State of The Map Tanzania: The power of Mapping

 

The State of The Map Tanzania conference was hosted by Crowd2Map in collaboration with Ramani Hurai, on the 8th to 10th of December 2017, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I arrived at Julius Nyerere International Airport on December 7th, at 22:45. There I was, in the middle of the night, in a country I had never been to. I walked out of the airport and was greeted by a man in a language I do not speak. “I do not speak Swahili” I said. “Oh, where are you going? Do you need a taxi?”. I was introduced to a taxi driver who told me he didn’t know how to get to my destination and he didn’t really speak English. The first thing I thought of was opening the Maps.me application on my phone. I typed in my destination and voila!! there it was. I showed him the directions displayed on my screen and off we went. We didn’t talk much because of the language barrier. I couldn’t understand him, and he couldn’t understand me. But, what we could both do was follow the directions on the screen. A few minutes went by and I was safely at my destination. ‘The power of mapping, right? What would I have done if this location was not added to the map?’, I thought as I walked in to the building where I met other conference attendees.

 

The next morning, we made our way to dLab Tanzania, where the conference was held. The morning started with breakfast and registration. The conference itself started with an introductory session. Conference attendees were from different countries namely: Malawi, Zambia, Germany, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Italy, Canada, United States of America and Tanzania. What really fascinated me was the diverse backgrounds of the people present. Conference attendees included YouthMappers, university students, community mappers, programmers, the U.S. Department of State (PEPFAR Program), researchers, organisations interested in using mapping to overcome different problems, Government officials and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) personnel. It was clear from the start that it was going to be a fruitful gathering.

Different people were given a chance to give lighting talks and highlight the importance of maps in different scenarios. One of the things that stuck in my head throughout the conference was what Mr Ivan Gayton, the HOT Tanzania Country Manager, said during his presentation. He said, “the most important natural resource that a country has is its human resource”. Mr Gayton talked about how he and his team managed to map out Dar es Salaam. ‘Great! and that is how I managed to find my hotel’, I thought. The mapping of the city involved different groups of people including the youth and the community members. The mapping of Dar es Salaam demonstrated how much can be done and achieved if people worked together towards the attainment of one goal. It was amazing. He also presented on the Mini-Grid project that is aiming at mapping villages that do not have electricity, help identify sites appropriate for renewable energy mini-grids and therefore help solar operators move more quickly as they try to provide access to renewable energy to more Tanzanians. It was very interesting to see that Tanzania is using mapping/maps in the efforts of dealing with problems that my country, Malawi, also faces. Raumai Huria spoke about their mapping for flood resilience project. PEPFAR presented on data, the youth and sustainable development. Among other things, the PEPFAR presentation highlighted the involvement of the youth in their campaign to end the HIV/AID epidemic. It’s great to see organisations involving the youth in different projects.

 

There was also a presentation on Kenya’s Map Kibera Trust. From mapping out schools, health centers, clean water sources to working street lamps, the Map Kibera Trust story highlighted the importance of mapping in responding to various social issues. Researchers from Heidelberg University in Germany also delivered an exciting presentation. The two researchers presented on an application called MapSwipe and how the application is making mapping easier. The app allows users to browse through an area that has a task assigned to it and simply click on tiles that have the features of interest i.e. buildings. This then makes it easier for people, participating in a Mapathon for example, to find tiles that have buildings in them instead of opening three or four tiles before finding one that has the feature. It is a brilliant idea. A presentation that stirred debate amongst conference attendees was the presentation on how mapping helps girls from undergoing Female Genital Mutilation. Different people expressed their views regarding FGM and the discussion went on for over fifteen minutes.

 

The United Nations came up with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that most countries are trying to achieve. Laura from Kenya presented on the role of crowd-source mapping and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. She said, “all problems are location based, therefore all solutions are location specific”. Mapping is location specific. She gave examples of different mapping projects/organisations and the Sustainable Development Goals they aim to achieve. Among others, the examples included: the OpenSchoolsKenya project under Map Kibera Trust that aims at attaining Quality Education (SDG 4), PEPFAR projects that work towards Good Health and Well Being (SDG 3), Crowd2Map Tanzania and its work to bring about Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Ramani Huria’s work that aims at bringing about Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). This presentation was of great interest to me because I am a member of the UN volunteer scheme at my college and I think bringing in the aspect of mapping in our work will be great.

 

The conference also allowed attendees to gain and enhance different skills through different workshops. The program was flexible and allowed attendees to choose what they wanted to learn. The organizers also gave room to different people, including the youth, to share their skills with others. Allan Mbabani, a YouthMapper from Uganda, illustrated the use of JOSM and ID Editor. The rest of the YouthMappers were also keen in assisting people, mainly community mappers, who were new to mapping with JOSM and ID Editor. The use of JOSM and ID Editor was not new to me. I however did not know to add features on the map using Maps.me. One of the community mappers took me through the process. It got me thinking about my university and the idea of collaborating with the community to map out areas of interest. There were also sessions on QGIS and KoboToolBox. Workshop facilitators made sure they did not leave anyone behind. Thus, every session was productive. Mr Gayton also presented on drone mapping the need of drones in emergency preparations and the plan to map rural Tanzania using drones.

 

Apart from the lighting talks and workshops, YouthMappers engaged in discussion. As the YouthMappers shared their experiences, it was clear that the Youth are more than willing to contribute to mapping as one way of responding different problems in their society. They are more than willing to learn new skills and use those skills accordingly. However, they have limitations. Some YouthMappers shared the different limitations, some of which included: the lack of smartphones, lack of laptops, the absence of partner organisations, lack of support from faculties and the presence of unreliable internet connection. The conference ended with a football match.The first State of The Map Tanzania conference was a successful event. The organizers did a great job! The different presentations highlighted the importance of mapping. It was clear that indeed, there is power in mapping.

 

 

Zola Manyungwa is a the President of the YouthMappers chapter at the Univeristy of Malawi, Chancellor College, winner of the 2017 Best Blog Award, and a 2017 YouthMappers Leadership Fellow

 

 

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