A marathon that changed my life…

Pedro takes us on the journey that has seen him become a volunteer contributor

One of my favourite hobbies is running. I like to run marathons and felt that it did me good. However, over time (and in my native Portugal), I have come to realise that amateur athletes are increasingly trying to be professional runners. With this, the feeling of help and availability to others is less. I have watched a lot of athletes who get hurt or feel bad in amateur racing and almost no one helps because it doesn’t improve their personal records!

I participated in the Athens marathon, and had a muscle break at km 15. Another athlete realised my suffering in continuing the race and decided to “abdicate” his personal record to accompany me. He didn’t know me but he did this for me. Throughout the race he told me that each marathon has a history, and this is the medal that is important. Not how fast you run, but the good you can do.

It opened my horizons. From that day, I decided that I could be like him myself. No matter how fast I run, how much money I make, or food I have, there are people around the world who have none of this. Then I started thinking about what I could do to help the world. The first thing I did was open the UN Volunteers website. I saw what I could contribute and shortly after I arrived at the Tanzania Development Trust. I started mapping and giving up some time spent marathon training to help those in need and at risk of FGM. My goal is now!

Find out more here about how you can also become a volunteer contributor from anywhere in the world.

Pedro is a keen marathon runner and now volunteers for Crowd2Map
Pedro is a keen marathon runner and also finds time to volunteer for Crowd2Map.

Missing Maps is 5

When I first realised the need for maps in Tanzania 4 years ago and started Crowd2Map I had not heard of Missing Maps. However about 3 months in I came across the very active and friendly London group which I have been attending fortnightly ever since, and their support and advice has been invaluable.  This week Missing Maps turned 5, a time of reflection for the founders including Ivan Gayton.

He originally envisioned it as a finite endeavour that shouldn’t last more than 4 years, and states “The idea was: what if instead of relying on media coverage of crises to generate volunteer engagement to map after disasters had already struck, we used the power of humanitarian movements to build a community to map the homes of vulnerable people before disasters?

In Haiti in 2010, using OpenStreetMap data was an interesting new idea, practiced by a couple of innovators alongside the “proper, professional GIS” being done by the cluster coordination. By the time Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, OpenStreetMap was at least co-equal with the closed data. In the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014 open, community-generated map data was unquestionably the dominant source of geographical information. Open map data is now the default for humanitarian and crisis response.

So why didn’t we declare victory and move on? Why do we still need the Missing Maps? Because what I had originally seen as success turned out to be no more than a starting point. I had failed to anticipate the range of uses for open map data. I was focused on patient origins and spatial epidemiology—still critically important but not the only impactful use—and did not realize the importance and possibilities of locally-driven field mapping. The remote volunteering and mapathons, which attracted a startlingly diverse and extraordinarily passionate volunteer community, have now largely accomplished the original goal of creating the base-map vector features in some places. There’s more to be done, to be sure, but the key gap in many places is no longer digitization, its local knowledge and ways to operationalize the data.

The ultimate goal of humanitarian action is to save life, alleviate suffering, and restore dignity. Mappers cannot claim to save lives directly; if we are to have an impact it is by facilitating those who are saving lives (or helping themselves). To reach its full potential, the Missing Maps must not only provide basemap data, but to enrich them with local knowledge and see that the maps are put to use.

I now see three phases of Missing Maps action:

1) Create a base layer of vector data across the most vulnerable areas of the globe using digital volunteers

2) Infuse local knowledge into the map using field mapping campaigns in collaboration with local people (the most critical local knowledge being local place-names, landmarks, and administrative divisions—without which we cannot disambiguate locations described by people in their own words).

3) Actively partner with people working to save lives, alleviate suffering, and restore dignity to make them more effective using our data, skills, and knowledge.

The Missing Maps has basically succeeded at phase one in many places. Phase two is in progress; many of us are increasingly engaged in work with local communities to add the local information to the map that makes it useful and relevant to people working in these contexts. Phase three has, in my view, not yet even properly begun. Sure, a few well-funded agencies have better GIS support as a result of the Missing Maps, and there are sporadic uses of Missing Maps data arising spontaneously here and there throughout the humanitarian field, but humanitarian action and crisis response are still nowhere near achieving the additional effectiveness that a truly inclusive global community of mapping practice could provide.

