Just a few days after my arrival in Mauritius, a Facebook message arrived from a friend in South Africa asking me to help him with a Winterdodger project in Lake Sibaya. Four students were coming from a French University to do conservation work to support Lake Sibaya - South Africa's largest freshwater lake. After some research and consideration, I decided to take the plunge. My friend needed someone with mapping experience (& equipment), and I love teaching & couldn't wait to get back to SA! Not a bad combo, and there were also a few safaris to Tembe & St Lucia on the books. After some negotiation on room/board/sleeping arrangements, I was booked and ready to go!
I flew into Durban on Valentine's Day and had a great reunion with an old friend. We had spent 3 months traveling through southern Africa in 2013, and it was wonderful to catch up (there may have been a bit of Windhoek lager and tequila involved as well!). We had a full day before the students arrived, so we explored Durban and planned the next few weeks. As it turned out, this would be the first group of students to arrive for the Save Sibaya project, so there was quite a clean slate! General plan? Map animals, nests, plants, roads, houses, paths - everything, really - in and around Lake Sibaya with the goal of slowing the draining of the lake, saving the remaining wildlife strengthening the community, and protecting the area from further degradation. Part of the area around the lake forms part of the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park, however much of the area remains unprotected. The lake is threatened by development, excessive poaching, and reduction of water levels due to regional consumption. Blue gum trees are a major contributor to this, as they consume 80 to 200 liters of water PER DAY.
The students flew in the next day , and they were very excited to be greeted by the Landie at King Shaka International. They called themselves 'Team Wild Africa', and would spend the next 4 weeks building a comprehensive database of species around Lake Sibaya and also exploring the many national parks and reserves nearby. It was a four hour trek to the 'compound' at Sibaya, so after collecting supplies at the big mall we headed off!
The first week we focused on collecting data on cycads - these ancient plants have a long fossil history, are slow growing, and can be sold for high dollar on the market. Once mapped, these plants can then be protected from poaching. After basic data collection skills were learned, the students began collecting data and GPS locations on everything we could find on our hikes and drives through the area - invasive species, homesteads, bird nests, elephant shrew holes, hippo paths - you name it! There were some challenges, as none of our team speaks French and the students had very little English, but after some hurdles we got our points across! Another reason to work on my French!
The weekends we had quite a few excursions. We did game drives in Tembe Elephant Park, did an overnight and a boat safari in St. Lucia, visited a cheetah rehab facility, did a safari in Mkhuze National Park, and spent time on the beaches around Sodwana Bay. During one of our visits we were fortunate to see a bull elephant crossing the road, but one of the noisier students let out a yell ... in that moment I truly thought we were goners as the elephant peered into my soul and began to trumpet. Afraid does not even begin to describe how I felt! Lucky for us he finally kept going across the road, but we promised to bring duct tape on any further safaris for noisy students! Yes, there are dangers out there... No monkey bites, but I was dinner for a spider this trip, and have a nice new scar souvenir. Lucky for me, I did not host any spider eggs or awake to them crawling out of my leg! Yikes. The tent was scrubbed of webs after that experience!
I only had a month before I had to return to Mauritius for more work with the University, but I was really glad I went. It's such a beautiful region, and I think we have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the area. It was an enlightening beginning for the Save Sibaya Project team, of which I am now honored to be a part. There were many challenges with the programming and lessons learned, but overall it was a success and a positive experience for the students. I believe 2 of them are already planning a return trip to our camp! I fell in love with the camp and the project, and look forward to returning in the fall for more conservation mapping work - this time through South Africa, Mozambique and into Malawi for October. Stay tuned!
If you want to participate in Save Sibaya we are accepting volunteers and donations to help with supplies, camp construction, and work at the community center! Contact me for any additional details on current projects!
Before arriving in Mauritius, the US Embassy passed along the email of an American woman with a Fulbright Scholarship working on community based research and mapping around climate change for one year. Her immediate and enthusiastic response to my message was part of the equation that got me onto that plane. She was already working with a boys school supporting efforts to develop a green roof and opportunities for green learning. I threw out my idea for a MapGirlz workshop and she began putting the wheels in motion. We met a few days after I arrived and we hit it off immediately; perhaps it was because I still had the American 'do it now' attitude that she had missed all those months in Mauritius.
