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News — 13 October, 2013

Russell's Week One (i.e. project week 2) Ulaanbaatar

Sain bainuu, or hello from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia!

My name is Russell Deffner and I am the Junior Coordinator for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) OpenStreetMap (OSM) Mapping Project in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Junior meaning that I am here to assist Severin Menard, the Senior Coordinator. And therefore I will try not to repeat the same information regarding our mission. Just a few words about myself, I am an American from the state of Colorado. I studied what Colorado State University calls spatial information management systems (i.e. Geographic Information Systems / GIS) and work as a consultant in the same field. I was first introduced to HOT at the State of the Map conference in Denver, Colorado in 2011 and have since participated as a remote mapping volunteer and have assisted with a few other volunteer projects. I am incredibly honored to have been selected for this opportunity and look forward to sharing my experience with you.

I arrived in Ulaanbaatar after a very long day of travel, in which I also crossed the international date line, so the clock said it was 38 hours later when I stepped off the plane at Chinngis Khan International Airport. Although it was dark on the drive to the hotel, I could already tell that Ulaanbaatar was a city 'under construction'. On my first day we met a Canadian woman who first came to Ulaanbaatar in 1996; she described a city that at the time had no high-rise buildings and very few cars. Today the streets are jam-packed with vehicles and the city skyline is filling up quickly; there are so many large buildings under construction I won't even guess at a number (at least until we get to mapping).

That is the goal, specifically our mission is to map one district of Ulaanbaatar (UB); see the project page for more information. On Tuesday October 8, we started the training with the Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST) students and UB City staff. Luckily we have a wonderful translator as we ran into some kinks scheduling the training as it was not well defined before our arrival. As with students, their schedules prevent them from being able to commit full-time to the project; so as Severin suggested, the word of the trip is “adaptation”. So we have had to adapt pretty much all week long, some students left the project but others arrived making it difficult to continue training as we had to simultaneously train new folks and continue the training for the others. We also had members of the Mongolian Land Management, Geodesy, and Cartography Department jump in during the middle of the week; making the total number of trainees 34 (to date). So our original plan of 4 solid days of training has been adapted to 8 half-day trainings; however everyone has quickly picked up on the information and some of the students are already masters of tracing from the imagery.

This week I will be conducting the training alone as Severin is on another UN mission. I have a lot more I would love to share about UB, the wonderful people of Mongolia, and more; but I don't want to waste my weekend typing; time to go explore.