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  • Zola Manyungwa, YouthMappers Alumna

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single map…

My involvement with YouthMappers began in 2016, when I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Education with a geography emphasis at the University of Malawi. During my undergraduate studies, I decided to focus on geography because of the field's interdisciplinarity, which allowed me to combine my many interests and get a broader knowledge of the world’s complexities and the people that inhabit it. As a prospective educator, I was well aware of my responsibility to teach my learners about geography. I also recognized that as a geographer, I had a role to play or a contribution to finding solutions for the significant challenges in my country. But I couldn't figure out HOW... How to begin this journey…I was striving to figure out what my ticket on the “making a difference” bus would be, so that I could begin my journey of contributing towards the achievement of development goals and finding solutions of critical challenges. This started to become clearer when I was introduced to YouthMappers.


My participation in the YouthMappers network exposed me to geospatial technologies. I learned about how maps are utilised to address various challenges in the modern world. I created an OpenStreetMap account and joined the millions of people who contribute to the world's open-source map. I then decided to enroll in my university’s courses in GIS and Remote Sensing. Interaction with literature revealed that, in addition to understanding the complexities that arise as a result of the interaction of the earth's various systems, the GIScience aspect of geography provides the opportunity to use a variety of tools and approaches for data collection, data processing, visualisation, and analysis, resulting in a clearer picture. As time went on, it became clear that my profession would eventually lead me to using GIS technologies in some capacity.


My soft skills, such as resource mobilization, communication, critical thinking, networking, leadership, project management, and collaboration, were also enhanced through the YouthMappers program. My leadership abilities were strengthened over the course of three years as I headed my university's YouthMappers Chapter and introduced more students to OpenStreetMap. I was selected for the inaugural cohort of the YouthMappers Leadership Fellowship program in 2017, and during my time as a fellow, I attended seminars in Nepal, Uganda, and Tanzania. I began to network with individuals both inside and outside Malawi through encounters at seminars and later on social media platforms, most of which became great friends. I was fortunate to collaborate with local and international organizations that employ geo-spatial technology as my developing interest for the application of GIScience in problem solving became more obvious. One of my favourite memories was working as a facilitator for COOPI-Cooperazione Internazionale's Mangochi District Flood Prevention and Mitigation Mapathon. For my final year project, I chose to use GIS and Remote Sensing to investigate the influence of Urban Development on Land Surface Temperature (LST) from 1998 to 2018, using Blantyre as a case study. In 2020, I received my bachelor’s degree and began working as a Geography Education instructor at the University of Malawi. The African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) also awarded me a certificate in drone technology.

What stage am I at in my journey? I am a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) at West Virginia University in the United States. As YouthMappers did for me, I am enthusiastic about encouraging rising young professionals to use geospatial technology as one of the methods of contributing to efforts to address challenges in their fields of study. In this context, I am a co-founder of MapMalawi, a non-governmental organization, connect with us at MapsMalawi@gmail.com.


Our mission is to create, engage, and collaborate with youth-based groups to produce open-source geospatial data utilizing geospatial technology as one of the ways to help Malawi address local developmental and humanitarian challenges. We want to collaborate with both young professionals and young people who live in and around the regions of interest. MapMalawi is now managing a project funded by Facebook's Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) Community Impact Microgrant Program. The project Dzaleka Mapping Project aims at generating geospatial data to illustrate the provision of basic needs at the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. We're collaborating with both young professionals and those who live in and around the refugee camp - Help us map!


As I continue on my journey, I aspire to use my educational and geographic skills to make a difference... one map at a time.