Thus, through her connections my new colleague was able to establish 2 days of workshops with a local girls secondary school. I rented a car and drove north to pick up my colleague, and we traveled together across the island to Roche Noir. It is a small island (approx. 787 square miles), but it was quite a trek! Dogs, trucks, pedestrians, bikes, buses... defensive driving might be the way to go here! We made it to the east, and luckily Simadree State Secondary School was difficult to miss – it is a big pink building on the outskirst of town. With time for lunch, we stopped at Le Pride Snack for some noodles - a great find!
After too many noodles, we approached the pink school to young girls in uniform smiling and waving from the plaza and balconies. We were greeted by the school Principal and shown to the classroom. The students were already seated, but the first two rows were completely empty. I gave the girls a big smile and urged them to move up. After a moments consideration, they obliged. It was the first of two 80-minute sessions where I would be introducing the girls to the world of maps and GIS; no small feat.
There were 23 girls and they happened to be learning about geography and maps in another class, so that set the stage. We had the girl come up and mark their home towns and favorite places in Mauritius on a paper map we hung on the wall. The Principal found this exercise very useful, as he pointed out that many of the girls likely hadn't made it to the southern part of Mauritius. We followed the exercise with an overview of mapping and different applications of GIS, and then introduced Field Papers; a tool that would allow the girls to map offline and in the field. I had asked for a list of each student's home village, and pre-printed the atlas pages them to fill in. We then discussed the importance of the legend and talked a bit about scale. The students were given the mission of mapping 5 different things in their villages and creating their own detailed legends, and we sent them on their way!
One week later we returned for a second lecture and to see what the girls had produced. A few were frantically drawing as I walked in – I guess there are procrastinators in every group! After a short lecture about OpenStreetMap and other open source mapping applications, we broke into two smaller groups to share the maps. I was blown away by the level of detail on some of the maps. One girl quietly approached me, apologizing for not having brought her map because it was "too big". She had done a map of her entire village, but was embarrassed to drag it on the bus to school. We are still tracking down this map - I cannot wait to see it! The session went quickly, and the girls were eager and excited to do more mapping, particularly with OpenStreetMap and GPS units.
Feedback was positive, and the girls discovered some new things about their communities as they looked around with a new perspective. There will now be additional data on the map where nothing existed previously. The teachers present were also excited about the topic, and I hope that we can hold more workshops for Mauritian students in the future. The Field Papers will be uploaded to OpenStreetMap and traced so that the data collected will be visible by everyone in the world. The MapGirlz dream became a brief reality in Mauritius, and I hope it spreads to all corners of the globe!
Prior to my arrival in Mauritius, a contact at the US Embassy suggested I reach out to the Rajiv Gandhi Science Center (RGSC) about mapping and GIS. It was great advice. My emails to the Director and his staff at the RGSC in Port Louis were met with enthusiasm, and I was invited to a meeting promptly upon arrival. It was a nice facility where learning opportunities began in a brilliant front garden and play area. The mission of the cetner is to serve as a provider of non-formal education and popularization of Science and Technology among the population through various media. They hold frequent presentations and take their programs into the community – teaching local people and students how to make sundials or solar cookers, about cell structures, how root systems work, and more.
When I walked into the main offices, I immediately liked the Director of the Center. He was full of positive energy and had an open mind regarding mapping education. During our meeting he invited me to present at the Center to an audience of approximately 200 people. I had two weeks to put together a presentation about open source mapping & GIS for an audience of professors, ministry staff, and high school students. I wanted to appeal to varied interests and skill levels, and hopefully everyone would walk away having learned something new.
The final presentation included a dash of GIS history, applications of GIS, past Boomerang projects, aerial imagery (including balloon mapping, drones and satellite) and data collection.The Chief GIS person within the government also presented about how the technology was being used in Mauritius, adding some local flare. It was my first time presenting to such a large group and I was pretty nervous, but my voice slowly came down an octave & I adjusted to the headset. I even had a bit of fun walking through the audience Bob Barker style to pick on participants for questions and activities. My gadgets got the attention I expected, with many questions about the UAV. I rewarded any answered questions with candy – which at one point led to laughter as I handed an attending policeman a piece of candy and he joked that I would stoop to bribery for audience participation. At the end, there were a few professionals lined up down the aisle waiting to meet me and find out how they could use mapping in their business and industry. I was thankful to RGSC for the opportunity, and am curious to see where it might lead. Hopefully I'll be able to teach some courses there in the coming year, but at least it was very good practice in public speaking!