For example, in the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, patient origins are still poorly understood. This is not even to speak of the colossal gap in disease surveillance throughout the low-income world, the lack of accurate demographic data for public health and services, the desperate lack of transparency in land titles, or the difficulty in navigating the more or less informal settlements that one-quarter of humanity live in. The Missing Maps should be saving and improving many more lives. It can do so once we are working directly with people on the front lines, understanding their problems and constraints, and working with them to operationalize map data.

There are hundreds of thousands of health centres in Africa awaiting the support needed to properly understand their patients’ origins and act upon them to reduce disease burdens. There are aid agencies, civil servants, private businesses, taxi drivers, public health ministries, environmental activists, scientists, farmers, and pizza delivery bicyclists waiting for our help (in some cases whether they know it or not). The Missing Maps must become much more than a digital volunteer community, it must become an inclusive global movement to empower all of the things that save and improve lives.

Finally, maps themselves can in some small way contribute to human dignity. To be on a map is to be acknowledged, is to be known, is to be recognised, is to be counted. It is for the world to know that you are there and that you have needs, that you have rights, and that you must not be forgotten or passed over. This requires more than a nice map on the Web made by digital volunteers and aid agencies, it requires working together with the inhabitants of the previously neglected places in the world. Five years in, the Missing Maps has seen success beyond our wildest dreams. But it turns out the work is just beginning, and we must go beyond our original digital volunteering mandate to achieve our full potential. Let’s get to it, shall we?”

Thank you to Ivan for expressing the rationale behind Crowd2Map so clearly.  We want to partner with anyone interested in mapping for development in Tanzania and beyond – so if you any suggestions please do get in touch. 

Circling the World with OpenStreetMap

Imagine that you are able to look down from a great height, over any region of the world, and view villages and farms in great detail. You might see, for example, what appears to be a well-trod footpath that bypasses a shed or a goat pen, or a building tagged as a school but with no playground or soccer field.  You see no paved roads or sidewalks.  What would it be like to exist in this world that you are viewing? 

Mapping on OpenStreetMap (OSM) offers a challenge.  But anyone who has experienced it can testify to how it magically takes us to unfamiliar corners of the world to peer into remote towns and villages.  It offers us a view into the lives of people who not only look different from ourselves but who might also be living on the edge of starvation.  In a humanitarian context, the experience of mapping can be transformational, especially when used to help at-risk populations, such as the young women of Tanzania.    

Mapping to End Female Genital Mutilation

Although the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) remains illegal in Tanzania, many young Tanzanian females, especially those living in remote regions of the country, are subjected to this practice.  This past September, Janet Chapman gave a presentation at the State of the Map (SOTM) Conference in Heidelberg, Germany, on the progress being made on Crowd2MapTanzania

One of Crowd2Map’s primary goals is to protect girls against FGM, and the initiative has made remarkable progress.  Nearly 12,000 volunteers around the world have already added 3.6 million buildings to OpenStreetMap (OSM), using satellite images to trace buildings.  These remote volunteers access the Slack Channel, which now has 3,000 members, to ask questions or receive feedback.  On the ground in Tanzania, over 1,600 activists use smart phones to add villages, schools, hospitals, clinics, offices, shops, churches, and safe houses to the OSM maps.  

As a Trustee of Tanzania Development Trust and its Communications Manager, Janet has been spending at least two months a year in Tanzania for the last six years. From her time on the ground, it was clear to her that mapping was badly needed.  So, in November 2015, she founded Crowd2Map Tanzania to protect Tanzanian girls from FGM but also to promote community development.

Past efforts to provide protection and support to girls at risk of FGM have always been greatly “hindered by lack of mapping,” Janet noted, and that lack has made regional travel difficult.  “Without maps, young Tanzanian girls cannot find safe houses, and sanctuary from FGM practices. And safe house staff members and police officers cannot find girls at risk for FGM.”

One of the principal activists on the ground in Tanzania is Rhobi Samwelly, who set up the Mugumu Safe House, where girls can find safety and support.  Rhobi herself could have died from FGM.  “When she was cut at the age of 13, Rhobi almost bled to death,” Janet told her audience in Heidelberg. “Her girlfriend had been cut and she died, and her body was left in bushes surrounding the village.” 

Because it is illegal, the practice of cutting is largely performed without medical personnel present. Rhobi’s ultimate goal is to place an activist in all villages, so that the village activist can become someone girls at risk will turn to for protection and transport to a safe house.   For further information about FGM, see 28toomany.org/country/tanzania.

