Botswana Weekly Awesome: How do you eat an elephant?

Why, piece by piece of course. The idea of creating an accurate and detailed map can be overwhelming. The necessity of capturing each and every building, house, shop, road, school, footpath seems like an elephant of a task. But maps are important; they are a visual representation of our world, which allows us to see it clearly which in turn assists in analyzing and understanding our surroundings. In fact, community mapping is one of the PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) tools Peace Corps recommends in getting to know the site we have been assigned. When I first arrived my site, a small village located in Chobe Forest Reserve an enclave within the greater Chobe National Park (nicknamed “Land of the Giants” for its’ large elephant population) without really realizing it I was constantly drawing maps.

I had girls at the local Junior Secondary School draw maps and realized that the one thing all their maps had in common was the football field and the school. Together we discussed where they spent the majority of their time and whether or not they felt that these spaces were safe and welcoming.


After follow-up visits with TB patients and home based care clients, the Health Education Assistants had me help them draw a map of the village to keep track of these patients. When a representative from Thuso Rehabilitation Centre visited the village, they pulled out a map that was so confusing and distorted that we had to draw a new one to direct them to patients. But, at best, the maps we created were the roughest sketches of the reality on the ground and lacked impartiality.

Then, in February I had the privilege to attend the Stomp Out Malaria Boot Camp and learned about; an open source website that crowd-sources community mapping, it’s the perfect intersection of technology and PACA tool. I was enthralled. When I got back to Botswana, with a million things on my plate, I tucked the mapping technology into the back of my mind.

Life moved along, and I was invited to represent the Peace Corps at the National Malaria Conference. We heard from experts from the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, and Roll Back Malaria and one of the messages that was repeated by all these organizations was that mapping was the way forward. That in a country, such as Botswana targeted strategic interventions are vital and that maps can provide this information. Then we heard from people at the national, district and community levels and they chimed back about the lack of capacity and tools that they had for mapping.

I remembered Open Street Map. It was the perfect solution. And after talking with my community counterparts and showing them the tool, they were just as excited as I was about its possibilities. I made a video asking friends and family back home to support our mapping efforts with their powerful Internet. And with support from the Peace Corps Office of Innovation; maps, beautiful detailed maps started to come to life. My community and I marveled as we watched the map develop and then added our own local knowledge. I taught people how to name government buildings, schools, how to mark shops and bars and most excitingly was able to show them their own houses and yards on the map.

Before: Map made at Clinic to track patients

Before: Map made at Clinic to track patients

After: Open Street Map

After: Open Street Map

We have a way to go before all the villages in the district are mapped (in fact we’re working on mapping Satau now and could still use your help). We are only starting to play with all the possibilities the map offers. But today, the Village Development Committee and I hung up the map on their wall, I have a meeting tomorrow with the Kgosi (chief) about the map, and the day after tomorrow I have a meeting with the Environmental Education Officer about how we can use the maps in an upcoming Indoor Residual Spraying Campaign. And the potential cascades from there.

Here, in the Land of the Giants, we know that elephant meat is “very nice and tastes like Zebra” and that to solve any problem we all have to work together and “eat it” piece by piece or in this case house by house. And for everyone back home who has taken a bite, we thank you. Re a leboga.