For many people that travel, regular checkups and health appointments can be difficult to figure out, and very often staying on top of your health means finding emergency care should something go awry. As an American without health insurance, I try to inquire about medical care options wherever I'm traveling. It had been more than a year since I had seen a dentist, so I asked around. I don't know many people who like the dentist, and usually visits in any country are accompanied by tales of terror.... This I was trying to avoid!
There happened to be a dentist 5 minutes down the road, where the manager of the Chez Jacques had gone the previous week without incident. I decided to investigate. I found the small office tucked in the nearby shopping strip, and the receptionist happened to be outside smoking with a neighboring shop owner. She was able to take me for a cleaning the next day. I walked in Tuesday afternoon 10 minutes early with a book, expecting to wait. I was greeted by the dentist and receptionist, and brought directly back. No forms, no fuss, and everything looked clean. After 5 basic questions, I was reclined into the purple chair and the games commenced.
My cleaning began with a metal instrument that sounded like a couple of sharks attempting to chew through a metal roof... The sound was so excruciatingly piercing I thought there might be a pack of dogs waiting outside the office. I guess my teeth needed a cleaning, and he was thorough. After a few minutes I began to feel like a an old Dodge pickup with someone tinkering under the hood. I closed my eyes and thought those happy thoughts...
When that glorious symphony had finished, the sand blasting began! I believe he used baking soda, but it could also have been lemon Ajax. The safety glasses were crucial - the pressure was so high my entire face was covered in powder and droplets of blood by the end. After some major rinsing, the dentist assured me that we weren't quite finished... Reclining slowly back into the antiseptic comfort of that purple chair, he began searching for the English words for what was to come... "You know the volcano rock that floats?" Ahh, let me think ... Pumice? Yes, he was going to polish my teeth with pumice. Hey, why not?
I have to admit, this I kind of enjoyed. It was gritty, but didn't taste too awful - and by the end my teeth felt incredibly clean. I gave it a few more rinses and when he said we were finished, I exited ejector-seat style. I paid my 1800 rupees, we discussed why an American was seeing a dentist in Tamarin, and I was out the door. My teeth were clean, I had been talked through each step with no major harm done, and I saved about $100. The reason to come to Mauritius? Probably not, but I do recommend that every traveler be proactive when it comes to their health and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Ask around for recommendations, check out the office in advance, and make sure you can understand the procedure.
The delay in Paris was due to cyclones in Mauritius but we left around midnight and headed south on our 11 hour journey. Air Mauritius is not in the top 5 for entertainment options, but I did have the opportunity to daydream every time the reel of beautiful Mauritius scenery appeared on screen.
We arrived a few hours later than expected to a gray, rainy day - but it was 50 degrees warmer than Philadelphia... I was not complaining! I was met by a taxi and whisked across the island to my Mauritian home-away-from-home, Guest House Chez Jacques. I noticed some changes along the hour-long journey including a new gas station and a few new developments - buildings grow quickly in Mauritius! I received a warm welcome by Italians #2, 3 &4, and Snow (the dog). It was surreal to be back after one year, but I was excited for the new adventure. It was amazing how many of the locals remembered me from the previous year, and I fell right back into my old routines (which included morning beach visits, mine or roti for lunch, and Mana's or Jacques for dinner!).
Within my first week I managed to set up 2 meetings and reunions with 3 friends I had met the previous year. This may not sound like a lot to busy people, but for Mauritius it was a big deal. These meetings led to bookings to do a presentation at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Center for approximately 200 people and some mapping workshops with high schools on the island - all to happen in the coming weeks! I was also making maps for some clients and preparing for a presentation at the Baltimore Social Innovation Journal Pitch Day, so I spent a great deal of time at my Chez Jacques 'office'. The weather helped my concentration - during the first 10 days we had torrential downpours, and during the next 5 the ocean and river were so brown that swimming was not really an option!
