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News — 21 September, 2015

Making a Difference ... From Afar

By Charlotte Wolter
        As a geographer and doctoral student at Kansas State, Kabita Ghimire has been away from her Nepal homeland for several years. But, when the disastrous earthquake struck in April, through HOT, she was able to use her expertise to help her country, even though she was thousands of miles away and in the middle of writing her dissertation.
        Kabita, who now spends most of her time now in Washington, D.C., where her husband works, went to the headquarters of the Red Cross shortly after the quake struck to ask how she could help. She was directed to a mapathon at the Red Cross, her first experience with HOT and online crisis mapping.
        "Until this earthquake, though I am a geographer, I did not know what OpenStreetMap was like," says Ghimire. Now, she sees it as a way to make a difference back in Nepal. "You are an expert, and it is good to devote time to that. Many people have approached me and said, 'We want to contribute. People just need something to get started."
        After the Red Cross mapathon, she began to organize events herself, coordinating a mapping event at Peace Corps headquarters that included 10 people in Washington, D.C., and 25 at Kansas State. "As a Nepalese geographer I had a network of friends and colleagues," she says. "We put flyers online and sent out email information. Many Nepalese students in the United States participated."
        "It was my first event. but I was very excited and proud that so many people joined," she adds.
        Ghimire measures her success, now in objects mapped, but in how many people now participated. "I think I have recruited more people than I have created objects in OpenStreetMap," she says.
        Having more people involved in helping Nepal is one of the best things she can do with HOT and OpenStreetMap. "The Nepalese student-association people who participated want to organize an event in the fall, and we are trying to co-ordinate it now. Also we are trying to do a train-the-trainers kind of thing so we will have more people participating," she said. I think it is something we should do every year, just a mapping event."
        She also would like to do something to increase the use of HOT and OSM in geography education. "I am talking to friends and colleagues who are professors and asking if they are interested in having OpenStreetMap mapping as part of their syllabus. They could do just a day or two, and they could have students complete a project."