People-powered maps to help girls escape FGM – how to get involved

Filling in the blank spaces …

Can you help girls in Tanzania escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) without ever leaving the comfort of your home? Well, there’s a project that some friends of mine are supporting that claims to do exactly that.

If you’re in London next Monday (January 16), there will be a seminar at 5pm at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where this and two related mapping projects in Tanzania will be the topic. But whether or not you can make it to the seminar, the beauty of this project is that you can contribute from almost anywhere. 

Some readers of this blog will be already be familiar with Open Street Map (OSM). If not, all you really need to know is that it’s a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world – a Wikipedia for maps, if you like. It’s a great idea, and in much of Tanzania, this collaborative approach is producing results that are far better than Google Maps has achieved. See these screenshots of maps of the small town of Bariadi in northern Tanzania, for example. One is from OSM, the other from Google Maps, both are at roughly the same scale. I know which one I would prefer to use to navigate with.

Bairadi (in Tanzania) on Open Street Map and Google Maps

Bairadi (in Tanzania) on Open Street Map and Google Maps – click to see original maps on each site.

So how does that help? Well, the Mugumu Safe House uses OSM to help girls in Tanzania escape Female Genital Mutilation. This video, by Sophie Tremblay for AJ+, shows how good local maps are hugely valuable to the Safe House’s work. So a collective effort to produce detailed maps of priority areas can make a big difference.

Which is where you come in. Yes, you!

From the comfort of your desk at home, using satellite images, you can contribute to the task. Login to OSM, choose one of the Safe House’s identified areas that needs mapping, and get to work. It’s pretty straightforward, only takes a few minutes to get the hang of it.

Specifics can be found on the mapping project website, including more detailed instructions and links showing the areas to be mapped. I found this video useful, and spent half an hour earlier this evening mapping several miles of roads and dozens of buildings in Butiama, close to Mwl Nyerere’s birthplace.

Maybe I helped someone avoid FGM, maybe I didn’t. But if lots of people chip in, the Safe House’s work will get a little bit easier, and it could just be your contribution that makes the vital difference.