(IAP ’13) Susanna Wansan Pho, G

2: Final Week

Jie and I are now in our last and final week on the ground in Ahmedabad and a lot has happened since we’ve arrived. Without a doubt, the trip has been both difficult and incredibly rewarding for both of us. Academically, our interest lies in grassroots capacity building with respect to slum redevelopment. Practically, we hoped that aerial mapping would be a useful rhetorical tool for traditionally marginalized communities and the organizations supporting them.

Our first two weeks in India were spent focused on managing logistics in a country that neither of us has spent substantial time in and meeting people with whom we hoped to foster lasting relationships. The beginning of our trip was a little bit bumpy and sometimes disheartening but we ended up meeting an incredible group of people and having a very educational set of experiences. Although we were forewarned about the extent of the work done by NGOs in A’bad, as it is affectionately called, we were really shocked to see the magnitude of and the process by which service work was being conducted here. What is incredible about the organizations that we are working with is the way in which they work. While many of them service huge informal populations, much of the work done here is conducted on an almost individual basis, with community development happening by word of mouth and from door to door. There is a real knowledge about communities that is valued and cultivated in Ahmedabad. Initially, we felt a little bit like we weren’t needed, or that our knowledge base was too limited to contribute to the efforts of organizations that knew so much already about their constituents. At some point, we even had a serious discussion about changing our path completely to have a larger impact. However, one by one, NGO’s started to develop an interest in the potential of mapping and eventually saw how it could help fill gaps in their methodology.

We are working principally with three NGO’s to conduct mappings and to train staff members on mapmaking techniques. Initially, we thought that mapping would be a platform for dialogue but it turns out that it is much more useful in this context as a mechanism for understanding because:

1. The NGOs that we are working with are conducting service projects in numerous informal settlements within metropolitan Ahmedabad. These settlements often have informal business (like temporary stalls or vendors) and transient homes that are not feasibly documented in traditional or online maps. The scope and complexity of these communities are often limitations that have the potential to be addressed by aerial photography. The ability to create a comprehensive understanding of new as well as old communities in plan will allow them to conduct their work faster and more efficiently.

2. While the NGO community here is extremely well educated and many organizations have access to private resources, money is often a very real limitation to the work accomplished here. Because of this, the cost-effectiveness of our proposed techniques is highly attractive.

3. While need is pretty easy to assess in India, post-project evaluation is more elusive. The maps produced by NGOs can be used to document the physical indicators of project success.

In short, we’ve learned quite a bit about how poverty alleviation is handled in Ahmedabad and we’ve finally found ways in which mapping technology can be useful. This week, we will be focusing on trainings so that, hopefully, mapmaking can become a permanent part of our partner organizations’ integrated approach to working in slums




1: Welcome to Ahmedabad!

Jie and I have been in Ahmedabad for about a week now but it feels like we have been here for much longer. So much has happened to us and we are becoming acquainted with so many wonderful people and organizations that it’s hard to keep track of everything. We are here as a team of two second year Master of Architecture candidates to conduct a service project funded by the International Development Initiative Technology Dissemination Fellowships (IDI TDF). To summarize our proposal, we are in Ahmedabad to contribute to the ongoing efforts of local institutions and NGO’s to empower communities with tools to participate in slum upgrading efforts. We will also, on a much smaller scale, be conducting research on best practices for slum redevelopment by attending community meetings and interviewing stakeholders.

Our approach to the mapping portion of the project is two-part: Firstly, we aim to develop a strategic methodology with which to conduct mapping in informal settlements by utilizing existing low-cost mapping techniques (such as kite mapping and balloon mapping).  This is significant because the constantly evolving nature of informal settlements calls for a grassroots accessible system to publicize and document community changes. Subsequent to our trip, the development of these maps will hopefully work in tandem with current government-led initiatives to conduct slum mapping across the country. Secondly, we will be working on an educational approach through which we will transfer mapping knowledge to informal community members.

After finally arriving (Jie’s flight was delayed for a day!), we have slowly but surely discovered that any benefit we can be here will be grossly overshadowed by what we learn. The city is so vast and so many efforts are made to improve living conditions that it is quite hard to develop an holistic understanding of where we fit in. it’s all a little bit overwhelming, but in a really great way. In the short time we have been here we have been focusing our efforts on understanding our possible impact through meetings and site visits. On our first day here we were fortunate to be able to visit two of our community partners: Manav Sadhna, an NGO based in the Ghandi Ashram here in Ahmedabad, and the Mahila Housing SEWA Trust.

Manav Sadhna is founded on Ghandian principles with a mission to serve the underpriviledged. Its reach is quite vast and MS’s mission is accomplished through community development projects, education initiatives, minority empowerment, and health efforts. Operating on a larger scale, the Mahila Housing SEWA Trust is a sister organization to the SEWA Bank focused on housing and community development. MHT conducts education, community development, capacity building, and policy reform projects centered around housing and they are a crucial part of many slum upgrading and relocation projects. Manav Sadhna and MHT work in different informal communities and we hope to be able to set up opportunities to conduct mapping sessions and mapping trainings with both organizations. From initial meetings, both organizations seem keen to see what we can develop so, moving forward, we will be conducting some test mappings to assess feasibility and determine how to best use our tools to assist both Manav Sadhna and MHT. Incidentally, our efforts during this first week coincided with the annual Gujarati Kite Festival! We held off from doing any test launches during this time since kite fighting is an integral part of the festivities. Next week we plan on finally getting off of the group to develop maps for both Manav Sadhna and MHT. In other news, I will be documenting our day to day events in another blog: http://abadadventure.wordpress.com . We would love it if you visited us there for more in-depth coverage!

Some pictures from our first week:

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