The first week of HOT in Bangui

It has been a week since our tutor from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Severin Menard, arrived in Bangui and joined us for the upcoming two weeks. His arrival was expected with a lot of expectations but also with many question marks which have been accompanying most of our discussions before. Is the desperately wished positive change of the course of our work finally going to come? How will he help us to deal with all the problems and difficulties we have been facing so far? And how much can be actually done during just two weeks? The answer was about to reach us soon. Let’s not waste any minute and get to work!

During the last almost two months (already!!!) we have passed through numerous meetings presenting the goals and objectives of Eurosha to local and international NGOs, to the representatives of the town hall of Bangui, of ministries and even to the local representation of the European Union. Having the feeling that “nothing has actually changed” after all that, we were not feeling extremely enthusiastic about the fact that the first step now is to meet the most promising partners again. Another meeting? Really?! But this time, something has changed. Featuring a GIS specialist experienced in introducing OSM to various communities in not only developing countries endangered by humanitarian crisis made our partners look up to us more seriously and considerably increased their interest in working with Eurosha. Our work-related struggle finally started to bring its fruits and the future has been getting more concrete shapes. And the last but not least, the new fresh strength in our team has brought a positive spirit and a new motivation to face daily difficulties and challenges.

So, what have we actually done this week? Regarding the already mentioned meetings, we started with a representative of one local NGO, APEC, which targets its work on vulnerable children in Bangui and in one of the CAR’s prefectures. We wanted Severin to join us for this meeting to demonstrate the difficult position of the locally and community based NGOs in CAR. Lacking financial and material resources and often disregarded by big international NGOs, they are searching for partnerships and funds whenever possible. It is not always easy to refuse cooperation with them, unfortunately due to lack of their capacities necessary to establish partnership with our project we often have to say “desolé”. But this time we were lucky. APEC is based on the work of volunteers and is willing to help us to map the neighborhood where this NGO is located. Thus we got a so important local partner without which the field mapping of Bangui would be almost impossible.

Our next destination was a completely different “cup of tea”. Unicef, our big fish in the pond of our potential partners. Again, thanks to Severin’s presence we managed to answer much more questions regarding the possibilities of utilization of OSM. Through this partnership, a big possibility of collecting data and spreading the use of Sahana and OSM is opening.  Also because of the large number of Unicef’s partners in the field who could be trained in cartography surveying.

Our last visit on this busy day was in the CAR office of ECHO. We were welcomed warmly and with pretended interest. After giving a presentation about our project, we were, once again after a long time, given a very interesting presentation about the history and functioning of ECHO in general and in CAR. ECHO is funding more than 40 projects in CAR through selected international NGOs. At the end of this visit which has been done in a friendly atmosphere, we received much practical information regarding the security issues and working in CAR in general.

Our high work pace did not slow down even in the following days. The last important meeting was held with cartographers from the local Ministry of Forests and Water Resources. We could finally get rid of the idea that there are no GIS experts in this country. Yes, there are! And they are, luckily for us, very interested in cooperation with Eurosha. We planned a training of the use and editing in OSM for the next week.

Well, seems that the wheels started to turn! Of course, we didn’t spend all our time just having meetings. Due to long electricity cuts, we have been pushed to adapt our activities and reorganize our daily agenda. So, as the power comes back in the evening hours, our powers are slowly reaching zero when the midnight is approaching and we continue, eyes sticked to the projecting wall, our mission. Almost falling asleep on our laptops, we keep on improving our mapping skills, our knowledge in GIS or in developing more interesting presentation of the project. Anyway, we can call the first week of presence of our HOT tutor in Bangui as a very successful. Let’s hope that his and ours lucky spirit will keep on also in the next week.

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