State of the Map (Heidekberg 2019)

Like other 2nd generation World Wide Web tools, OSM draws much of its influence from community participation around the globe.  Representatives from humanitarian, recreational, governmental, and academic attended the 2019 State of the Map Conference in Heidelberg to present their work and share their concerns.

“I’ve been involved in the OSM community for four years now,” reports Janet Chapman, and it was fantastic to meet up with people in Heidelberg who I generally only see once a year at such events and find out how their work is progressing. 

 “Plus, I had the opportunity to meet new people who are also doing amazing things, she added.  “One of the projects we are most interested in is the use of machine learning to speed up the mapping process.  We have already set up some pilot projects and are excited about the results.  We will start rolling this out soon, on wider basis.”

Before exploring how machine learning, (a type of artificial intelligence based on patterns and inference, using algorithms and statistical models) will transform mapping, let’s briefly review some of the numerous OSM mapping projects presented at the SOTM Conference.


Those interested in urban and touring biking had excellent opportunities to connect, learn, and share concerns.  For instance, a group of activists from Medellin, Columbia, shared their work on mapping the cities of the Aburrá Valley, with Medellin as a core city. Drawn in part from the GEOLab Research group at the University of Antioquia, these cycling activists are using OSM to map existing infrastructure and provide visualization of safety data (including air quality), with the goal of making cycling safer and more attractive.

Likewise, representatives from Nomad Maps talked about their goal of creating a community of “NomadMappers” in Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. They will map on both OSM and Mapillary in order to assist cyclists in their travels across the Andes Mountains.    

Members of CyclOSM presented their cycling render of Paris, which built on the excellent quality of OSM’s Paris data.  Their work differentiates bidirectional ways and dedicated lanes versus shared lanes (bike lanes are often indistinguishable from car lanes), and also pinpoints bumps and bike boxes. 

Indoor and Outdoor Walkways

Mapping pedestrian walkways and paths presents challenges. Hikar, an augmented reality app for Android, is experimenting with the use of augmented reality in conjunction with OSM.  Once restricted to England and Wales, Hikar now covers Europe and shows distance and direction. 

On-the-ground navigation for those with mobility impairments, presents a different sort of challenge.  In England, the Stockport Council initiated the ‘Mapping Mobility Stockport’ project to address navigation barriers to individuals with vision impairments or wheelchairs.  They collaborated with community members to develop strategies for negotiating such barriers, thus transforming the project into a share community effort. 

The French railway company SNCF has created a dedicated routing engine to navigate indoors and outdoors at 83 train stations in Paris.  SNCF has also incorporated landmarks (replacing certain written instructions) onto their railway station maps.           

Public Transportation

SNCF has adapted GraphHopper, used primarily for graph-based car, pedestrian, and bike navigation, to work with OSM rail data.  SNCF calls their initiative OpenRailRouting, and it has resulted in upgraded services, such as delay calculations, tunnel positioning, and distance calculation.  

In Norway, Entur maintains a national registry of data for 60 public transportation operators, using OSM as a foundation for routing.  Entur plans to broaden its scope to all of Europe and will continue to build on its use of OSM, OpenTripPlanner, and other open-source platforms to do so. 

Community Development and Disaster Preparedness

In central Scotland, the Falkirk Council used OSM to create Our Falkirk.  Poverty estimates run as high as 25% in Falkirk, and their map-based tool provides information to the community on local services that provide social support, food supplies, financial advice, and digital access.

OSM is being used to determining the need for bridge infrastructure in the Kingdom of eSwatini.  To determine the need for additional bridges, the region’s baseline accessibility (to a bridge) is compared to its accessibility during a flood or rising water levels.  Similarly, OSM is being used in Nepal and in the Philippines, to strengthen disaster preparedness. 

Artificial and learned intelligence Support Each Other on OSM

The inclusion of the Academic track in the annual SOTM Conference provides a look at some interesting research on the effects of mapping on volunteers, using YouthMappers as subjects.  According to Patricia Solis, such research suggests that the humanitarian nature of many mapping tasks often softens the grinding task of learning a new technology, making it a more compelling challenge.  Because humanitarian mapping often awakens volunteers to the ordeals in other people’s lives, the experience itself often leads to more positive outcomes, such as satisfaction or a newly found interest in technology.  Research also indicates that the experience of mapping helps develop valuable geospatial skills in young people, skills may help them land an internship or job offer, according to Patricia Solis and Sushil Rajagopalan.  They indicated that the effects are particularly strong for females.

