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News — 29 June, 2010

HOT thoughts by Trevor

Membership on the HOT team is quite the trying experience. There are always long days of work with early mornings and late nights. It's not uncommon to miss a meal and end up in an uncomfortable bed if you are lucky, on the floor if you are not. Every couple days there is a long ride in an uncomfortable car followed immediately by hours of trainings. Then there is the frustrating waiting while unexpected delays and problems get worked out.  At one point during one of the delays I asked myself. Is all the time and money and effort put into this really worth it? Here are some of the experiences we have had that helped me answer that question.

We have trained literally hundreds of eager Haitians in mapping and there will be more before we leave. Where ever we go and people find out what we are up to they are interested and even excited to learn of our work. There is an obvious desire and need for an accurate map of Haiti. At one point after selling us some SIM cards for our phones the salesman quizzed us on OSM for fifteen minutes complaining about how expensive and inaccurate the maps available were and excitedly asking over and over "It's free? It's free?"

Guensmork Alcin, one of the Haitians who are facilitating our trainings actually trained our drivers on the way to Jacmel and Léogâne. By the time we got to Léogâne the drivers were helping facilitate the trainings. OSM is obviously becoming a craze and it's picking up momentum. It seems like the Haitians really appreciate the immediate, visible results from the OSM work. They are glad that they can get involved and are eager to help. It really feels good to be providing a service that is so well received.

There are other tangible and immediate results from our work as well. In Gonaïves Sabina Carlson, one of the many excellent people assisting us was in the field training a group how to tag geographic features. She discovered an undocumented bridge that was impassable by motorcycles and tagged it for future repair. This bridge lead to a school, one of the hurricane shelters and no vehicles would be able to get to it. This was a perfect demonstration of our work while taking the first step in the process of providing a much needed resource for the community, a working bridge.

So is this work worth the time and money put into it? Absolutely! This is the perfect example of open data having a huge positive impact starting immediately after the earthquake and lasting far into reconstruction. It's the ideal case where volunteer hours put into OSM Haiti is amplified by the people in Haiti taking ownership of it. Maps are an essential part of so many facets of a modern society it's hard to think of a better way to be helping Haiti develop.