I befriended Italian #3, a kite surfer, so on those rare sunny days I joined her at Le Morne peninsula, a popular kite destination and a World Heritage Site at the southwestern tip of the island. It is a gorgeous spot with a dark history. The peninsula was notorious in the early 19th century as a refuge for runaway slaves. After the abolition of slavery in Mauritius, on 1 February 1835 a police expedition traveled there to inform the slaves that they had been freed. However, the purpose of the expedition was misunderstood and the slaves jumped to their deaths from the rock. Since then the date is celebrated by Mauritian creoles as the Commemoration of the Abolition of Slavery.
We also enjoyed Cavadee during this time. Thaipoosam cavadee is a festival celebrated by Mauritians whose ancestors originated from Tamil Nadu, India. Devotees to the cult of Muruga, accompanied by relatives and friends, will gather near river banks for the ablution rituals. Dressed in fuchsia cloth, they will join the officiating priest in prayers and mantra-chanting. Fruits, incense sticks, rose water, milk and clarified butter are offered as oblations around sacrificial fires for self-purification and sanctifying the kavadis. Kavadis are arched bamboo structures supported by wooden rods and richly decorated with fragrant flowers, coconut tree leaves, lime and peacock feathers, and are carried or dragged by each devotee to the temple. Many people offer their flesh to the 'vels' (sharp needles) or pikes that pierce through their cheeks, forehead, or tongue and commits them to silence and honors Lord Muruga.
This year Italian #3 and I joined 2 Hindu neighbors for the event, so we entered temple and also received the warm milk offering which is poured into your hands and consumed. Afterwards we shared in the festivities and were given rice and veggies on palm leaves along with a delicious fruit beverage. Everyone was welcome to the festival and we could have enjoyed the full day, but I had a presentation to prepare for... MapGirlz Mauritius was to debut the following day!
After a wonderful send off at EWR I was on my way. The trip to Mauritius was going to be a much longer one than my previous visit, which was only 4 hours from South Africa. First I would fly 7.5 hours to Paris CDG, then a 12 hour layover until my 11.5 hour flight down to MRU. Here we go!
The first leg was fairly painless despite my lack of sleep. Even after a glass of wine and a bad movie, I was still playing the contortionist passenger game and flipping myself every which way to find a suitable sleeping posture. I arrived bleary-eyed in Paris at 7am and confirmed my flight to Mauritius would depart at 7pm that night. With plenty of time, I decided to leave the airport and explore the city. With the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo a few days prior I was a bit nervous to reenter Paris security with my drone and all of my other equipment, so I stashed everything in a locker and went out to cure my cabin fever & satisfy my craving for authentic Camembert.
The city was just waking up as I popped out of the Metro at Chatelet on the Seine. Having toured Paris previously, I decided to skip the Eiffel Tower and try my hand at the Louvre. It was freezing rain and I hadn't packed for winter, so indoor activities were crucial to this outing! After sourcing a consignment shop for a warm hat and an extra layer, I was ready to brave the Parisian winter. To my dismay, it seemed as if most of Paris' tourists also wanted to visit Ms. Lisa that day... it was a mad house. The bitter cold and wind abusing the square motivated me to make Plan B - the Picasso Museum. It was quite a long walk, so a stop for espresso and croissant were integral to completion of the mission. Revived and thawed, I wandered the quaint streets and eventually found the museum where I spent a nice afternoon with one of my favorite artists. It is a beautiful museum, with delicate architecture, a fluid layout, and of course, plenty of art to keep me entranced for hours. By the time I emerged it was nearing sunset, so my quest for cheese was accelerated. I got very lucky and caught the vendor of a small shop just prior to closing time. I procured quite a few delicacies to share with my Mauritian friends, and was off to CDG via St. Michel and the giant Christmas tree.
Security was light, which in the past has meant (for me at least) a bit more scrutiny. The drone drew no questions, but I was stripped of my Camembert treasure. No soft cheeses allowed?! The disappointment must have been obvious, because the sympathetic agent allowed me to at least try a chunk of that delectable cheese on my still-warm baguette before moving on. Ahh, protocol... As it turned out, I should have hung out much longer at security and finished that wheel, as my flight was delayed until 11pm. Instead, I curled up on my bag for a little nap. Boarding time eventually came, and I was off once again in the direction of summer...
After a wonderful July in Baltimore, it was time to find my next home. A friend in Philadelphia was going to be away during August and kindly offered her apartment. I was always curious about a life in Philly, so I packed up and headed north for a new adventure. I was familiar with the city having grown up 1 hour west, but was excited to experience life as a resident. A month in the 'big city' would be the perfect test.
