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News — 03 June, 2010

Mission 2: report on field trips to Jacmel and Leogane

First Stop: Jacmel

On May 19th we departed Port Au Prince enroute for the town of Jacmel. The trip took us 100 km south over 3 hours, up and over the mountainous ridges above Port Au Prince, and descending again to the Caribbean sea. We traveled under the sponsorship of WFP, which afforded us a 4-wheel drive land rover with an exceptionally talented driver, Thomas. Thomas's ability to handle enormous potholes, dodge crumbling sections of road, and navigate past landslide debris made the trip surprisingly smooth. In addition, he jumped at the opportunity to learn about GPS techniques and by the end of the trip was fluent at road assessments using our survey forms. We also traveled in the company of Michael Saimbertil, a young and ambitious CNIGS staffer. In his second field excursion with HOT to assist with OSM instruction, he would play a key role as an assitant instructor and traveling companion.

Crossing the mountains to Jacmel

We had made connections earlier in the week with Jessie Vital, an OCHA staffer positioned in Jacmel. She was passing through the OCHA office at LogBase, where we had graciously been afforded a few spare desks, and we hit it off with her immediately. A native Haitian, recently returned to do mapping work for her country after a Masters in geography in Michigan on Fulbright scholarship, Jessie survived the quake and has been instrumental in the GIS work of OCHA since day one of the response. Also a big fan of OpenStreetMap, she is an amazing resource and coordinator. In the week before arriving the Jacmel she gathered a large audience of people excited to learn about OSM across several agencies in Jacmel, and set up a training classroom that awaited us at the UNDP/DINEPA headquarters in the heart of Jacmel.

Arriving to DINEPA offices in Jacmel

Nicolas and Robert has been to Jacmel previously in April, on the first HOT mission, which set up a foundation for returning and clarified three main goals for a second trip:

  1. Reconnect with key individuals trained in the first mission, several young Haitian IOM personals, to work on solidifying their knowledge and practical skills with OSM.
  2. Extend our training reach to new individuals that Jessie identified in national and international organizations, particularly ones dealing with longer term environmental and sustainability issues dealing with Jacmel's rich coastal region and watershed.
  3. Begin exposing people to tools for leveraging OSM data in various GIS system like QuantumGIS and other desktop applications in use in Haiti (both ArcGIS and MapInfo were prevalent in Jacmel). Emerging based on needs identified in the first week in Port Au Prince, and honed during after hours conversations between Dane and Nicolas, this piece forms a key third element in the full OSM package we are now presenting to all advanced trainees. The package combines 1) hands on tutorials in surveying (GPS + Walking papers), 2) detailed guides and examples for exploring and editing osm data (JOSM), and 3) tools for interoperability with existing GIS programs focusing on converting and filtering OSM data into shapefiles and PostGIS for cartographic outputs.

Michael leading a surveying team around the town of Jacmel

The power of our guides, lectures, and overall trainings is that we have customized them for Haiti and humanitarian issues on every level possible. We provide sample datasets ready to go for each region, and tools and configurations adapted to the Humanitarian Data Model (schema, questionnaires and XML presets for structured data entry in JOSM).

The overarching aim of our work, in Jacmel and beyond, is to create a nucleus of advanced OSMers able to integrate and leverage OSM techniques in their work and capable of mentoring less advanced individuals or groups in the basic techniques.

the crew

Amazing thanks must go to OCHA and Jessie for gathering the right audience for this plan to take off with 12 talented Haitian GIS practitioners from UNDP, MDE, OCHA, IOM, CCCM, WHO and the Municipality of Jacmel. We spent two rich days working out of the UNDP provided classroom. The first day focused thematically on how OSM techniques can help increase the overall preparedness at the event of a severe hurricane where rapid mapping of road conditions, camps, water points, health and education structures is critical. The second day focused more on long term development needs which UNDP and MDE are facing, and how OSM tools could be leveraged to aide these processes.

