Wednesday 3 October 2018

FGM Mapathon at the United Nations

Last week Rhobi was invited to tell her story as an FGM survivor and activist at a high level panel as part of the United  Nations General Assembly in New York.  She spoke movingly about begging her parents not to cut her, as she feared dying and her body being thrown in the bush to be eaten by wild animals, as had happened to her friend Sabina.  But her pleas were in vain and she was cut and nearly bled to death.  She has since dedicated her life to saving other girls from a similar fate.
You can watch a recording of her testimony here.
The following day Rhobi participated in our mapathon at UNFPA where we explained how better maps can help activists like Rhobi quickly find girls at risk of FGM and showed people how they can help to create them.  There were side events in over 60 countries as part of this global FGM event, including at the Ministry of Women in Somalia, and with FGM activists in Kenya, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Uganda, Djibouti and many more.  Together they mapped over 49,000 buildings and almost 7000 km of roads to better protect girls at risk.
At UNFPA Tyler and Rebecca from HOT also explained how maps can be used for many humanitarian purposes.  You can see the presentation here. DoI0MZRU8AAfIJg
And now Rhobi is in London for the UK premiere of the film about her work, In the name of your daughter.  For those of you near London, Nottingham or Yorkshire I hope you may get the chance to watch it and to meet Rhobi.

Wednesday 12 July 2017

First State of the Map in Africa

It was a great privilege to present Crowd2Map at the first State of the Map Africa held in Kampala last weekend.  Over 150 people came from 21 countries and I've never been to part of a conference that had such a strong sense of community. There can't be many places where people from such diverse backgrounds as Apple, the World Bank and Mapbox get to collaborate, dance and even play football with activists from Mali, Niger and Kenya, and community mappers from around the world.

The Map Uganda team did a great job - even down to the
amazing t-shirts, although they were no match for the Rest of the World football team that closed the conference.

My personal highlights were participating in the Women Mappers panel with these amazing women, meeting the other African Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Microgrant winners and learning about their projects, and even getting started with QGIS, Overpass Turbo and UMap thanks to the very many people who were extremely patient with a beginner like me.  And I was extremely impressed with the many Youthmappers from many countries, and hope they will support the chapter we have just set up at the Institute of Rural Development Planning in Tanzania.

Sunday 19 February 2017

Drought brings hunger to Tanzania

Life in villages like Zeze in western Tanzania is precarious at the best of times.  People here are subsistence farmers living on around 80p a day and can only grow crops during the rainy seasons when they have access to water.  But now is not the best of times.

Climate Change is already having an impact here.  Ponds that used to supply water year round for animals (and often people too) have now started drying up.  The vuli rains were 6 weeks late in arriving here, inducing panic.  When the harvest fails, everyone goes hungry.

That is already happening in other areas of Tanzania.  In Kibirizi students walk for up to 4 hours a day to get to and from secondary school, on an empty stomach as there are no school lunches here.  When girls get home, they are expected to go to collect water and firewood and so have no time to study.  To try and help them overcome this disadvantage TDT helped the school set up a girls’ hostel nearby.  20 girls stayed there during the week, cooking and studying together by solar light each evening and then sleeping on the floor in one room when the lights ran out.  Their dedication is astounding.  They are determined to be the first in their families to go onto to further education and become
teachers, doctors, nurses.  In the exam results out last month they were on track to do this.  But now drought has come to Karagwe and their families have no food to send them.  The hostel is shut and all the girls have gone home.

In Maswa in Central Tanzania Kasedefo are running a successful microcredit scheme.  Women learn the basics about starting a small business and get a small loan and a mentor.  Over 200 women have succeeded.  Although their profits are modest by our standards, the effect is huge.  One woman told me now she could buy medicine for her sick baby, others can buy uniforms so their children can now attend school, and everyone took pride in their business and repaid their loans on time.

But this year’s rains have not come.  There is a shortage of water, crops are dying, people are going hungry and spending more and more time collecting water.  The women who proudly repaid instalments 3 months ago are now in tears.  Small businesses based of agriculture have no chance, and other fail because everyone is living hand to mouth with no money to spend. In times of desperation some people turn to a scapegoat.  Here that can be elderly women who can be accused of causing the drought by witchcraft.

Climate change is already affecting rainfall in places like Tanzania.  For people whose access to water is already precarious, that is life threatening. According to the Famine Early Warning System all of Tanzania now face critical food insecurity. Which is why in villages like Zeze, local youth drill by hand for 6 days through rock to reach water.  You can help them provide more vital bore holes here. 

Monday 5 December 2016

Update from Zeze - WiFi, welding and a community library

Communicating with Zeze has been difficult - the mobile phone signal is generally poor, particularly in the rainy season and so Benedicto would have to go 40 km into Kasulu to send emails and Skype.  But in May 2016 Avanti, set up a pilot Community Hotspot in Zeze providing satellite broadband in the village, courtesy of a grant from the UK Space Agency.

This has meant that MVG are now able to communicate with the outside world.  They are monitoring climate change and water levels in a research project with Kings College, London, and can now email data without having to travel. They have also been able to download resources to teach the illiterate women starting to learn to read in the community library, as well as e-books for the children.

