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  • Erneste Ntakobangize, YouthMappers Regional Ambassador

Choose To Grow Up With YouthMappers To Become a Mapper You Dreamed To Be

Better learning from the best to become who you dream to be. The day I started my university studies, I wanted to be useful and a solution provider to the challenges that the current society is facing. I did Geography because I wanted to tackle the challenges related to geospatial technology that my community always has. The university studies were just to wake me up, but as we all know, waking up is always insufficient to arrive where you want to go. Finally, I have seen that. I needed YouthMappers to open my eyes and see what the world needs and how I can go through the challenges and learn from them to develop myself and benefit my community and the world, in general.

That is how I decided to join the YouthMappers network in 2017. This is the best choice I ever made in the journey of my career. It gave me the opportunity to be who I am today and the confidence of being able to do what I do today. With YouthMappers, I have come to understand that geography is not a map but what the map represents. I got the opportunity to be connected to the real world of geographers and geospatial scientists. YouthMappers added value to my existing skills by showing me the open source mapping tools that boosted my level of understanding of why real mapping is that one that is done for benefiting the community. YouthMappers taught me how my knowledge in geospatial technology can be used to benefit myself and the provision of solutions to challenges communities are facing today.

The key that opened my eyes was my involvement in the YouthMappers Leadership Fellowship 2019. In the learning period, we learned more and more about how we can use our skills to map for a purpose and map for making a change on the outstanding issues that the communities have. This is how I started thinking big on how geospatial technology can be used to generate solutions that the current society is facing. After that fellowship, I understood why we really need open geospatial data and how the data can be used to generate solutions to different issues, especially in decision making. That is how I became mature and significantly contributed to the different projects I was involved in.

I have been lucky to have our faculty advisor, Dr. Gaspard Rwanyiziri, who is Director of the Center of GIS and Remote Sensing at the University of Rwanda. He is the one who has shared with me most of the opportunities I have had. As most of the GIS projects are with government institutions here in Rwanda, the Center of GIS and Remote sensing participates. So when he was asked to provide someone who could help, he used to send me, and I would try my chances. Our faculty advisor, Dr. Gaspard Rwanyiziri, recommended me to a company that employed me as their GIS specialist. This company sent me to work in Cote d’Ivoire on a mapping project, and other different projects that I worked on that have the root of being a member of YouthMappers. Many of those projects have sufficiently brought solutions to the community in Rwanda and abroad.

Some of the best projects that brought changes to the community and in decision making through my inputs are Zero Malaria for Rwanda. A project that took place in Kigali Rwanda with the aim of eliminating malaria mosquitoes from their source. And The Real Assets of CI Palm Farmers, a project that was aimed at digitizing the agricultural information of all industrial palm farmers in Cote d’Ivoire to boost their agricultural productivity and possibilities in financing.

In 2020 I used OpenStreetMap and Kobo collect, the geospatial technology that I learned from YouthMappers, in the process of eliminating malaria in the areas around Kigali wetlands. The area is used for rice plantations. The work was done in partnership with Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC). In this process, the idea was to access the effectiveness of using Bti (Bti is short for Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis). The product contains spores that produce toxins that specifically target and only affect the larvae of the mosquito, blackfly, and fungus for mosquito control in Rwanda. I used geospatial technology to identify where to spray this Bti for precision targeting of mosquito larva and adult ones in rice plantations. I used the same technology for collecting the geographical coordinates used for monitoring the effectiveness of the product. In this exercise, we sprayed the product in the rice plantations, but we had to make a strong and provable monitoring system to show that the mosquito larva reduced in the area. I had to identify the points on which we will always come and take samples for laboratory analysis. The process was done for 6 months where we sprayed once a week and kept monitoring the same coordinates. This process reduced the rate of malaria in this area from 64.2% to 11.6% in 6 months.

The images and maps are samples of the work done during planning, mapping, implementation, and monitoring.

In 2021 I went to Cote d’Ivoire to help the farmers increase the production of oil palm plantations in different provinces of the country where these particular plants are located. The idea was to use aerial images to map and count the number of trees for each farmer and calculate the area in hectares occupied by the farmer. Then to digitize the available information and add the updated ones. The geodatabase was accompanied by the non-spatial information that had to complement the geospatial data collected by surveys and special analysis. The mapping of all palm farms and related information helped to understand the quantity of palms in the zone and to estimate the production. The digitized farming has helped the farmers to have access to financing as the possibility of bank loans where possible. I couldn’t have made it if I had no skills from YouthMappers of using Kobo collect for collecting spatial and non-special data and OSM for administrative information. The project was very complex and needed different data about the country. OpenStreetMap helped me to get data of roads and villages that I couldn’t find any other way.

The images and maps showing the work done in the process of digitizing farming information.

The YouthMappers from Cote d’Ivoire helped me in getting the geospatial data used for this work. I have seen that when you are connected to YouthMappers, you have the world in your hands. Living in foreign countries is not easy; most of the time, you feel lonely as it takes time to be familiar with the new conditions. Since I joined YouthMappers, I got the opportunity to be connected to many people from different countries. The day I arrived in Cote d’Ivoire I had many YouthMappers friends from there. They were like family. They really made me feel at home, which helped me to focus on my work. Having skills is good but having a network is much better. Nothing is better than having a network of people for whom you have the same feelings and commitments. Currently, I have at least friends in more than 60 countries all over the world. This is a privilege that I couldn’t have if I had never joined YouthMappers. I thank the OpenStreetMap community for the work done for us to get free data and YouthMappers for making me who I am in terms of geospatial technology.


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