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Haiti Communitere and the Uses for Virtual Reality in International Development

Kachina Gosselin works at the intersection of engineering and international development. She sees significant potential for a fast, immersive way to experience places in need of aid to increase donor and volunteer engagement was well as increase accountability for workers. She took a camera to Haiti Communitere (HC) in Port au Prince to try some ideas.

HC was established immediately after the 2010 earthquake to support emergency services and recovery efforts. Many people in Haiti are sceptical about how helpful foreign aid workers are, so it was important that this organization was founded by local people to serve their own community.

HC offers a workshop, tools, and a safe creative space for local people to work on solutions to their own problems. They also act as a resource space and business incubator, connecting individuals, community leaders, and international organizations.

While these models have no people, HC is usually bustling. Over the weekends, the Main Building is packed with community leaders, representatives of local organizations, and people working on projects. The lab is full of people on laptops, editing videos or fiddling with the 3D printers. One 3D printing specialist prints umbilical cord clips and other medical devices--there was a pile prosthetic hands in a corner of the 3D printing lab--in partnership with the local hospital.

The HC space and tools allow people to explore, problem-solve, and open conversations that simply wouldn’t happen anywhere else.

If you visit Haiti Communitere, you can rent a room on their site. The buildings are also teaching and development tools, built in sustainable ways from materials readily available on Haiti. Each also has an area that reveals its inner construction. The Ubuntu house is built entirely from polystyrene, and the Earthship is built from sandbags filled with local dirt.


Models like these could make development projects more immediate for donors and volunteers. Far away places quickly fall out of the news cycle, but the needs remain. Now, people far away can experience the situation on the ground almost in real time, helping to recruit and raise funds. Additionally, people on the ground can document the effects of their work in a way that touches people more deeply than still photographs. Imagine touring an important cultural space shortly after it was destroyed in an earthquake, and then again after it was rebuilt--all without having to make the journey to the site.

HC is working on applying their model to other areas experiencing crisis. Scans of their buildings are important models for organizations establishing themselves and valuable outreach tools.