In the morning of the second day, Nicolas and Jessie participated in assessing a newly reported refugee camp just 20 km from Jacmel which had been in existance since February with no aid. This mission was lead by the CCCM and joined by IOM and IFRC personal. Drivers and field workers were trained by applying the OSM techniques to camp assessment. Special attention was paid to the 2 drivers of OCHA with the view of a long term trainer of trainees scheme to apply to drivers from other agencies in Jacmel. The drivers along with the humanitarian staff worked to describe the harsh conditions in which up to 70 families were living in unfortified huts without any plastic protecting their hand build shelters, wrapped in weathered cloth, and sleeping on bare ground.

Back in the classroom, Dane was leading an session were students were ask to craft their own XML presets for JOSM based on their own organization's survey forms. The students chose to focus on UNDP questionnaires for forest plots which required filling in lists of tree species and conditions. Each and every student, despite having never hand edited XML, successfully and with great cheer, was able to create their custom data entry forms within JOSM with just an hour of instruction. The second day then wrapped up with a presentation of the basics of using OSM data inside QGIS for cartographic output. Several students were so intrepid they quickly were able to create PDF maps with scale bars and legends using OSM data and their own watershed data, and worked on refining them during break time.

The thrilling thing about having a willing audience for nearly two full days was the feeling of community being built. Grounded in the fun of learning mapping tools and the strong potential for lasting professional and social ties amongst all participants, we felt a comradeship grow from our time in Jacmel. However, additional visits feel essential to further the skills of these students. While they bring a strong existing background in proprietary mapping systems they will need continued support to get up to speed with OSM and open source tools.

Second Stop: Legane

Mamadou, Nicholas, and Guens at the Leogane Mango camp (MINUSTAH)

On the afternoon of May 20th, we departed Jacmel to head up and over the mountains again back to the north. The town of Leogane was our destination, set in the vast fertile lowlands west of Port Au Prince, and near the epicenter of the quake. Thomas sped this time at breakneck speeds to drop us in time for him to continue on to Port Au Prince before the night curfew would restrict travel. Nicolas and Dane would stay the night at the Leogane MINUSTAH base, aptly situated in a vacant piece of land originally planted with mango trees and freshly set up tents, containers and other features of a humanitarian hub. Thomas would drop Michael back in Port Au Prince ready to return in the morning with two new instructors for our trainings the next day in Leogane.

Immediately after arriving in the Leogane camp, we were welcomed by the coordinators from WFP and IOM who provided us with lodging and office space in WFP containers of this humanitarian hub. We stashed our gear, all broke out laptops on picnik tables beneath towering mango trees, and dove into an adhoc training session with our new friends, Mamadou of WFP from Mauritania, and Michel of IOM. We surveyed the camp with GPS units, mapping Mango trees, tents, and radio towers, then actively started adding to the OSM map. This would ensure we had a good base in OSM for the walking papers we would print in the morning for next days trainings. We worked until night fell and then were swept into a going away party for Lisa, a MINUSTAH staff that Nicolas had met and trained in the first mission back in April.

Unlike Jacmel, where we arrived to a classroom full of students with laptops open awaiting our teaching, in Leogane we didn't have a formal plan. But it is a welcoming place and between the party the night before and waking at dawn to catch people over morning coffee, we managed to organize a full day of trainings. They were hosted in several facilities across the base and exposed over 15 people from WFP, IOM, FAO, MINUSTAH, SASH and the Education Cluster on the core surveying and OSM editing modules. Nicolas and Dane broke up, moving from session to session. Guensmock (Forum Communautaire of Cite Soleil) and Glamanine (CNIGS) arrived by mid-morning from Port Au Prince with Thomas, and dove into independently consolidating their skills as a surveying team and then instructing WFP drivers. By mid-day three independent groups around the base were actively adding to the OSM base map. Dane impressed several MINUSTAH staff simply by reminding them to update their map frequently in JOSM (re-download OSM data from the live server while editing their own). To their astonishment Mango trees started appearing almost in real time as Glamanine processed GPS data of her trainees, and Dane showed how he could then edit them from his iPhone just as his students were able to do in JOSM.

