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  • Letwin Pondo

My participation in the 2023 YouthMappers Leadership Fellows Summit!

This blog post originally appeared on Letwin Pondo's OSM Diary on 9 February 2023.

This year started on a high note for all YouthMappers selected for the 2023 YouthMappers Leadership Fellows Summit in Montego Bay, Jamaica. YouthMappers from different parts of the globe embarked on a very exciting trip to Jamaica, I was one of them representing my mother country Zimbabwe. I boarded from Lagos, Nigeria and calculating the hours and days to get to Montego Bay kept me in suspense and some kind of curiosity. I traveled with YouthMappers from various states of Nigeria, it made the trip exciting and fun. The joy of meeting someone new, someone who’s passionate about the same things you are also into, exchanging those big smiles and hugs made it worthwhile. So I’d say my summit experience commenced the instant I met my first Summit mates and trip mates!

We took the 12 hour flight to Addis Ababa, I was busy counting down the hours and the transit countries. My joy is Jamaica, so whatever country, however beautiful I had a goal. Ethiopia became more fun at the airport as we were joined by other fellows from Tanzania and Republic of Congo. You know meeting someone new for the very first time sometimes can be difficult I know but I don’t think it was for me. Before the summit, I reached out to my fellow OSM community members from different countries I knew would be attending the summit, so from there I had the information and the confidence and details about who is who about most of the fellows. This started working when the Tanzanians came into the picture. I knew there would be Emmanuel Richard Mahe from JUCO YouthMappers and it was exactly 3 days after his birthday! So I had a starting point - credit to Erick Tamba, Regional Ambassador for Tanzania, on this one. This is how easy it was for me to make friends.

From Ethiopia we headed to Brazil, another 12 hours. Now I was exhausted, but the joy of what was awaiting us kept me strong. There we were joined by fellows from Sierra Leone. Trust me it was getting more and more interesting. This time someone won over me, c’mon Tommy Charles; it’s a story for another day. The next day we flew to Panama, and from Panama City to Kingston. The joy was doubling now though my body was weak and more exhausted I kept on. It was amazing meeting Rhys Stewart in Kingston – first time after the State of the Map Italy, friends for keeps. Ooh I thought we were there already, the revelation of the 3 hours to Montego Bay left me weak, as we took the bus to the hotel, I fell asleep.

Screams, claps, shouts, noise……what is happening? The noise woke me up. We were in Montego Bay, we had arrived at the Hilton Rose Hotel. I couldn’t tell what was exactly going on, but I just grabbed my bags and came out of the bus. Yes, celebrations and hugs welcomed us as Patricia would put it, “I tried hugging you when you came off the bus but you were like, I am a zombie!” I was so tired and sleepy to realize what was exactly going on. I remember a group of people cheering us as we got off the bus one by one but I didn’t see any face. Things started making sense when we were at the check in desk; slowly I started remembering and smiling – Feye Andal (my mapping partner on MerginMaps from SotM Italy, a sweet friend) and Zola Manyungwa were the first people I talked to when the zombieness began to wear off. Checked in, accompanied to my room, bath, dinner and the day was done.

A great shout out to two super ladies; Marcela Zeballos and Sophia Butler. Honestly my mind keeps telling me they never slept from December to this day. I am imagining coordinating 50+ students coming from different parts of the world, at one point the stress from the Airlines, the frequent updates, the complains, the frustrations but they pulled through and made it happen for us. I cannot speak for everyone but from myself alone I sincerely appreciate their relentless efforts, their patience, hard work and commitment just for us to see that day. Thumbs up a million!

The Summit ran on 3 super-amazing themes:

  1. Promoting Equity and Inclusion

  2. Activating Youth Leadership and,

  3. Mapping for Climate Resilience

Sessions were already ongoing and the circle was finally completed – the energy, the smiles, the networks, the food, the beautiful Atlantic Ocean view all intertwined to build an incredible experience. I started from the Kobo and Mapillary mapping with Laura Mugeha, Carrie Stokes, Caitlin Milne, Carolina Estefania Garcia Mancero, and Isaac Kingsley Arthur-Gaisie then followed the Drone session in the afternoon. Of course, I flew a drone for the first time! You can imagine the excitement. In all aspects, walking into someone, exchanging smiles, starting a conversation and getting along all made me feel complete. Nagging and catching up with the old faces also made it easier to maneuver through the crowd – Laura, Zola, Feye, Ndapile Mkuwu, Maxwell Owusu, Chad Blevins. All sessions were immeasurably incredible – I can’t say much other than that the Summit was rich with sessions from carefully selected experts, interactions with the greatest mentors, experience sharing from different parts of the world and most of all networking.

I will only highlight 3 sessions from the summit, else I will put the whole Summit in words here;

**One of the Summit themes – Promoting equity and inclusion (Laura Mugeha, Adele Birkenes, Nuala Cowan)

As I reflected upon a time I felt excluded, tears filled my eyes and I raised my hand at instance to share my experiences. It hurts, it comes with regret, discomfort, loneliness, low self esteem, fear you can name them. From all those reflections we reached a conclusion that we all want to be included; set aside race, color, communication barrier, sex, age, wealth etc. Everyone deserves a sense of being included and that’s exactly how our chapters should be like.

**Your mentoring networks by Dr. Patricia Solis

First of all you do self introspection, identify which areas exactly you need mentoring. We all do not need the same type mentorship and even if we do; we need the mentors for totally different reasons. From the 3 people who indicated they needed a role model; what they meant, what they need, their expectations and where they want to end up is totally different. So next you identify the various people who fall under the category of mentorship you need, if they are already in your network - easy; if not, you need to reach out and reaching out in a humble, productive, professional way. You don’t stay a mentee forever, at some point you need to grow, and mentor others as well – it’s professional to end a mentorship but never cut the connection.

**Internships tips and advice by Chad Blevins

I will hit the hammer on the nail; I have never been interviewed, I have never been in an interview and I am so scared of it. It is easy listening to the tips and compiling your resume but the greatest struggle for me is the formal session. We were actually supposed to be interviewed and recorded for future reference after the tips, but Laura Mugeha and Lydia Letaru took it upon themselves to take me from the basics – the beauty of the fellowship summit.

Another interesting moment was watching the documentary. I know I had watched it more than 3 times already since it was published but watching it with the fellows, getting to now recognize the majority of the faces there made it lit. This was backed up by a surprise gift (my first greatest gift of the year) - The Open Mapping Towards Sustainable Development Goals copy for everyone. The feedback presentations also spiced up the last days of the summit – from the thematic groups and regions of origin. We ended the summit with an awards and celebration evening; the joy of completing this our journey together, the tears, the photos, the goodbyes...

Thanks to YouthMappers I have new friends all over the globe, name a country and I will give you a name or even more!

Some catch phrases from the Summit:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Life is a team sport, so is open mapping

Let your hopes not your fears shape your future

Define your world by mapping it!

This blog post originally appeared on Letwin Pondo's OSM Diary on 9 February 2023.

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