I had no Philly clients, but within a few weeks I was offered short-term consulting work with a local non-profit. The position would mean a 3 month commitment - it had been a long time since I stayed in one place that long! But it was a great opportunity and the work sounded interesting. It would also enable me to work on a few other project ideas that had been brewing over the past few months. My friend agreed to having me around for a bit longer, so I decided to give it a shot and settled in.
It was a roller coaster transition. There were the wonderful things - reuniting with old friends, time with family, planning meals, geo-meetups, delicious craft beer, live music, and creature comforts like a french press and my own sheets. It was fun exploring Philadelphia, and it is a great city with much to offer - history, cobblestones, music venues, pop-up parks & beer gardens, yoga classes, art museums, the wonderful bike path along the Schuylkill River, new friends, train rides to my father's house, weekend festivals, & to ring in 2015 there was Mummers! It is a bikeable city with plenty of culinary offerings, and even 'bad' pizza isn't pretty darn good! Philadelphia is also accessible to the other east coast cities, and Baltimore was just a train ride or a Greyhound away.
Before I knew it, August became December, and my stay crept from 3 to 5 months. It was a new world - I was commuting to an office, developing a routine, making plans, and having friends and relatives ask questions about my future, weekend, work day, love life... I also came to realize that while I was traveling many of the people I love had moved onto a different stage of their lives. Weddings, engagements, baby showers, house-warming parties... there were many wonderful occasions, and I was grateful to celebrate with others. But these events also reinforced that I was becoming an exception. A single woman in her thirties without kids, pets, or a permanent address... I realized how much pressure we can put on ourselves to adhere to a certain lifestyle and follow societal norms. It was overwhelming at times. I don't even stay put long enough to have a house plant! I began to question things and to rely on the feedback loop. The confidence I gained and independence I cherished during my travels began to waiver. I missed meeting fellow travelers, trying mystery street food, being incognito, not understanding the language, and the excitement travel brings. I also missed warm weather - this was my first taste of winter in 2 years. Snow bird, I understand! When I hesitated to leave Philadelphia and follow some leads in Mauritius, I knew it was time to go. I needed to renew my faith in my own decisions, and continue to live my life the way that makes me happy and fuels my passion and love for the world.
My time in Philly reminded me of the reasons I travel and the relationships I cherish. I am grateful for amazing friends and family, and wouldn't be where I am now without their love and support. I had time and space to reflect on my travels and lessons learned. I was reminded to keep listening no matter where you are, and to find wonder in each day. In the end, do we ever truly know what tomorrow brings? What our partner, children, friends, or family will wake up thinking? If our job will be there in 6 months? If our health will? It is all the great unknown, and we can pay the final price only for ourselves. A wise friend told me that every day is a gift. I am grateful for each day, and believe that the beauty lies in how each of us choose to use that gift.
Today, I choose to find out why Mauritius beckons...
The deadline was nearing, and I applied on a whim. I simply wanted to learn more. I had never been to State of the Map, but I continued to meet interesting people using OpenStreetMap to do great things. Having used my conference budget for the trip to FOSS4G in Portland, I considered that it for 2014. I was wrong. In October I learned I was chosen for one of the OpenStreetMap US scholarships. I was honored and excited to attend the 8th international State of the Map, and the first one in South America. Arrangements were made quickly - I couldn't wait to see what people were doing with OSM in the southern hemisphere.
I flew in a couple of days early to meet up with a friend and explore the city. The jacarandas were blooming and the excitement for spring was palpable. I had changed seasons over night! My friend met me at the airport and escorted me through the crazy BA traffic back to the city. We walked around San Telmo where I found an inexpensive hostel ($10/night) for the first part of the trip. Over the next few days I got to know the city, found a few great cafes, explore the markets, and practiced my Spanish. It was easy to get around and pretty friendly considering there are approximately 3 million inhabitants. Taxis are available, but the subway system is efficient (but crowded), and there is also an inexpensive shuttle to the airport.
