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  • Rachel Levy, New York University

Where Virtual Mapping Reveals Veritable Refuge

“Girls in safehouses, we stay with them until the end of the seasonal cutting. At the end of the season, we visit their families in order to reconcile and improve the social welfare of the community. We consult with them to let them know that FGM is illegal in our country, but yet they continue on. They cut without thinking that their daughters are stable, and will want to follow their dreams” said Rhobi Samwelly, founder of the Mugumu Safe House, a place for girls to escape the threat of female genital mutilation.

Rhobi, as she likes to be called, was responsible, in coordination with Crowd2Map’s founder, Janet Chapman and the United Nations for the late September #EndFGM Mapathon, or female genital mutilation in her home country of Tanzania. The mapathon, with approximately 40 in-person attendees and countless online mappers, sought to coordinate efforts to fully map out rural Tanzania.

Many villages in Tanzania are isolated, some with only one road leading in or out, having little access to other environments. The #EndFGM Mapathon was an opportunity for technologically-savvy humanitarians to look at satellite images of the more rural parts of the country, tagging every road, building, and body of water that they could find.

Humanitarian mapping projects like these help Rhobi and Crowd2Map develop a better understanding of the areas that they work in to accurately find young women who report themselves as being at risk for FGM.

The #EndFGM Mapathon had a number of presentations from individuals that work in the humanitarian mapping space.

Left - Rebecca Firth (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team) and Janet Chapman (Crowd2Map) held a quick mapathon training session on how to map on OSM using the HOT Tasking Manager. Right - Tyler Radford (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team) spoke about using open mapping and open data to achieve SDGs.

In addition, speakers were present from organizations such as mHealth to give presentations that highlighted mapping’s many uses. Tyler Radford, Executive Director of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), the tasking manager of the OpenStreetMap page, spoke about how locals in Uganda collaborated alongside South Sudanese refugees to map the on-the-ground details of specific settlements. Mapping teams went around adding details, such as bathroom locations or resource-barren areas, to contribute to a larger geospatial understanding. Some of the teams even traveled the area on motorbikes, stopping to contribute to the OSM dataset and make a positive impact on the community.

Then sharing a piece of her personal past, Rhobi Samwelly teared up recounting her experience with FGM. Having known about the harmful physical and psychological effects FGM would have, Rhobi explained how she advocated for herself, pleading to her family to let her avoid the procedure.

She ended up as an FGM survivor alongside fifteen other girls in her village.

In a bizzare, yet likely turn of events, Rhobi was unconscious for hours following the procedure, and upon her revival, made her mother pledge to not execute this practice upon her six younger sisters.

Rhobi then pledged to herself to prevent other young women from suffering FGM.

Mapping to #EndFGM, as well as other humanitarian projects directly aid every point of the open data health system. Right now, you can go to and find projects all across the world that are building data sets to help others.

If you are interested in the efforts to #EndFGM, I encourage you to search for In the Name of Your Daughter, a story about young women in Northern Tanzania who risk their lives to follow their dreams. The film, releasing to the UK in early October, has already won a number of awards among film festivals in Zanzibar, Canada, and the US.

Rachel Levy is a senior at New York University and an avid mapper. Rachel is passionate about creating community across the globe that can access open street maps as well as encouraging benefits that mapping provides. Rachel is majoring in Global Public Health and Applied Psychology, where she plans to highlight the narrative around the psychological benefits that can come from often-overlooked health practices and systems. You can find Rachel at, or in November, on the NYU I AM GPH Podcast!

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