Unemployment is high in Zeze - there are very few opportunities other than the subsistence farming that is insufficient to provide an adequate income.  But when the schools need new desks they currently get carpenters in from Kasulu, as there are none with adequate tools or skills in Zeze.  So MVG is setting up a welding and carpentry workshop to train local youth and provide these services locally.  Getting equipment to a village 60km from a tarmac road and 40km from mains electricity is a slow process, particularly in the rainy season when everything turns to mud, but the workshop is built, the instructors in place and the youth identified, and excited to start learning in the New Year.

One of the issues with farming here is that soils are
depleted and farmers cannot afford good seeds or organic fertilisers. So MVG have set up a farmer training and loan scheme to help them.  The first 31 farmers planted their hybrid maize last week after great rejoicing that the rains had finally arrived, 2 months late. Another issue is access to water.  So far MVG have hand drilled 5 bore holes, including at the clinic, which did not have water.  This is a slow, hard, process, taking up to 6 days of hard physical labour for 7 men.  But it saves hours of walking to collect water for the villagers, and means they don't rely on the filthy ponds some of them resorted to previously.

They've got big plans to improve their community here, and money goes a very long way, so if you are able to donate it is very much appreciated and you can do so here. Asante!

Monday 2 May 2016

Mapping the fight against FGM in Mara

As a survivor of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) herself, Rhobi Samwelly is determined that the girls now growing up in Mara will not suffer as she did.  As a 13 year old she knew well the dangers of FGM, as one of her friends had died from the practice the previous year. She pleaded in vain with her parents not to subject her to it.  Having nowhere to turn she had no choice but to submit to the cut, which almost cost her her life as she bled so much she fell unconscious.

Twenty years later she finally achieved her dream and set up the Mugumu Safe House - a sanctuary where girls refusing FGM can turn during the annual "cutting season".  To ensure girls know they have a safe place to turn, Rhobi visits the remote villages where they are most at risk to tell them about their rights.  But there are no maps available meaning it is very hard to ensure all villages are covered. Villages like Sogoti were forgotten by the outside world. Rhobi had to cut down trees to reach it the first time she visited.  

Now we have added the school to Openstreetmap, but not yet the roads leading to it, making navigation still difficult.  

We want to ensure that girls in villages like Sogoti are protected from FGM and forced marriage.  Rhobi wants an activist in each village that girls at risk can turn to, and each of these places clearly labelled on a map, with a contact number.  Then girls in danger can more easily be directed to people who will help them, and be found easily by safe house staff.

We have started the map - please join us to complete it.and help protect girls like Javita.

There is more information about this mapping project and how much we have mapped here. 

Wednesday 16 December 2015

161 girls now seeing sanctuary from FGM at the Safe House

Rhobi was expecting a relatively quiet cutting season this year as most of the Kuria tribe in Serengeti only cut on alternate years.  

But news of the Safe House has spread far and wide, and there are now 161 girls from as far away as Loliondo, 5 hours by bus.

Some of the girls are as young as 9.  Girls like Javita, left, fleeing with her sister.  Her mother told them to run, fearing that her neighbours would force them to be cut.  Javita is an amazing dancer, and wants to be a doctor, she told me shyly.

Others have come alone or with their friends. Many ran away at night after finding out that they were going to be cut in the morning. They arrive at the Safe House with just the clothes they are wearing.  

On Human Rights day last week the girls marched around Mugumu town demanding control over their bodies and singing songs they have composed proclaiming "We girls of today don't want FGM".

It's a struggle to
accommodate so many girls, especially as there is no kitchen and everything is cooked on firewood.  The girls eat outside which is difficult during the frequent rain.

Girls are now sharing 3 to a mattress and we've made a makeshift dormitory in the tailoring room.  But spirits are high - the girls know they are the lucky ones, many of their friends back in the villages are now dealing with the many health problems that come with being cut, including the very real danger of HIV infection.   You can see a short film about the Safe House here and one about Salama, the abandoned baby rescued from wild dogs that they are sheltering here

Sunday 6 December 2015

Putting Zeze on the map

It's the rainy season in Zeze so everyone is busy in the fields making the most of the precious water to try and grow enough to sustain their families over the dry season. The unpredictability of the rainfall and lack of any storage is not without it's problems.  The roads quickly turn to inpassable mud and malaria rates soar.  

There is one minibus per day into town.  Otherwise if you need to go to the bank, hospital or council office you have to go by motorbike, which gets harder when it rains..

These 11 year old boys had cut grass for an hour and then carried it for a further hour, to sell it for the equivalent of 10p.

The womens' microfinance group is going very well with small loans continuing to transform lives.  I spoke to Deniza, getting a loan to expand her tailoring business.  Unable to walk, her life was transformed by her bicycle, but others are not so lucky.  Amos can only go to school if he crawls or someone carries him..

The secondary school laboratories now have roofs, but still no doors or windows.  I brought some simple science equipment such as springs and pH paper and so they excitedly did their first practical experiment - testing the pH of a local drink. Even the headteacher, a science graduate had never had access to indicator paper before. 

If you look for Zeze on Google maps you will just see a huge empty space where there are hundreds of villages. So, using Maps.Me a free app and donated tablets and phones we've been adding places of interest in Zeze and beyond to openstreetmap, the Wikipedia for maps that anyone can edit. 

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our fundraising campaign.  We are using the money to purchase equipment for hand drilling and rope pumps, meaning we can dig water sources around the village for drinking and irrigation. If you would like to contribute you can do so here.