During the conference I moved into an AirBNB apartment near the venue, a gorgeous building - Centro Argentino de Ingenieros - just off of the major arterial Av. 9 de Julio. It was a three day program that began around 10am - the later start making more sense after that first day! It was a small conference, which allowed for easy networking and a real feeling of community. There was a wide geographic representation, but not too many women in attendance (perhaps 10-15). Presentations were given in both English and Spanish, and in some sessions there was a parallel track. A favorite presentation was given by Fernando Raffo, who led a workshop with youth to put Rio Chico, a rural town in Argentina, into OpenStreetMap. The students came and spoke about the experience, and it was translated into English as well. Another standout was a presentation by Digital Democracy about the creation of an offline mapping stack based on iDEditor for use by indigenous communities in the Amazon rain forest to map their territory and resources. Bikestorming, Mapillary, and Mapazonia are also efforts I learned about that I would love to support through education and consulting. I signed up to present a lightening talk, but unfortunately was last on the list and we ran out of time... A disappointment, but perhaps at the next one!
The conference organizers put in a great effort, and did a good job despite a few hurdles. There were social events each day after the conference, and in Buenos Aires people stay up quite late! Group dinner could easily turn into a night at the tango club or seeing live music. One night a group of us ended up at Niceto in Palermo. When I heard 'club', I imagined fog machines and high intensity, but I was pleasantly surprised. The band was amazing and the crowd was delightful. Another night a group ended up doing tango, and the final day some attendees had a code sprint and bike ride. People were excited to be a part of the event, which created a positive vibe throughout the week.
I did not sample the local beef, but I heard rave reviews. The malbec and alfajore combo, however, was delicious! It was well worth the 6 day trip - I made many new connections, learned more about the positive impacts of OSM around the world, and walked away with inspiration and 'spring' in my step ;)
Couldn't make it? Check out the program here and sign up for SOTM US 2015.
State of the Map Attendees - 2014
Photo Source: State of the Map website.
Portland has been on my must visit list for quite a while, so I was delighted to learn that coordinators were 'putting a bird on it' and holding this year's FOSS4G in PDX! Last year's FOSS4GNA in Minneapolis was a great experience, so I applied for a scholarship and hoped I could make it happen. The scholarship didn't pan out, but I was generously given a place on the team of conference volunteers, and a friend offered his place to me for the week. I also found RT airfare for under $300 ... Rose City here I come! I flew out early to meet my cheerful host & attend a Timbers soccer match with fellow conference goers. I was blown away by the number of fans and the infectious enthusiasm of the Timber Army - such fun! Each time the Timbers scored a goal, the lumberjack would saw a piece of the Timber log. It was the first time I have seen a chainsaw at a soccer match! The chant sheets brought it to the next level! It was a fun crew, and we enjoyed a long day of Timber magic, local beers, and dinner at Deschutes Brewery.
The conference was preceded by two days of workshops (at $150 a session), so instead I rented a Brompton fold-up bike and explored the City. It's a bike-friendly place, particularly the trails along the Wilamette River. Tuesday was the JS.Geo conference, so I biked over to Portland State to check it out. On the way, I got my bike tire caught in the trolley tracks and had an ugly spill - I showed up in torn pants, covered in blood... Highlights of the day were the fun, witty crowd, the future of Leaflet, and mapping in 3D with Cesium. And not spilling the contents of my skull onto the streets of Portland...
The next 3 days was the annaul FOSS4G - “the world’s premier open source geospatial conference” - at the Convention Center. It was an easy bike ride over one of the many bridges from the Pearl neighborhood. Over the past year I have become more comfortable as an amateur developer, met a few more people in the geo community, and moved forward with Boomerang, so I was excited to find new challenges and meet more of the community. Keynote Mike Bostock was an inspiration to the 900 attendees, and set a high bar for the rest of the week. It was an international group, with approximately 13% women. There were 8 simultaneous tracks, and I had a difficult time choosing!
I began my first day as a volunteer, which was a wonderful way to meet people and get the lay of the land. The conference was very well run, and each talk was recorded so you could feel free to linger in conversation or try something new. I leaned towards the education-related talks, and drew inspiration from quite a few people. Talks on drones/UAVs, offline mapping, and vector tiling seemed to draw large crowds, and projection jokes were en vogue. I heard fewer "simples" than last year and took away quite a to-do list. Despite a few instances of gender bias, I felt like I am definitely becoming a part of the global geo-community.
