top of page
  • Zola Manyungwa, YouthMappers Fellow

Adventure of a Lifetime: Mind, Body and Soul…

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

It all started with an application.

YouthMappers presented members of different chapters around the world the opportunity to apply for its 2017 fellowship program. Over 80 people around the globe applied but only 20 candidates were chosen. “Congratulations! You have been selected as a Fellow of the 2017 YouthMappers leadership initiative…” was the first thing I read one morning. I read the email five times. I couldn’t believe it!! I was one of the chosen 20. I felt honoured to say the least. Being a fellow meant that I would have to contribute to a YouthMappers toolkit and I would also have to attend the first ever YouthMappers Fellows Leadership Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal.

May 20th 2017…

Looking out the window, I watched the buildings slowly fade away and eventually disappear. Smiling, I thought to myself ‘this is it!! I am going to Nepal!!’. Apart from the fact that it would be my first time in Asia, something told me this trip would be one of a kind. I was going to meet and spend time with 19 other fellows from 10 different countries, professors from the University of West Virginia, Texas Tech University as well George Washington University, amazing people from the USAID GeoCenter and our hosts from Kathmandu living labs (KLL).

My Malawi to Nepal travel experience was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. I missed all my connecting flights and found myself running up and down in unfamiliar airports, trying to get onto the next available flight. There were times I just wanted to sit down and cry. My emotions were all over the place. The words “we have space for you in the next flight” became words that refilled my almost empty “cup of hope”. Then finally, the words “good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Kathmandu…” were heard through the speakers. ‘I am in Nepal!! Finally!! I made it!!’. Unfortunately, the universe was not done with me yet. “Your bags are not here. Come back tomorrow” the lovely lady behind the desk calmly said. ‘GREAT!!’

I sadly walked towards the car that was waiting. My pity party was cut short when I opened the car door and I was greeted by very cheerful faces of Ben, Sasha, Boat and Bert. As we made our way to Park Village Hotel Resort, the car was filled with laughter and, as expected, we took a lot of selfies. ‘The youth around the world speak the same language, selfies’ I thought. We were welcomed by our workshop facilitators upon arrival. I couldn’t help but take a moment to admire my surroundings. Park Village has footpaths that have trees growing on each side, gazebos and its garden is exquisite. It also has a beautiful swimming pool and my room had an amazing view of the beautiful hills nearby. It was simply breathtaking. I got to my room and my roommate Nubia and I got along from the word go. It was friendship at first sight. She’s pretty awesome. Fellows and facilitators met that evening for a welcome buffet dinner and a social meeting.

On the first day of the workshop, fellows were given five minutes each to present their ideas and contributions to the toolkit. I came to the realization that, apart from coming from different countries, we were also from different fields of study. What we fellows undeniably had in common was the fact that, in trying to solve different problems in our respective communities, we were all bringing forth ideas and rationales for activities that support open mapping. So together we came… As citizens of the mapping world, speaking the same language. Like a box of assorted chocolate, in different ‘shapes, sizes and colours’… with different, new and mind-blowing ideas to offer. I got to learn about different ways one can use mapping and mapping tools to solve different problems in society.

When evening came, we made our way to city center for dinner. On our way to the restaurant, we made a detour to Kathmandu Living Labs to see the offices of the people who used open mapping as one of the responses to the 2015 earthquake disaster. Nama, the founder of Kathmandu Living Labs, and his team shared inspiring stories about the work they do. I was thrilled to have these kind and welcoming people as our hosts… “Namaste”, with a slight bow and hands pressed together, said the woman standing at the restaurant entrance. The people’s warm, calm and polite greeting is actually one of the first things I noticed about Nepal. We were served different traditional dishes during dinner and while we chatted away through the evening, we were entertained by a number of traditional dances. I must say, as much as the dances were different from what I am used to, some of the costumes the dancers wore, i.e. the peacock, were similar to the ones traditional dancers wear back home in Malawi. The evening ended with Nubia and Yasmila teaching us how to Salsa. Then it rained... but hey, rain is a good sign right!?!

The second day was filled with activities aimed at teaching us how to come up with and manage research projects, communication, data collection and analysis, and improving our technical abilities. Just to let you in on a little secret, 75% of what was covered that day was new to me. I can comfortably say I know how to use, KoBotoolbox, QGIS, and JOSM. The presentations offered a wide range of knowledge and skills that will be very helpful in my future projects. In trying to contribute to the growth and bettering of the fast-growing network, the fellows formed groups that have, with the guidance of the professors, taken up different initiatives. The different groups are working on curating a library of capacity building resources tailored to YouthMappers; implementing a YouthMappers participant portal for individual mappers; enhancing mechanisms for virtual collaboration and in-person exchange among YouthMappers chapters; engaging stakeholders of YouthMappers; and compiling best practices for effective communication and visualization of OSM based research. Why are these groups important? Well, one of the valuable lessons we learnt at the workshop was that “alone we can do so little but together we can do so much”.


