding their parents’ or aunts’ houses once they mastered the current location. They loved it, and they turned to me and said, “I didn’t know this could exist for Haiti.”
The next day I taught them Ushahidi, which again they understood immediately. I sat back and watched the morning shift train the night shift on creating a report, and then suddenly I felt useless – I had trained an amazing group in the morning and they understood the idea of crisis mapping so well that I could sit back and just listen. Occasionally, they would ask me a question but really I remained a quiet bystander watching Haitian crisis mapping happen the way it was suppose to happen – with Haitians.
Later that day, some of the 1,000 Jobs workers took me around Mirebalais. We had lunch at a small restaurant, where the typical Haitian spaghetti breakfast was served. They showed me the rest of town and talked about their lives at university before the earthquake. They asked me about Facebook and wanted to know my opinions about music. They talked about their families and their friends. They just talked about life.
Now that I am back in the US I realize the unbelievable importance of this trip, and I realize that these workers actually trained me. They showed me Haiti as not just a crisis and not just a map. They reminded me there is a country underneath all the rubble and in fact, there is a country despite the rubble. They showed me Haiti.