Equipping a younger generation with geospatial skills, already highly valued in the marketplace, may be greatly enhanced by the expansion of OSM’s functionalities with machine learning.  In July of 2019, Facebook released Map With AI, which is now available to OSM and provides access to Tanzania (as well as Mexico, Nigeria, Uganda, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan). 

Map With AI comes with an AI-powered OSM editing tool called RapiD, which acts as its interface.  Like flipping a switch to turn on the overhead lights, mappers will use RapiD to review the model’s identified navigation patterns of paved and unpaved roads and paths (as opposed to dried up riverbeds) and highlight them on OSM.  The identified, or “predicted,” roads and paths are given a confidence rating, which is expressed as a magenta overlay.  Existing roads show up with a white overlay.

Tested by Facebook and OSM reviewers on 300,000 miles of unmapped roads in Thailand, the Map With AI has been shown to accelerate the process of road mapping. Given the extent of the numerous mapping projects, and the education it is providing in geospatial skills, Facebook’s AI model can only enhance and accelerate OSM’s crowdsourcing work around the globe.

Reflecting on the inspiring ICPD25

ICPD25 in Nairobi was an amazing event and I was extremely proud to run a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) mapathon there on behalf of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 9500 people from 170 countries attended the summit, from heads of state and UN employees to grassroots activists. 

I attended some amazing talks and workshops which included huge declarations from the Kenyan President to end FGM by 2022 and much smaller events. I met with familiar activists I’d spoken to before plus many new people with additional opportunities for collaboration. Some highlights for me included:

·       Rebeca Gyumi talking about her social media campaign against child marriage and FGM in our mapathon

·       Finally meeting Francis from The Network against Female Genital Mutilation (NAFGEM), who was talking at the Human Library about the value of generational dialogues in eliminating FGM

·       Hearing Tony Mwebia talk about his initiative #MenEndFGM and helping many of this group get started with mapping in Kenya

·       Meeting again Laura Mugeha and her colleagues from Women in GIS – doing amazing visualisations on gender – and persuading Laura to do a talk about Crowd2Map at State of the Map Africa, Ivory Coast (November 22-24) 

Plus very many contacts to follow up with. We have a busy few weeks through to the end of 2019 and will be proactively looking to get in touch with our new contacts as we move into 2020.

If you didn’t make it to the mapathon in Nairobi there is more information on the work we do with the support of volunteers around the world, on this site.  There is another online mapathon planned for 1st December and on 3rd December we will hold a mapathon in London, UK.

Map with us in Nairobi this November

We’re excited to bring mapping and our FGM campaign work to a global audience at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 in November. On Thursday 14th we will be running a workshop including a Mapathon which is open to attend to those already registered to the Summit.

2019 marks 25 years since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) agreed a much-needed Programme of Action must be put in place, established by governments from 179 nations. The Programme of Action is an acknowledgement and understanding that reproductive health, women’s empowerment and gender equality form the pathway to sustainable development. This message is important globally and critical for communities across Tanzania and other East African nations and is being explored at the Summit.

Crowd2Map founder Janet Chapman along with Hope for Girls and Women founder Rhobi Samwelly will be delivering a mapping workshop at the Summit to share the impact this volunteer-driven pioneering digital activity is playing on the ground to help protect girls who are at risk of, or who have been through, FGM. With mapping also having been found to have a positive impact beyond FGM, this is an important stage on which to share the significance of the work we do.

Close up of mapping on a phone

We now have contributors from all over the world who are committed to bringing more visual guidance to those trying to reach and rescue vulnerable girls, as well as those wishing to escape challenging situations and beliefs. Tanzanians complete the process adding additional local knowledge and detail to the work delivered from afar.  With our effort in Tanzania proven to have been so successful, we are now keen to extend our mapping work to protect girls and women in communities further afield.

It promises to be an impressive event and we’re grateful and enthused to have this opportunity to bring mapping in front of a wider audience. Whilst there we will also meeting with FGM activists and looking to strengthen and broaden our network by meeting with other delegates.

Those wishing to attend need to be registered. More information about the Nairobi summit can be found at https://www.nairobisummiticpd.org/.

Follow us on social media to get updates on the run up and during the event. If you’re unable to attend the workshop but would like to meet at the Summit, please email j.chapman@tanzdevtrust.org.

Celebrate the 15th OSM anniversary with a mapathon party!

Crowd2Map with a OpenStreetMap is inviting you to join us from every where in the world for a birthday mapathon! On August 10th, 11am GMT, we will celebrate 15 years of OSM, with local mapping parties & online!