We left Park Village hotel and made our way to Trishuli River. Along the way, I got to admire a few temples and beautiful hills that were adorned with trees. To describe the road was a winding road is an understatement. It was actually pretty scary. The terraces of the hills definitely caught my eye. I have read and watched about terrace farming. Seeing it right before my eyes was incredible. The scenery was simply spectacular. Every time I think about the drive to the river, I mentally play the song ‘something just like this’ by the Chainsmokers. I remember Carrie’s excited face when the song began to play. Who would have thought? The chief geographer and USAID GeoCenter director actually listens to the Chainsmokers. Some fellows happily joined her mini karaoke moment as the trip went on.

We finally got to the river and it was definitely hotter than Park Village. Wearing our protective gear, divided into four groups, we got onto our rafts. Then down the river we went as our instructors guided us through the 18km ride. The ride down the river was exciting. The rapids in the river had very interesting names like: Welcome, Landslide and Butterfly, just to mention a few. We found ourselves almost flying in the air, tossed around in all directions and some people, *cough* Mariam and Elija, fell out of their raft. Nonetheless, as Elija would say, IT WAS AWESOME!! Definitely gave me an adrenaline rush. This water action did not stop Chad from capturing the moments with his camera. As some people bravely jumped off a cliff, I took a moment to admire the scenery. The beautiful hills on both sides of the river were a pleasant sight. There were suspension bridges connecting the hills. The scenery was breathtaking. Nepal is really beautiful.

Three hours later, we got to River Fun resort. We changed into our hiking clothes and made our way to the nearby Charaudi village for a local mapping activity. Skills that we had learnt earlier were put into practice. Fellows did some field mapping and conducted a vulnerability assessment survey using KoBotoolbox. The people in the village we welcoming, helpful and even joined us for a group photo. We later returned to our tent-like rooms and met for a somewhat group meeting. Everyone was asked to share what he/she learnt from the activities that day. Among other brilliant contributions to the discussion, most of us expressed that teamwork is very important, we all have fears and everyone gets cold feet. Nonetheless, sometimes you just have to face your fears and go for it. The evening ended with hours of dancing and swimming. Shout out to Richard, Brent, Nuala and Ben for their amazing dance moves.

We returned to Park Village the next morning. Activities in the next two days involved presentations by our facilitators, mainly Dr. Patricia Solis, the co-founder of YouthMappers. Patricia’s hard work and energy made the workshop a success. Her organisational skills are admirable. She is really, as Frikan said, a source of motivation and I thank her and her team for believing in all the 20 fellows, and allowing and empowering us to contribute to the growth of the network. Patricia is a superwoman!!

Representatives from the different groups that had been formed earlier also presented their ideas and plans on how those ideas will be implemented. We also got to welcome YouthMappers from a newly established YouthMappers Kathmandu chapter. To wrap everything up, we had a certificate presentation ceremony, we took a group photo and a live band entertained us later that evening. It was a great way to end the week.

On the last day of our stay in Kathmandu, we went on a tour around the city. Kathmandu is an architectural heaven. It is adorned with magnificent temples that were built over four hundred years ago. The detail on the wooden doors and pillars is impressive. No wonder it is a world heritage site. Walking around the city, I had people stopping me asking if we could take pictures and if they could feel my hair. ‘Wow, this is what it feels like… being on the other side’. Just like our hosts from KLL, the people we met were friendly and offered help where needed. I got talk to different people and ask questions about different things, mostly their culture. Another interesting experience was shopping in the city. In groups of four, we went around the shops, buying whatever we could. Some shops did not have high ceilings and we couldn’t stand up straight. “Most of these buildings were built by our ancestors. They weren’t that tall back then” explained one of the shop keepers. Oh! and I must say, Temidayo has some serious bargaining skills.

Two hours later, using to find our way, we all met again at an agreed location.

In the evening, we all sat together, chatting and laughing one last time. At this point, we were no longer strangers. We were friends. Apart from the workshop material, we also shared and learnt a lot from each other throughout the week. Topics of discussion included: music, religion, culture, relationships, politics, fashion, food and even hair. It was also a privilege to interact with and learn from the professors from the three different universities and the people from the USAID GeoCenter. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the time and effort that these absolutely amazing people put into the workshop. I will forever cherish the skills and knowledge I attained through them. As for Nepal, its beauty and rich cultural heritage is admirable. It is a country worth visiting.

The YouthMappers Fellows Leadership workshop was truly one of a kind. It was an adventure of a life time…

Mind, body and soul.

bottom of page