by Andrea Dennis, Greenheart Outreach Director
Have you ever traveled to a new place and felt the desire to give back to the host community in a meaningful way (and we are talking more than just helping the economy by shopping), and weren’t sure how to do it? It happens a lot. Although the genuine desire to make a positive impact is there, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Luckily, scholars, activists and community development experts have paved the way with tools to help you look at your host community through a new lens in the goal of making a positive impact.
This tool is an ongoing, living document that you can use throughout your program to better understand the landscape of your host community. It brings to life your community in a visual and illustrative way to help you better understand the groups, organizations and overall layout of the host community. Your map will help you create a community portfolio shedding insights into areas or issues that might need your help. Steps to mapping your community:
1.) Determine how you like to view information. On a web document, notebook, post-its? Determine the visual that works best for you and stick to it. Staying organized and consistent will help you fit all the pieces together.
2.) Record the basics of your new community:
- BACKGROUND: name, location, transportation, population, demographics (gender, age, race), industries (seasons), sources of income, family structure, education system, literacy levels, community structure/government, community leaders
- HISTORICAL: when was the community established, groups in community, relationships between groups, opportunities for children, livelihoods of parents
- CULTURAL: foods, music, nutrition, religions, celebrations, holidays, languages and dialects
- ENVIRONMENTAL: terrain, waterways, soil condition, waste removal, sanitation, pollution, climate, seasons
- HEALTH: # of births and deaths per year, common illnesses, treatments, types of healers, hospitals, clinics, religious beliefs and relation to health promotion, drinking water
- Find a group or community leader and ask them to help you map their community
- Record basics of your community map style, include roads and landscape, then begin adding community organizations, schools, community leaders (make your own legend)
- Ask the leader or group questions relating to the community: what groups are in the area, how often do they gather, what projects are they addressing, what are valuable resources/assets of the community, what kind of help do they need
- Repeat this process with another group or leader and continue to map and layer new findings
- Take your map and asses where you have an interest and there is a need. Identify the leaders/groups associated with this issue and get involved. The community map will help you become a knowledgeable community member, able to be a contributor. Knowledge is power!
In addition to becoming a better member of your host community and network, community mapping helps prepare you for applying for our Greenheart Grant, providing Greenheart Travel participants opportunities to give back to their communities.
Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing. -Denis Waitley