Community Mappers in Redlands Fight Female Genital Mutilation in Africa

This is the first year that the University of Redlands is home to a chapter of Youth Mappers.  Youth Mappers is an organization that appears on 120 campuses nationwide. They connect eager volunteers with opportunities that involve Geographic Information System).    


Satellite photography of our earth is turned into 3D maps you interact with on the computer. The programs that allow you to label, define, and investigate these maps are Geographic Information Systems.


The Mappathon was welcome to all levels of GIS experience,  a broader theme throughout the Redlands chapter of Youth Mappers.


“Youth Mappers is aimed at anyone, in any field, that has an interest in being involved with humanitarian relief as well as community assistance”, said Co-President Kait Driessnack ‘19. “We use OpenStreetMap, a simple to use, open source platform. It allows our users to access datasets from all over the world”   


This mapathon focused on rural Uganda and Tanzania. Students showed up to Lewis 102, grabbed some complimentary Taco Shack tacos and sat down at a computer. Each participant received a packet of instructions for logging onto a terminal and on accessing the GIS maps.


This specific mapathon was aimed at helping humanitarian workers in Africa prevent Female Genital Mutilation. FGM is a non-medical process where a woman’s clitoris is removed. Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.  


There are safe houses in these rural villages that rescue girls about to receive a “cutting”, as it is called. But finding these women by car means driving in unmapped areas of land. The villages themselves might not even be labeled on a map. The volunteers at Friday’s mapathon showed up to help change this.


Users identify landmarks on their copy of the images, then uploaded their work to a global database. These databases are then organized onto maps that humanitarian workers in rural Uganda and Tanzania access on smartphones, laptops, etc.


In situations of extreme urgency, access to a detailed map can help an ambulance get somewhere faster in a big city, or humanitarian aid workers rescue a girl from a rural village in Africa.


Photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer Carlo Mando