Lots of countries in Africa are rapidly becoming digitally mapped. We wanted to get things started in Niger. Students in our group come from all around the country, so whenever we go home for vacations, some of us take GPS trackers – which we have four of – in order to map towns in our areas. This mainly includes geo-locating important buildings like schools, hospitals, etc. We also map roads – even though these show up on old-fashioned maps, we often find errors. While we’re there, we also take photos and interview the local population about various subjects like the economy, culture, or agricultural practices, so that we can write little articles later for our blog
A volunteer getting the GPS coordinates for a dam in Tahoua.
So far we’ve gone to all seven regions of Niger, and mapped the capital, too. However there are some areas, for example near the border with Mali, that we would like to map, but can’t at the moment due to security problems.
The volunteer's first task was mapping their university in Niamey.
"It's a lot of work, because Internet connections here are very slow"
We upload all our information into OpenStreetMap
, which is a global, collaborative map. It’s a lot of work, because Internet connections here are very slow, and there are frequent power cuts. Sometimes this makes us lose our work work and we have to start all over again. We only have one computer, and we each pitch in to pay the internet subscription, which costs 15,000 CFA per month (about 22 euros). But we’re happy with how much we’ve accomplished so far – all the students at our university is excited about our work! It makes them proud to see their towns on the map. Young people are increasingly using smartphones here, so I think the importance of mapping is quickly going to grow. And just think of the implications for the people of Niger if we were able to do things like map all of our country’s schools!
Volunteers getting ready to do some mapping.
We want to expand the project. We’ve had tons of applications from other students to join the team, so much so that we had to create an entrance exam. We’re prioritizing people who have some Internet skills and their own computers. But we also hope to find some funding so we can get more equipment.