Join & support us from wherever you are!

You’re invited to map one of these tasks, although any point added in Tanzania with the tag #TanzaniaDevelopmentTrust or #crowd2map in the 24 hour period from 11am GMT on Saturday 10th August until Sunday 11th August will count.

Volunteers’ contribution in 2019 January – July

The database shows the number of contributions with the #tanzaniadevelopmenttrust and #crowd2map hashtag from January 1 to July 31, 2019. The data is generated with osm-stats from American Red Cross.

Roads Added (km)1080.523504.11
Roads Modified (km)377.11281.36
Buildings Added11126657024
Buildings Modified230036827
Waterways Added (km)71.88183.15
POIs Added165574

Training Village Women and Children Protection Committees with #WomenConnect

We are working with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOTOSM) who were awarded a grant from the USAID WomenConnect programme to train women to better use digital technology to map and empower their communities which we started implementing this week.

mbalibali village map

This involves visiting each of the 78 villages and holding a meeting with the committee members and showing them the map of their village that we had produced in OpenStreetMap.   This was the first time they had ever seen a map of their village and they found them fascinating.  We then showed them Maps.Me so they could see their location, zoom in and out and compare the digital version with the paper one.

We also trained the committee how to use smartphones as most of them had never used one before. They were very impressed by what they can do and loved the content we had downloaded onto sd cards, including Swahili videos about agriculture, FGM and womens’ rights.  We also showed them how to report incidents of gender based violence, GBV, using a form in OpenDataKit on the phone. As access to smartphones is so low in these communities, especially for women, we are leaving one phone per village to be used in the project.  We were able to do this because of a very generous donation from the FOSS4G conference in Dar es Salaam last year who were so impressed by our work.

Female Genital Mutilation and Gender Based Violence more widely are huge problems in Serengeti District, as in much of Tanzania, and are very under reported, particularly in these remote villages.

The Tanzanian government introduced a policy in 2006 that every village should have a protection committee to address this issue at a local level.  Unfortunately this laudable policy was not followed up by funds for dissemination and implementation.  Serengeti District set up committees in every village in June 2018 but since that time they have had no funding to visit the villages to introduce the programme and train the committee on their responsibilities. So we are delighted to be working with them to ensure the committees in Serengeti are trained in their responsibilities and also have the digital tools for the first time to enable them to carry them out.

16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence in Tanzania

Rhobi and the other FGM activists and community mappers in Mara have been very busy as part of 16 days of activism.  This is the 3rd year they have participated in this global event.

They have been promoting their work protecting girls in many villages around Serengeti, in preparation for the upcoming cutting season which will start next week.  You can follow their progress on their Facebook page here.   Their hard work has meant many cutters have now stopped mutilating girls, and the tide is turning.  However they are currently sheltering 178 girls and the numbers are expected to rise substantially next week when the schools have closed, yesterday alone they received the names of 215 girls at risk who need rescuing, so December will be extremely challenging.  If you would like to help them you can do so here.

They are also getting ready to implement a project called WomenConnect in the new year which will train women leaders in every village of Serengeti district in using mobile phone content to improve livelihoods and access to health and education information.

Mapathon at the United Nations

Last week Rhobi was invited to tell her story as an FGM survivor and activist at a high level panel as part of the United  Nations General Assembly in New York.  She spoke movingly about begging her parents not to cut her, as she feared dying and her body being thrown in the bush to be eaten by wild animals, as had happened to her friend Sabina.  But her pleas were in vain and she was cut and nearly bled to death.  She has since dedicated her life to saving other girls from a similar fate.

You can watch a recording of her testimony here.

The following day Rhobi participated in our mapathon at UNFPA where we explained how better maps can help activists like Rhobi quickly find girls at risk of FGM and showed people how they can help to create them.  There were side events in over 60 countries as part of this global FGM event, including at the Ministry of Women in Somalia, and with FGM activists in Kenya, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Uganda, Djibouti and many more.  Together they mapped over 49,000 buildings and almost 7000 km of roads to better protect girls at risk.


At UNFPA Tyler and Rebecca from HOT also explained how maps can be used for many humanitarian purposes.  You can see the presentation here. 

And now Rhobi is in London for the UK premiere of the film about her work, In the name of your daughter.  For those of you near London, Nottingham or Yorkshire I hope you may get the chance to watch it and to meet Rhobi.