My First Experience at the White House
On July 7th, myself and dozens of other people from all different backgrounds, came together to bring notice to parts of the world that many people never get to see. A combination of students, leaders of government and YouthMappers members were mixed together among several tables all across the conference room in the Eisenhower building, learning and working together to use open source mapping (OpenStreetMap or OSM) in order to map for two projects sponsored by the Peace Corps, USAID, and the U.S. Census Bureau. OSM can be described as the map version of Wikipedia where anyone and everyone can register, and contribute to the creation of geographic data which can be used by anyone who needs it. Which brings us to our highlighted projects.
One project, which was focused in an area of Africa located in Mozambique in the Milange district, was aimed at preventing Malaria outbreaks. This area is a hot spot for mosquitoes, and where you find mosquitos, you typically find Malaria in Africa. As a part of the Presidents Malaria Initiative (PMI), YouthMappers and USAID interns have been putting in countless hours to map these unmapped, rural areas of Mozambique so that viable infrastructure data can be created to determine how much mosquito spray is needed to combat the spread of Malaria. Partnered with Peace Corps volunteers on the ground, these dedicated individuals go out into the field and provide ‘ground-truth’ so that the data created using OpenStreetMap can be more accurately described.
The other project that was put at center stage at the 2nd annual mapathon was a newer project titled, “Missing America”, which helps the U.S. Census Bureau map rural parts of Maine and Texas. Eventually, agencies like the Census bureau can use the OSM platform as an easy way to access data to do what the Census bureau does best. Even those who consider themselves as not ‘tech savvy’ can easily learn how to help map houses and roads in a matter of minutes. With the advent of open source data and the internet, people and agencies can now access larger sets of data which can enable them to coordinate aid projects with the help of an army of mapping enthusiasts all around the world.
Being one of the founders of the YouthMappers chapter at West Virginia University, which is also one of the three founding YouthMappers chapters, it has been a pleasure to work with everyone who made all of this come to fruition. A little over 6 months ago when my co-founder, Randy, and I first started our chapter at WVU, I don’t think either one of us would have thought that we would participating in a mapathon in one of the most famous buildings in one of the most famous cities in the world. To start as two normal guys who wanted to bring people together, and succeed in doing just that, is surreal. As someone who just wants to do his part, I feel privileged to have walked in the same footsteps as some of the greatest leaders our country has ever had, and make my own contribution to something greater than myself. I can honestly say that my first trip to the White House was more than what I ever could have asked it to be.
Photo credits: Patricia Solís, Garrett Pullis