Archive for March, 2011

So, what am I doing here?

March 30, 2011

Two weeks already. It’s high time to update something.
So, I’m in Kenya for 3 months to support the micro OSM communities that are emerging in the slums of Nairobi; so far Kibera and Mathare.

I would recommend you read about Kibera on wikipedia or hear the Voice; as for Mathare here is the blog of the Valley.

In short, despite being one of the largest and most studied slum, Kibera used to be just a blank spot on the map. Very detailed maps surely exist in the vault of some large international organisation, but  would never be released to the public.
The lack of free data was one of the motivations for starting MapKibera: in November 2009, a team of mappers from all the villages of Kibera were trained to survey their neighbourhood with a GPS and introduced to cartography, that is – edit the data into OpenStreetMap. About a year later, a full base-map was put together.

So, what am I doing here?
Short answer : to second Jamie, Jane and Primož who manage the project.

Long answer: Well, even though the mappers proved to learn a lot – some couldn’t used a computer before joining the project – they’re eager to learn more and want to perfect their skills. One of my roles is to share my experience in OSM and teach them the various tools around OpenStreetMap; from configuring GPS units to printing their own map.

On the other hand, the project has recently expanded to Mathare, and we’re getting another team of mappers up to speed to map the area.

On top of that, we’re starting a new kind of data collection in an effort to address a huge problem in the slums: water and sanitation. Actually, we’re aiming at drawing a map, which would be used to assess the situation and bring

knowledge upon which to take actions. Such data collection includes places of clean waters, where people fetch their water and hazardous waters: the toilets, open sewage/drainage, open defecation areas

Note the proximity of the drain to homes and how likely children are to play in dirty water

Two girls sitting next to an open drain

Surveying the open drains seems particularly difficult, first due to the quantity of drains: they are almost everywhere, along every path. Since there is no _functional_ sewage system, people throw their waste-water out of their door step; I almost got splashed once. It looks like a sewage system was built a long(?) time ago but poorly maintained, if at all maintained in there. Pipes are often clogged, or leaking, which feed the open drains. The second difficulty is that those drains run wild, and can’t always be followed: sometimes they go through fences, houses…

We’ve chosen the village No.10 (yes, villages of the slum are named in numbers, with a special logic) as a pilot area for the Water&Sanitation map and the youths of Mathare have really done a great job at collecting the data in the area. It’s almost done and already looks promising! 🙂

I started my tutorial on Monday with the Kibera folks, starting with the basics like setting up the environment: JOSM + creating an account on OSM. On Tuesday we started to go through the  tagging system of OSM, which seems very confusing for some of them who only use JOSM’s presets. An interesting discussion came up about how the tags that are documented in the OSM wiki are bound to the Western culture and do not always fit the situation in Africa. Looks like I’ll soon get them to write a proposal for tags that are missing 🙂 Today, they were supposed to be on the field collecting data: tracks of paths and some POIs that are not on the map yet (or have changed). Tomorrow, we will have an editing session to process the data they bring back. I’m looking forward to it!

Aside work, it feels great to be in Kenya again. I was here last year for a two-week holiday and I mainly saw rural parts of the country, spending little time in Nairobi. This time is different, for now I’ve stayed in Nairobi. It’s a big city (the biggest city I’ve inhabited) with areas very different from one another. So far, I’ve managed to familiarize myself with Kilimani, which is where I live and the business district in the centre.
It’s very hot, at least for me. I’ve been asked a couple of times if I wasn’t feeling cold simply wearing t-shirt. There were big showers in the evenings of the first few days I arrived, and I thought the rainy season had started, but it doesn’t seem to be the case yet. No rain for a couple of days.

Ok folks, I think that’s all for now. I’ll try to write shorter posts more often, but I lack that sort of discipline. I might post on the mapKibera blog for details of the project. Stay tuned 🙂


Hello world, again!

March 19, 2011

I created this blog about 4 years ago, and never actually posted anything; I guess I had nothing interesting to say.
Seeing the challenges I’m going to tackle, this is about to change! 🙂

I have just joined the MapKibera team and will support them in their work of mapping the slums of Nairobi (Kibera and Mathare so far) for the next three months.

I’ll try to blog “regularly” about the project, technical or not, and stories a mzungu like me is likely to experience in such a new environment. Stay tuned! 🙂