Kibera emerging

by: November 16th, 2009 comments: 1

We’re now on our second week out mapping Kibera. Our group of intrepid explorers has had two days of training, two days out mapping their neighborhood, and now two days in the computer lab uploading and editing their map data. They have been quite patient and dedicated to the task of learning new computer software, and we’ve pretty much brought the Sodnet offices to maximum computing capacity. Thankfully, we have five technical volunteers who are helping them learn the OpenStreetMap program, upload data, and scan in their paper maps.

We’ve now changed our schedule to accommodate the extra time – and focus — needed in the computer lab – spending one full day in the lab, then one full day in Kibera mapping and discussing our progress.

Here in the lab, we’ve found that computers are funny partners for those who weren’t brought up on Windows, much less Facebook (though we’re proudly starting a Facebook group!). There is the whole problem of click-and-drag, of click versus double-click, of opening and finding something in a web browser as opposed to a folder or flash drive, of typing web addresses precisely and passwords with proper capitalization (common practice is to flick on caps lock instead of shift). The use of a computer is not actually as intuitive as I had come to think. Certainly the keyboard, with its shift and control keys and illogical location of the letters, is not a straightforward tool. A few times, I have been reminded of how I painstakingly studied typing in grade school via a little computer program called Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Thanks Mavis! Wish I had a copy for our participants now.

But the fact is, after just three days in the lab and two days in the field, we have quite an impressive amount of marks on the Kibera map. It’s starting to not only resemble other urban areas with churches, schools, and public toilets marked in abundance, but also to reveal the astounding density of the place. After the second day out mapping, we took just five of the villages and had the mappers tally the features they recorded. Here’s the impressive list they made:Tally of mapping day 2

I spent Friday morning walking around the village of Raila with Regynnah, one of the mappers, tripping up the dirt pathways alongside trenches filled with running waste water, past small kiosks selling soda and cell phone top-up cards and toddlers chanting in unison “how-are-you!” We stopped at a few pre-primary schools – they seem abundant – and were treated to a little dance and song at one of them.

We toured a toilet facility under construction, and marked an AIDS clinic, chapatti shop, a cobbler. The sheer amount of potential landmarks led me to wonder what everyone had decided was important to map, and we came to a kind of consensus after making that list on the whiteboard. Then underlined features are essential to map, the rest are up to individual discretion.

So the next challenge on our plate is to help build bridges to make use of the information and demonstrate where it fits in to the bigger picture. We’re bringing in various speakers to Kibera to share some of the possibilities for this kind of mapping and introduce the participants to the wider world of technology. So I would say our ambitions are high – it’s a matter of not only teaching computer skills but envisioning the mappers as eventual full participants in the global wired world.

Getting ready!

by: November 9th, 2009 comments: 0

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I really wish I knew Swahili. Sitting in the hot sun listening to speeches by every manner of councilor and administrator, including what were apparently fiery political diatribes, some basic Swahili might have kept us there just long enough to hear Prime Minister Raila Odinga himself give a speech. In fact, we’d thought we were going to actually get a chance to meet the PM ourselves, since the Area Chief of Sarangombe – now a fan of Map Kibera – had indicated as much. But this didn’t seem remotely possible once we were sitting in the Olympic primary school grounds at a fundraiser, surrounded by crowds of Kiberans and various suited men and brightly-dressed women. Oh, well. We’re never quite certain of anything until it actually materializes.

But things have materialized, right in front of ours eyes, time and again. On Friday, I showed up at the Ngong Hills Hotel at the invitation of our new friend Kepha, not sure exactly what I was there for. It turned out to be a forum organized by the Moraa New Hope Foundation, where approximately 40 people in various influential positions in Kibera and the Nairobi media discussed how to improve coverage of Kibera. Community leaders complained that some reporters asked for handouts in exchange for coverage; reporters tried to defend their coverage by explaining how something becomes “news”; community journalists (our friends at Pamoja FM and the Kibera Journal) pointed out their vital role as a non-commercial source of local information. It was right in line with our efforts to develop community-generated information sources through Map Kibera. It was clear to me that Kibera residents are tired of being seen negatively, while outsiders want more nuanced information. Hopefully Map Kibera can fill part of the gap between the local self-representation and national and international perception.
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In fact, I’ve hardly ever seen such a vibrant, active place as this slum. On Saturday, the streets of Kibera teemed with life – cars covered in ribbons for a wedding party, church groups headed out in matching outfits for service projects, young kids playing football, everyone out shopping or selling, CD kiosks filling the air with music, brightly outfitted music and dance groups getting ready for the PM’s visit. Mikel and I hung around drinking sodas and taking in the scene. It was nice to see kids running about and a general levity that we were told is in sharp contrast to the post-election violence of 2007 and early 2008 – which people mention frequently in conversation, the scars obviously not yet healed.

There seems to be no limit to the energy of Kiberans working as civil servants and community workers, even while plenty others that we have not met are causing the trouble that they seek to remedy. Even our young candidates for the mapping plainly admit that other youths are not so civic-minded, more than one indicating that they wanted to volunteer because “idle hands are the devil’s playthings.” It was difficult to say no to any of them. These are high school graduates, some with college too, in a place where the opportunities don’t measure up to their talents. In fact, we’ve been rather overwhelmed with their interest. And I had worried that the time commitment would be an issue.

The bigger issue might be that for many of them, their computer skills are quite basic. The principal benefit of the project for these participants may turn out to be increased computer literacy – a valid objective in itself. Luckily we’ll have some tech volunteers to help out in the computer lab.

We’ve also invited some video reporters to participate from a group called Kibera Worldwide. They will be gathering stories alongside the mappers, which will provide further illustration of the place from the point of view of the residents. My hope is that this can further blossom into a map-based platform to connect local community media to the rest of Nairobi and the rest of the world. So the meeting with the PM might never happen, but I’d be satisfied with the respect of the average Kibera resident.

Calling all Technical Volunteers for Map Kibera

by: November 4th, 2009 comments: 1

Map Kibera is on the verge of starting. We’re building a high caliber team of young people from Kibera to map, but they’re still going to need support to get started with the OpenStreetMap software. That’s where I’m hoping technical folks in Nairobi — can play a key part in making the project work well.

Are you experienced in software development, GIS, and OSM? Come help us out!

Here’s the rough plan for the next three weeks…

On Monday, November 9, we are having a day long kick-off Mapping Party at Carolina for Kibera offices. This will cover mostly surveying, which I think can be quickly grasped without too much help. But it’s going to be a fun introduction, and if you’re interested to come please please contact us.

On Tuesday, we’ll be in the offices of SODNet, for training on OpenStreetMap software. We’ll take the data collected the day before, and teach people here to use the OSM editor, JOSM. This is where it would be great to have your support. Even if you haven’t contributed to OSM before, your experience is going to allow to quickly get up to speed, and help others, or at least help to communicate my instruction in more detail.

From Wednesday until the end of the month, we’ll have a daily cycle of collecting data in the morning, and editing in the afternoon. In the afternoons, especially during the first week, it would be great to have your support by working directly with mappers and helping them edit.

SO please let me know soon if you are interested in taking part, and what your availability would look like. Our email is contact [at] mapkibera [dot] org

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