An innovative mapping project helps young people in Haiti build safer and healthier communities while gaining valuable knowledge and skills.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 28 August 2013 – Carl Dorceus knows a good bit about HIV – how the disease is transmitted, how to protect himself and the importance of sharing what he knows with his friends.
Carl, 17, is one of 24 adolescents from the neighbourhoods of Cité Plus and Village de Dieu in Port-au-Prince who participated in the Voices of Youth Maps initiative in July 2012. A partnership among UNICEF, the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, local health organization GHESKIO and others, the project mapped vulnerability factors in the communities, including risks for HIV and other diseases. Participants used smartphones to record the location of health and sanitation concerns, medical facilities and unsafe areas, and through geotagged photos and videos, a real-time portrait could be drawn of risk factors in these neighbourhoods.
A project for youth, by youth
Poor sanitation and lack of adequate medical infrastructure are major factors putting young people in underprivileged neighbourhoods at risk for infectious disease. In addition, insecurity and violence increase vulnerability among children and youths.
“Adolescent girls particularly are exposed to risks of sexual abuse and physical assault,” explains project coordinator Gael St. Fleur of the National Office Against Violence and Criminality (ONAVC).
Through the maps initiative, positive steps can be taken towards minimizing the many vulnerability factors identified.
“The data provided by the digital mapping of risks will guide efforts to improve the health of young people,” says Dr. Guirlaine Raymond Charite, Director General of the Ministry of Public Health and Population.
Daniela, an outspoken and dynamic 17-year-old girl who participated in the initiative, identified an abandoned house littered with garbage and used condoms.
“Girls in our community are particularly at risk of sexual assault when they have to walk a long way through dark corridors to go to the toilet,” she says.
The adolescents also learned about HIV risks, transmission and prevention, and received instruction in the UNICEF-GIS digital mapping platform developed by UNICEF, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and international NGO Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD).
Daniela says that the training provided not only knowledge about HIV but also skills she can use to empower other young people and advocate for positive change in her community.
“I learned a lot about HIV and the different risk factors,” she says. “But I also learned how to use GPS and mobile technology to report on pertinent issues, and most importantly to represent other youth,” she says.
UNICEF Country Representative in Haiti Edouard Beigbeder says, “This type of digital tool enables youth, particularly the most vulnerable, to weigh in more heavily on public debates and hence to promote positive social change.”
Port-au-Prince is the third city in the world to participate in this digital mapping exercise, after Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro. More countries will follow, and UNICEF also hopes to extend the project to other parts of Haiti.
Voices of Youth Maps is one of the digital engagement initiatives of UNICEF’s global platform Voices of Youth. With the rise of digital technology, UNICEF is providing young people with resources and tools such as social media and mapping applications to encourage youth advocacy and activism.