9th graders from the Horatio Hogson School, after going through the Beholden neighbourhood in Bluefields, so as to point out the areas they like and dislike.
6 de April de 2015

*Through the use of free technologies

Bluefields- Free geodata technologies have been used to map the city of Bluefields in the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS). This initiative strengthened the capacities of local actors with respect to their knowledge of social mapping. It also involved the participation of children and adolescents, as well as students and teachers from the Bluefields Indian Caribbean University (BICU) and the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (URACCAN), under the coordination of MapaNica (OpenStreetMap Nicaragua) with UNICEF support.

In one week they covered 16 neighbourhoods of Bluefields to identify points of interest (schools, shopping centres, hotels, local stores and institutions that offer public services) and draw up the streets and alleys. As a result of this effort, the population of Bluefields now has a basic map of the city.

“These kinds of initiative share new knowledge and encourage innovation,” commented Philippe Barragne-Bigot, the UNICEF Representative in Nicaragua, talking about the results of the mapping in Bluefields. “They also include children and adolescents, giving them the opportunity to participate as thinkers and implementers, identify places of risk and propose solutions to the problems. These experiences can change children’s lives and also have the potential to change their environment and—why not?—the world.”

Shaner Rojas and Sammy Rodríguez, two 9th grade students at the Horatio Hogson school using osmand, an application that identifies the georeferenced spots in the Beholden neighbourhood, Bluefields. ©UNICEF/Nicaragua-2015/A.Jirón.©UNICEF/Nicaragua-2015/A.Jirón

Using free technology to solve local problems

According to Inés Hernández of the RACCS Government’s Water and Sanitation Directorate, “Many people have died in the rural areas due to flooding and if we had the location it would be easier to find them. There are six neighbourhoods with risk points in the urban area.”

Given that open maps are a tool that offers collective and free use of geographical technology for the mutual benefit of a community’s different actors, an exchange meeting was held with municipal authorities and representatives of different Bluefields organizations to involve them in the activities related to this initiative.

This space helped the participants reflect on the main problems affecting the region and how maps could be a useful tool for linking local actors (local governments, NGOs, companies, governments, the educational community and volunteers) and communities. “There are places we don’t know about and which we don’t have access to due to their distance, but with a map we can reach those communities with a greater incidence of cases of violence,” said Erundina Hernández, Women´s Secretary for the RACCS.

Community maps are a tool for child and adolescent participation

The MapaNica team also facilitated a workshop for 32 students from the fifth grade of the Denmark School and the ninth grade of the Horatio Hogson School. The workshop allowed the students to learn about the utility of maps both in terms of reaching a particular place and better understanding the surroundings and socio-cultural characteristics of each area.

The children and adolescents familiarized themselves with a new way of perceiving their space based on the creation of a map of the Beholden neighbourhood and used it to express their vision of risk perception. They also had the chance to go around the neighbourhood to verify the geographical points on the map they created. “It was a really fun experience,” said Alison Thomas, a fifth-grade student from the Denmark School, “because we played, sang and got to know places in the neighbourhood that I didn’t know before and that I now feel safe to pass through.”

Naylan Bent, a 5th grader from the Dinamarca School selecting the spots from the Beholden neighbourhood (Bluefields) she likes better.©UNICEF/Nicaragua-2015/A.Jirón

The Bluefields Network of Child and Adolescent Communicators, which is promoted by the Departmental Roundtable for the Prevention of Human Trafficking with UNICEF support, actively participated in the development of the workshops in the schools and in the mapping of the neighbourhood.

Mapping festivals to generate and share knowledge

Two “mapping festivals” were also held in the framework of this initiative, the first in BICU’s Innovation Laboratory with 33 students studying different subjects; and the second in the URACCAN campus with 18 students and support from the free software community.

The mapping festivals are an opportunity to exchange experiences and take advantage of free technologies. “There is no current urban planning in Bluefields,” said Greta González, a participant in the BICU workshop, “so this free software would facilitate our mapping the city and working on other kinds of projects, such as risk management and locating vulnerable areas and the commercial area. This software really has potential for the communities.”

One result of this activity is that both universities have mapped their campuses. To achieve this, the participants identified the access areas, pedestrian circulation, the buildings and the green areas in the university campus. It is hoped that these students will now use this free software tool to help resolve the region’s main problems.

Luvy Hernández, a teacher at the Centre of Geographic Information of the URACCAN University, mapping the college venues with a group of youths.©UNICEF/Nicaragua-2015/A.Jirón

Feeding the results back to the participants

The OpenStreetMap initiative concluded with the results being shared with the people that participated in the experience. One of the initiative’s successes was the identification of 500 points of geographic interest that contributed to the creation of the base map of the city. This map is now available to the population on the MapaNica website (www.mapanica.net).

Standard map of Bluefields. UNICEF/Nicaragua-2015/OpenStreetMap

The different local actors, public institutions, NGOs and universities will be able to use the geographic information contained in this base map to work on any topic of interest.

The initiative also focused on the participation of children and adolescents to reveal their risk perception and the dangers they face in their community based on the collective creation of the map corresponding to the Beholden neighbourhood.

The analysis of the mapping data was based on three indicators: sex, age and pastime. The perception by sex demonstrated that girls feel unsafe in places near to bars, while boys feel safe on sport fields and courts. The perception by age revealed that adolescents view sports fields and courts as accessible places, while the perception by pastime highlighted the use of new technologies and sports. One important finding is that both children and adolescents perceive their school as a safe environment.

Outcome of the mapping in the Beholden neighbourhood.©UNICEF/Nicaragua-2015/OpenStreetMap

"I really liked the children’s identification of the places in their neighbourhood where they feel safe,” stated Shakira Simons, who is the regional liaison for the Global Communities organization in Bluefields. “It would also be valuable to draw up a map of how they want to see their city and for them to take on the technologies, because they aren’t removed from our context and they should be used for educational ends.”


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Olga Moraga, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Nicaragua omoraga@unicef.org.


The OpenStreetMap initiative is a free technology platform created with the idea of sharing geographic data for community use. OpenStreetMap involves different collaborators at the global level and started up in 2004 in England.

The Nicaraguan chapter of this initiative is MapaNica, which is made up of a group of young people from the free software community.

For more information visit the MapaNica website www.mapanica.net or write to contacto@mapanica.net. #BluefieldsMapping