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  • Joe Dymond, Nuala Cowan, and Richard Hinton

Mapping it all in Kathmandu, Nepal

“Hello! My name is Ben and I’m from Ghana. I like to…” then Ben slid his arm forward simulating the movements in a game of chess on an imaged board. The circle of 30 strangers from around the world had to repeat Ben’s name, mimic his action, and then move on to the next person in the large circle. This initially embarrassing, but ultimately hilarious ice-breaker was the beginning of an engaging, demanding, and rewarding YouthMappers Fellows Leadership Workshop – the first of its kind – held in Kathmandu Nepal, in May, 2017.

YouthMappers student Fellows Manjurul Islam, Frikan Erwee, and Sasha Guttentag repeat

Faculty Facilitator, Richard Hinton’s, favorite activity – which is snowboarding.

YouthMappers is a network of university-affiliated chapters from around the world (currently 67 chapters in 23 countries and growing!) which creates free and open geospatial data used to address specific development objectives in USAID affiliated countries. YouthMappers students create original, quality, localized geospatial data in unmapped places of the world to support local development goals, and to help communities prepare for disasters.

The YouthMappers organization awarded 20 Fellowships to students representing 11 countries. The 11 countries represented were: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and the United States. Aside from some misdirected luggage, and a geographically illogical flight pattern from Bhutan to Nepal, the group converged – figuratively and literally without a hitch!

During their eight days in Nepal, the YouthMappers Fellows received instruction in leadership, research methods, and geospatial techniques and implements, such as: JOSM, QGIS, mobile data collection, and Geocaching, among many other topics. In addition to formal instruction, the group had the pleasure of witnessing several presentations from our wonderful hosts, Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL), representatives from The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Nepali mission (based in Kathmandu), and The USAID Geocenter from Washington D.C., which is the YouthMappers supporting agency.

Chad Blevins from the USAID Geocenter, Richard Hinton, GWU Spatial Analysis Lab Manager and Instructor, and GW Professors Nuala Cowan and Joe Dymond visit the KLL offices in Kathmandu, Nepal

KLL is a civic mapping technology group in Nepal which strives to co-create digital tools and information infrastructure so that government, nonprofits, and businesses can use 21st century technology to provide everyday citizens with the best services. KLL served as the on-site host partners for this inaugural YouthMappers Fellows Workshop. Their ebullient hospitality and attention to detail, which covered everything from technological needs for mapping projects to accommodations and incredible Nepali meals, led to the tremendous success of the Fellows Workshop.

One of the primary objectives of the workshop was for the students to actively engage in augmenting the capabilities and reach of YouthMappers. Students had to self-form groups based on interest categories. Students “shopped” for interest groupings in what workshop leader, Dr. Patricia Solis, called the “Marketplace of Ideas.” Once groups formed, students immediately went to work – brainstorming on how to enhance existing YouthMappers capabilities or how to add new facility to the organization. The group, led by TTU Professor and YouthMappers Director Patricia Solís, aims to identify creative and effective ways to enhance mechanisms for virtual collaboration and in-person exchange among YouthMappers chapters.

Top: YouthMappers Fellows listen intently to instruction on research methodology (taught by Dr. Brent McCusker).

Bottom: Geocaching winners, Saurav Gautam, Yasmila Saenz Herrera, and Maliha Binte Mohiuddin.

They are preparing an inventory of existing collaboration stories and an online means to submit new descriptions of how students are working together across borders to create data and capacity, as well as to learn from each other (Team Members: Zola Manyungwa, Saurav Gautam , and Yusuf Suleiman). Another of the projects concerns the creation of a secure and voluntary database for the storage and use of YouthMappers chapter and member information. The team, led by GW Geography Professor Joe Dymond, presented this vision at the workshop in hopes that the database will be used for chapter and individual networking, chapter alumni relations, and membership data maintenance among other purposes (Team Members: Elijah Karanja Kingori, Temidayo Isaiah Oniosun, Bert Nii Odoi Manieson, and Alexandra Guttentag). Another group project, led by GW Professor Nuala Cowan, aims to determine the best practices for communication and visualization research using OpenStreetMap (OSM). The group hopes the best practices determination will serve both the academy and the participants. This group wants to improve involvement, provide closure to the OSM community, and to enhance formality and publicity for the academy (Team Members: Benedict Tetteh Kojo Nartey, Maliha Binte Mohiuddin, Faridah Nakabugo, and Yasmila Saenz Herrera). WVU Professor Brent McCusker is serving as mentor to another group who are focused on engaging the stakeholders of YouthMappers chapters and the network. They are examining the many ways in which the young people of this community can reach out to local residents, administrators on their campuses, their local and national governments, and international organizations (Team Members: Rhoda Haruna, Mumtarin Aishee Rabeya, Md. Manjurul Islam, and Stella Maris Nakacwa). Finally, the team mentored by GW Geographer Richard Hinton, is working toward curating a library of capacity building resources tailored to YouthMappers. This team began working toward their project goals by identifying and reviewing existing Youthmappers resources and discerning what resource gaps exist in order to identify resource needs of the YouthMappers organization (Team Members: Dendup Tshering, Frederik Abraham Johannes Erwee, Julia Kleine, Nubia Guissell Estrada Soza, Ebenezer Nana Kwaku Boateng).

Above: Elijah Karanja Kingori, Temidayo Isaiah Oniosun, Bert Nii Odoi Manieson, and Frikan Erwee

actively “shopping” for a project.

Below: Mumtarin Aishee, Manjurul Islam, Rhoda Haruna, and Stella Maris Nakacw

There was much more than just hard work during the workshop. Students were taken on a tour of downtown Kathmandu, and treated to a traditional Newari cultural dinner and performance. One of the highlights of the trip was a whitewater-rafting excursion down the Trishuuli River. Not only was this a teambuilding exercise in the extreme – but we closed the day with a hike to a local village to conduct mobile data collection training using vulnerability/damage assessments developed earlier in the week.

One of the most immediate and fulfilling outcomes of the workshop was the fast and firm friendships developed among the 20 YouthMappers Fellows. Students connected on the very first evening of the workshop and from that point through their tear-filled departures - they exchanged email addresses, became Facebook friends, followed each other on Twitter, and sent copious selfies to one another via Snapchat (we are confident that the selfie capital of the world was Kathmandu during the week of the workshop!). The friendships formed helped to create an instant YouthMappers Chapter network of leaders! One which will serve the organization well during the coming years and which will help to prepare and support a new generation of YouthMappers!

“Best Practices” Team: Benedict Tetteh Kojo Nartey, Maliha Binte Mohiuddin, team leader Dr. Nuala Cowan, Faridah Nakabugo, and Yasmila Saenz Herrera

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