The challenge in Leogane, is that despite being a place in critical need of mapping and mapping support, there are no staff amongst any of the organizations on the ground with GIS skills. In each tent and trailer we ran into enormous plotted maps (many with OSM data as the base cartography), but they had come from OCHA cartographers hours away in Port Au Prince, and by individuals now likely gone from their duties in Haiti. One OCHA representative we met in Leogane said he was literally running out of maps. He had become known as the map guy simply because he had them on his wall and the stack given to him from the Port Au Prince OCHA office was quickly dwindling. Dane showed him, where he could easily print off PDF maps of Leogane with up-to-date OSM data (even the Mango trees and the camp outlines we added that morning) , and he exclaimed that this was exactly what he needed. With this knowledge he could now confidently and freely provide maps to all the varied people at MINUSTAH looking for locally information.

Without core GIS staff available to embed OSM knowledge with, we feel like we were nevertheless able to leave behind some new OSM users from diverse background (drivers, surveyors, program officers, generalists of many fields). We are hopeful we furnished them with appropriate resources to keep growing their OSM skills until we can return again. We are also very encouraged about the role a local British NGO can play called SASH. They are specialized in camp management, have been trained twice now in OSM techniques, and may be able to play a solid support role over time.

A final hurrah at Logbase

May 22 was our last working day in Haiti and we managed to pack in several days worth of events into one, operating out of UN Logistics Base in Port Au Prince.

We started the morning at the MINUSTAH GIS office, where we trained over 10 individuals that we assembled from various clusters. The group included MINUSTAH military GIS analysts from Nepal, the Philippines and Niger, an ESRI product manager who had just arrived to Haiti, several technical staff from Shelter Cluster, and two professors from the Institut National de Geographie Appliquee. While each person was highly skilled in geography, it turned out that few of these individuals knew how to handle a GPS unit so we focused on the field use of GPS and the workflow to bring tracks and waypoints into JOSM for tracing as GPX files.

We then raced to the UN cafeteria to haul a half-dozen take-out lunches across logbase for our afternoon participants. This last training focused on exposing 4 more people from OCHA, FAO, and WFP to high level methodologies of OSM, and networking on how we could facilitate greater cooperation with their activities in the future in Haiti and beyond. We wrapped up the afternoon in the IOM tent discussing the weeks progress with several CNIGS staff working for IOM and Guensmork from the Forum Communautaire of Cite Soleil using walking-papers to collect data. These two CNIGS staff, Emmanuel and Jean-Maxau, had taken to the tools more than any of us could have hoped and were both thriving in their newfound skills and their important role in data collection. Together with other from the Centre and from the Forum Communautaire under the guidance of Frederic Moine GIS coordinator for IOM they were about to start running a baseline survey of Cite Soleil based entirely on OSM techniques.

Emmanuel and Jean-Maxau of CNIGS, mapping for IOM

As night fell we then moved quickly to packing up our massive pelican cases, inventorying gear, uploading photos, and tidying up our equipment for being ready for the next mission. It was a struggle to stay focused, keep our eyes open, and remember all the things needed to wrap up two such intense weeks because the exhaustion was setting in. Teaching, no matter how fun and enriching, is exhausting - you give all you can. We would fly out, back to Seattle and Brittany, early in the morning. After going steady now for two weeks without a rest day, we knew a deep sleep awaited on the plane and a deep satisfaction from giving everything we could.

Packing up after session with community members of Cite Soleil

We had the feeling leaving the island that mission 3 is likely to close a virtuous cycle. These missions have allowed us to raise awareness on the resources remotely created within the OSM project for Haiti amongst Haitian GIS actors and to grow local skills to actively benefit from and contribute to OSM. It is our hope that OSM will be seriously considered as a core component of a Haitian run geodata management solution now and into the future. And it is our direct experience that an OSM community is being built across Haiti by talented and bright people that will support a greater good. We are proud and excited to be a part of it, thanks to the support of the global OSM community, our funding from the World Bank, and the leadership of the HOT team.