Web-based mapping is an activity of growing importance in many countries around the world, especially in places where base map data is often scarce and out of date. Governments are collecting more and more data, including geospatial data, and are beginning to understand the social and economic benefits of sharing the data. As part of the World Bank-DFID partnership to support Open Data in the Caribbean, I was invited by a fellow GIS consultant to help him conduct one-day open mapping workshops in St. Lucia and Jamaica. How could I say no? Within a week we had made arrangements and managed to organize the TeachOSM sessions - let's do this!
The first session was held in Castries, the capitol of St. Lucia. The group was one of the sharpest and best humored that I have encountered to date. I truly enjoyed the day and was a bit disappointed by my low energy levels - I wanted to give them more. Each workshop began with a one-hour plenary session that introduced the growing ecosystem of open source mapping, including OSM, QGIS, Field Papers, and Mapillary, and was targeted to senior executives and administrators. News outlets were present, and I began the morning be elegantly knocking over the too-tall microphone right in front of the TV camera - excellent.... ! The plenary was followed by an invitation-only six-hour training on using OpenStreetMap and QGIS. The training covered basic editing skills, digitizing, an overview of aerial image interpretation in OSM, tagging protocol, and an overview of ancillary technologies important to the open map data workflow (e.g. Mapillary, FieldPapers, Overpass Turbo, etc.). There was a live demonstration and step-by-step instruction in using OSM and Open Data in QGIS. The end of the day was spent covering meta-level organization of mapping events and community management. It was a success, which made the ice-cold Piton beer at the end of the day taste even better!
We only had a few days in St. Lucia and wanted to see a bit of the island, so opted to leave a bit early for the airport and take the long, winding, route through the Pitons back to the south. I was car sick approximately 10 minutes into the 2 hour drive down the west coast to UVF. Our van was moving at what felt like record speed along roads that belong on Top Gear, but in reality when I peered up at the dash we were going a startling 40 km/hr. The west coast of the island is stunning in the dry season, and I can only imagine what a difference lush, green vegetation might make in the views. We passed through 3 towns, stood atop two breathtaking vistas, and I only just avoided losing my french toast to the Pitons. Our driver, Marvin, seemed immune by the ride, smiling all the way listening to Disney ballads, 80s classics, and rap all the way. I found myself singing along to the likes of Lady in Red and Alladin's Magic Carpet Ride. I also learned that St Lucians are very fond of country music, and that on Friday and Saturday nights young women will be found in droves out at line dances and country music venues. Sad to miss that, along with the Friday Fish Fiesta in Gros Islet! St. Lucia, I think I'll be back!
Our arrival in Kingston coincided with Caribbean Fashion Week, so there were no hotels to be found in our price range. After scrolling through an abundance of places on AirBNB, I booked 2 rooms at Moon Hill Jamaica - home of the author of the Moon Jamaica travel guide. A driver met us at the airport and whisked us away to the mansion on the hill. We arrived on Saturday, so we had time to enjoy the property and prepare for our Monday session. The guard dogs were a bit unnerving and I hope you like reggae on vinyl - it will be piped into the sound system that is audible throughout the house... bonus! The proprietor was welcoming and helpful, and the food was so good we didn't leave until Monday morning for the training! The house is gorgeous, and I highly recommend this place.
The participants in Jamaica were just as enthusiastic as those in St. Lucia. One moment will always make me laugh though - when choosing OSM user names, one participant cried out - "but Rastafarian is taken, what do I do?!" Turns out one of our St. Lucia participants had chosen the name the previous week. The participants also added a new religion to OSM, as Rastafarianism was not yet included in the OSM database. It goes to show there is always something new to map!
In Jamaica we were interviewed by Nationwide News Network and NewsTalk93 FM, and the event was covered by the Daily Observer newspaper. We were excited by the press coverage, and the opportunity to train approximately 70 people in the two countries. There was a diverse industry representation among participants, with many having previous GIS experience. I was motivated and inspired by the enthusiasm in both countries, and the experience helped me realize that the potential for TeachOSM is high.
These workshops represent first steps to realize countries based on open geo data. Technology alone will not provide the organizational structure for newly minted mappers; to sustain an open source project requires a community of active mappers, and I hope to see continued investments in open map data for the citizens of Jamaica and St. Lucia, and throughout the Caribbean. I look forward to growing TeachOSM and spreading the use of OpenStreetMap globally!
A blog post was also written for HOT that can be found here: https://hotosm.org/updates/2015-08-31_open_data_open_mapping_teachosm_in_the_caribbean
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference & a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born.
Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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