HFOSS builds Android app to assist humanitarian organization in Haiti


POSIT-Haiti from Humanitarian FOSS Project on Vimeo.

In July a team of HFOSS faculty and students from Trinity College traveled to Haiti to deploy POSIT-Haiti, the Android application they developed for ACDI/VOCA,  a humanitarian organization providing food and health services for expectant mothers and infant children in Haiti.

The app, which runs on Motorola XPRT smart phones, supports beneficiary registration and helps process monthly food distribution events for more than 10,000 beneficiaries in Haiti’s Southeastern Department.


ACDI/VOCA, is a nonprofit organization that has been managing a USAID-funded Food for Peace program, the Multi Year Assistance Program (MYAP), in Haiti since 2008. In addition to the food rations it provides to women and expectant children,  it provides agricultural aid to another 7,000 beneficiaries and their families.

Prior to adopting the POSIT-Haiti app, ACDI/VOCA was using a paper-based system to serve its beneficiaries.  However, due to transportation challenges, recording errors, and other issues, it was becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee the accurate and timely updating of beneficiary data. In some cases records from a previous month’s activities were unable to be entered into the organization’s database in Jacmel  in time to be used for the next month’s food distribution.

Acdi/Voca contacted the HFOSS project in December 2010 to explore the feasibility developing a version of its POSIT tool for use in Haiti.  POSIT, which stands for Portable Open Search and Identification Tool, is an Android app that was designed to collect and share data in the aftermath of humanitarian disaster. In March, a small HFOSS team traveled to Haiti to test the feasibility of using an SMS-based (text messaging) version of POSIT in Haiti. (Blog Post from March Trip)

There is a growing cell phone presence in Haiti, even in the remote rural areas where Acdi/Voca’s programs are based.  Thus, an SMS-based system proves to be a feasible option Acdi/Voca’s programs.  HFOSS students and faculty developed a mobile app that uses data entry forms for registering both health and agricultural beneficiaries and for updating health beneficiary records.  The system is fully localized – for English, French, or Haitian Creole.  Customized modem and server software, also written by HFOSS students,  is used to make the link between the mobile app and the Acdi/Voca database.

Auxillary Nurses at a Food Distribution Event in Grand Gosier updating benificiaries

Auxiliary Nurses updating beneficiary information at a food distribution event in Grand Gossier.

During its July visit the HFOSS team provided training to around 50 Acdi/Voca staff members, including both central office personnel and 25 auxiliary nurses who traveled from their rural outposts to attend the training.  The training materials included two 5-minute screen casts of the mobile app, which were translated into Creole by Trinity Professor of Religion Leslie Desmangles.

Below is a screen cast of the administrative functions in creole. It’s a little out of date as we have made several changes to the application interface since the trip.

HFOSS’s POSIT: Haiti Admin’s Guide from Humanitarian FOSS Project on Vimeo.

The HFOSS team was a little worried about how the app would be accepted by the end users. But despite their relative lack of experience with smart phones, the auxiliary nurses responded very positively to the app.

The mobile app was tested at several distribution events. In Belle Anse it was used by one of the developers to process over 400 beneficiary food recipients in four hours as the auxiliary nurses practiced along side. By the second day, at a distribution event in Baie d’Orange, most of beneficiaries were processed by Acdi/Voca staffers.  Again, the app successfully processed more than 500 beneficiaries in four hours.

Now that the system has passed its field tests, the HFOSS team will continue to monitor and maintain the system remotely with the goal of achieving full integration into AcdiVoca’s day-to-day operations during the coming months.

The end result of this project will be to enhance beneficiary registration and distribution activities  to ensure that Acdi/Voca  beneficiaries – pregnant women, children under two, and malnourished children under five – are served efficiently.

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