There was no shortage of things to do outside of the conference as well. With field trips, a code sprint, a welcome party, maptime party, and a gala to attend there were sufficient opportunities to make connections and discuss all things geo. Or, you could just relax and sample the many great beers and delectable treats Portland has to offer! The food truck pods certainly won me over, as did the live music, friendly people, and delightful 80 degree weather!
Saturday I enjoyed a hike in Forest Park (which I'd highly recommend) and dinner in the City with a new friend from the conference. Sunday included a drive to the Columbia River Gorge to hike and have brunch with a friend who flew in from Seattle. I even snuck in a drive to the coast and dinner with relatives down in Salem. It's a gorgeous area, and Portland was a difficult place to leave. It has moved up on my list of livable places!
Couldn't make it? Watch the sessions here. Other blogs about the conference include Mapbrief & Boundlessgeo. Want to go next year? FOSS4G 2015 will be in Seoul, South Korea!
Last July, I had the honor of introducing 12 high school students in Parks and People's Branches program to geospatial technology. The program went well, the students each made maps after just 1 week, and I truly enjoyed working with some of Baltimore's youth. In May, I learned that Parks and People wanted Boomerang back for a second summer and this became a great incentive to return to the US.
BRANCHES had grown, so I had 15 students (4 teams) and two weeks to get them thinking spatially. Having smaller teams allowed for personalized instruction and a great student/teacher ratio. Spatial thinking, the way we navigate the world and manipulate the space around us, is crucial to problem solving. My goal was to impart a basic understanding of data collection and Quantum GIS - chosen in this case for its low barrier to entry and compatibility with the Garmin units on hand at Parks and People. Open source software also allows the students to use it on their own, for free, after our training. End goal? Each student would finish a map, with data they collected, by the final day... and remember what GIS and GPS stood for at their presentations!
Last year the 12 students worked together to map the Star Spangled Banner Trail, but this year they decided to develop unique projects. Each team received instruction in QGIS, collecting data with a Garmin, and navigating to Open Data repositories on the net. The next step was to go into the field and collect some of their own data!
The first group ventured into Hampden to collect data along the Avenue, with a hike along the Gwynns Falls on the way. Each students was armed with a Garmin GPS, a notebook, and a pen to record attribute information about their waypoints. They mapped shops, amenities, points along the trail, and anything that piqued their interest. After data collection, we went back to the classroom and they learned how to transfer waypoints, add additional data layers, and compose a printed map. Symbology was a favorite skill to practice, and the color combinations were creative & eye-popping! The students shocked me with their attention to detail and spatial awareness - they were much better at direction than some of my colleagues!
The second group was interested in mapping the trees they had been pruning in East Baltimore, along Fayette Street. We headed out into Baltimore summer and the students mapped trees they had pruned, trees that needed pruning, and empty tree wells. Back in the classroom, they were able to see all of the progress they had made along Fayette, and where they could focus future efforts.
The third group had been building bioswales in West Baltimore all year, and were interested in mapping these & vacant lots. It was a hectic day spent jumping in and out of the work trucks, pulling some weeds in the bioswales, and still managing to get back to the classroom to create the final maps. Luckily, I had these same students last year and they remembered some of the tricks of the trade. Dream team!
My final team had many ideas and too little time. They wanted to map all kinds of things about their neighborhoods, and I hope to have more time to work with them next year. We decided on mapping vacant buildings in Reservoir Hill near the Whitelock Community Farm where they had worked all summer. This was quite a feat, and the students were also able to map their homes and some additional points of interest like the neighborhood candy store.
It was another successful year with BRANCHES. Many students wish to continue to map their neighborhoods, and have already begun to think about projects for next summer. Each group presented their final maps at the graduation, and one group even explained to the audience what GIS and GPS meant - I was beyond thrilled!
Next year I hope to continue building on QGIS, and bring some coding and web mapping into the curriculum. Boomerang's engaging, STEM-focused programs immerse students in spatial technologies with hands-on, project based instruction. Due to a lack of funding we still rely on partner organizations to provide computers and GPS units, which results in a few technical hurdles and plenty of troubleshooting. But Boomerang is seeking funding, and hopes to be able to provide students with great tools in the future! Hope to see you next year BRANCHES!
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference and a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born. A place to share stories, resources, and a way to inspire and support others in realizing their individual travel dreams.
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Baltimore Social Innovation Journal - Winter 2015
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Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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