Mapping Our World, Saving Lives with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

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Depicting the world and its attributes via mapping has been one of the greatest tools in solving human and environmental problems. The “Mapping our World: Saving Lives” episode of the AfricaGeoConvo Podcast, examines the world of  mapping and volunteering, with Geoffrey Kateregga. Geoffrey works with the Humanitarian OSM Team as the community Manager, East Africa Hub. He enjoys impacting the world through volunteering and mapping and encourages more local participation.

Volunteering with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

One of the well known benefits of volunteering is impact; impact on the community and the world at large. To volunteer is to transform yourself into a superhero, helping vulnerable communities get the help they need.

Volunteering can also bring about unprecedented opportunities, great networks, and skill acquisition. In this episode of Africa Geoconvo podcast, Geoffrey Kateregga discusses volunteering with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and harnessing the skills garnered for professional and personal development.

         The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to humanitarian response through open data sharing. There are diverse groups of people in the HOT community who are dedicated to the mission of helping those in need through maps. The volunteers, interns, professionals have contributed to projects focusing on gender, transportation, disaster response, disaster risk reduction, clean energy, etc. all over the world – contributing to the achievement of sustainable development goals.


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Screenshot from the Humanitarian OpenStreeMap Team web site.
Screenshot from the Humanitarian OpenStreeMap Team web site. Retrieved 2021-May-26.

There are different ways to volunteer time with HOT – mapping, validating, creating maps, or building open source mapping tools.  

Mapping Volunteers

Mapping volunteers are HOT’s largest volunteer need and they contribute to humanitarian projects by mapping using the OpenStreetMap(OSM) platform. The first step to get started as a mapping volunteer is to sign up on the OpenStreetMap platform, then proceed to learning how to map using free tutorialsreading resources, or joining an online mapathon session, such as the OSM Africa Monthly Mapathon. Mapping your locality and house is a good way to get started.

There are other tasks that require contributions, like the mapping for public response projects, which can be accessed on the tasking manager. The tasking manager shows projects that are available for mapping and gives more information on the type of data to be mapped and imagery to use.

Developer/Programming volunteers

         New and experienced developers can also volunteer to contribute to open source projects.

Starting a Local Community

In Africa, the HOT community has participation from about 20 countries out of the 54 countries with efforts and strategies set to get active contributors in the other 34 countries, and also get to utilize the data in responding to their local needs. With HOT’s audacious project, more engagement with local communities is expected to happen in regions, including East and West Africa.

If you are certain no local community exists in your country, you can get started with a meetup, organizing a team and starting a project that would enable you to harness the OSM tools. “Mapping is interesting when done as a community or in a group, in the form of a mapathon or mapping party, as it prevents lone participation”, says Geoffrey.

To attract more resources or fund any local community project, HOT has a community microgrant program. This program has helped local communities, especially in developing countries, to implement their mapping activities, train mappers, and respond efficiently to their local needs. Local communities including OSM Kenya, OSM DRC, Resilience Mappers from Uganda, iLab Liberia etc have all benefited from this program.

YouthMappers Community

Engaging university students is also a good way to champion the humanitarian course in a country or locality. Youthmappers initiative is a subset of OSM, bringing university students together to participate in mapping. The initiative is made up of over 100 chapters across several universities worldwide.

There are lots of opportunities attached to being a youthmapper member including research fellowshipleadership fellowship, and  fieldwork program. Becoming a member of a youthmapper in your university can also help you gain skills and network. If no chapter exists at your university, apply to join.

Accessing and Using OSM Data 

There are several ways to access OSM data freely for planning and decision making. Geofabrik allows download of derived OSM data, organized by region, for free. The QUICKOSM plugin on QGIS can also help with accessing OSM data that meets your request. OSM implements GIS tools in its activities, hence as a GIS beginner or enthusiast, this is a good way to get started with GIS. The OSM data can be depicted, interpreted and visualized using GIS software. 

The future of volunteering cannot be underestimated. As volunteering is going digital more people are encouraged to participate.

Listen to the full episode here

Other Episodes From the Africa GeoConvo Podcast

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About the Authors

Emmanuel Jolaiya, Olufemi Damilola & Omowonuola Akintola The AfricaGeoconvo Team. Africa GeoConvo is a podcast about geospatial Innovations and people doing great things with geospatial technology in Africa.

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