The Perse School

Upper Sixth Geographers map the future with Old Persean humanitarian worker

25 Jan 2017

In the Geography department, sixth formers worked with Old Persean Rebecca Firth on unlocking isolated communities around the world with the innovative OpenStreetMap tool.

Firth, who works for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team in Colombia, showed the group how to map previously undocumented buildings in remote parts of the globe. The class worked together on a case study in Guatemala, where Humanitarian OpenStreetMap has links with the government to help the malaria elimination campaign. Rebecca explained that in poorly-mapped locations around the world, it is difficult for governments to determine who is most at risk of humanitarian crises. The work that the NGO does, however, helps put these communities on the map.

As the students selected regions in Guatemala to study, Rebecca discussed that though there are 150,000 volunteers mapping just as the students were, only 20,000 work with OpenStreetMap for humanitarian purposes. She explained that once a volunteer identifies a building and plots it, experts visit the site and validate the space, officially putting it “on the map.” As the students listened, they watched in real-time as volunteers from around the world helped plot communities in South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania.

Upper Sixth student Jack said that Rebecca’s work, “relates to the global hazards module we are focussing on in Geography, and OpenStreetMaps is one of the best tools for that.” Anna agreed with how useful and eye-opening the tool is, saying, “It’s nice to know you can make a difference in the classroom from so far away.”

Discussing the influence The Perse had on Rebecca’s extensive career in international development, she said, “I loved Geography when I was here, and it was always a very exciting department.” She says The Perse’s focus on learning about inequality encouraged her to pursue international development as a career-path.

In her work with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, Rebecca has aided diverse communities globally, working with partner organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières to leverage agreements and discussion with different governments. She has worked, for example, with South Sudan, which presented its own unique and rewarding challenges being such a recently established country. Recently, Rebecca travelled to Cape Town to speak at the UN World Data Forum. She presented on how data visualisation and data partnerships can support the 2030 agenda’s goals of sustainable development.

The Geography Department will be scheduling more mapping workshops in the near future.

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