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Community Mapping Update #2 - Communities of Holistic Impact

Throughout the first year of the Communities of Holistic Impact (CoHI) Initiative, we are working with each of the three pilot communities to help them understand themselves through a variety of participatory exercises. One of the simplest of these activities is the creation of a community map.

A map is useful for a variety of reasons, but for our purposes, at a very basic level it serves as a visual database of the community that helps define its limits, current physical state, and geography. As important as the map itself is the way in which it is created. When a group of leaders collectively map their own community, the exercise itself serves to create a common baseline for future development efforts as well as a catalyst for conversation. We consider his an important distinction from simply providing a community with its map. Although resulting quality may be affected, we believe that the process of mapping is more important than the map itself.

In order to create each community map, the HTH CoHI staff worked together at our Santa Elena office to trace out the primary roads in each town using Google Maps, a projector, some markers, and flip chart paper. This provided a “skeleton” of each community to which details could be added by community members.

In addition to each map, a simple key was developed that included some of the most common features of local communities: water sources, paths, farms, churches, schools, medical attention, gray and black water in public streets, common areas, cantinas, houses, and many more. The key was designed to only capture information that is visible by walking through local streets and paths. More intensive demographic information will be captured at a later date in other exercises.

Fredy explains how we can use a map in local development efforts.

With the map skeleton and key, the CoHI staff then led a small overview workshop with community leaders in each respective community that explained the purpose of a community map as a diagnostic tool – not as an answer to development issues, much as an x-ray is not intended to heal but to help in identifying the correct intervention for an injury. Communities then examined example maps before forming mapping teams. Each team then traced out a section of their town on small sheets of paper, picked up their markers, and headed out to start mapping.

Lomas del Aguila

The 25 people assembled for training formed three mapping teams and quickly grasped the dynamics of the exercise. Let's take a walk with them.

Lomas del Aguila is currently benefitting from its mild climate and booming ginger prices. Although not a traditional crop in the area, many resident farmers are trying their hand at farming ginger root - with impressive results.

Freshly-harvested ginger.

Although Lomas del Aguila is the largest of our three pilot communities, boasting four established churches and 100+ houses, it is by no means a large or highly-developed town. Most residents live very simply in their rural setting.

Although ginger farming is making a mark on the local market, coffee farms continues to dominate the local economy, as evidenced by a large number of coffee processing stations or "beneficios" where freshly-picked coffee is depulped, washed, and fermented. Each one is marked on the community map by a locally-invented symbol - a sack full of freshly picked red coffee cherries!

Following the walking portion of the mapping exercise, each group return to start passing the information from their traced pages onto the master community map. Businesses, bus stops, water tanks, cemeteries, trash dumps, medical care, open gray water, forests, farms, and friends' homes were all marked. In our way day with Lomas del Aguila, they mapped half of their town - ready to complete their homework - the other half!

LAS LOMITAS

The people of Las Lomitas had a unique circumstance. They had recently worked to perform a small census and simple mapping survey with another local organization. So in order to honor their previous efforts, instead of repeating the extensive community walk, everyone worked together to pass the information they had gathered on small maps onto the large community map in order to have all of the data organized in the same place.

Caliche

A group of six leaders from Caliche participated in the beginning of the community mapping exercise.

Caliche lies on the edge of a large valley stretching towards Sta Rita, Yoro. In the middle of Honduran summer, the normally hot Caliche was nearing furnace temperatures during the mapping exercise. Much of the local economy revolves around basic sustenance agriculture - corn, beans, cattle, and hogs. Horses abound as a primary source of transportation - a complement to the sturdy little bus that makes the two-hour trek to Santa Cruz four times/week.

The team charted out a central stretch of town as practice for the full-scale map that will be created over the following month. Team members immediately recognized the value of having a comprehensive, visual overview of their community and are excited to assemble the master map.

Working together with a local hydroelectric company, community members are currently building their community center - to be used in the future for community meetings and activities.

Lomas del Aguila, Las Lomitas, and Caliche will bring their completed community maps to the next event on the year's agenda - the overnight Unity Camp that will be hosted at our Santa Elena offices for the Community Development Commissions. There each team will be trained in how to analyze their map for a basic understanding of what this type of data can be used for. They will then present their map and analysis to the other two communities for a group discussion of what has been learned.

We are immensely proud of each community for the effort, creativity, and unity that they are demonstrating in each of these exercises and are excited to see what they come up with at the camp.