Exciting New Job Motorcycle Mapping in Refugee Settlements in Uganda

This is a great job, changing the world. And I use that term advisedly. It is fully salaried, and is around information, data, diplomacy and organisation.

Please share the link below, and have a read. Deadline 15th November. SOOOON!!!!:


Newsweek article by Lois Parshley

The Misplaced Billion

Lois Parshley has written an article about our project in this week’s edition of Newsweek. You can read the article here.


Recollections from before the rains…Data Ache in the Borderlands

It’s still red-dusty, but finally cool when I open my eyes. The horns are beeping in the street outside. The town is getting back to business after the holiday. The Paramount Chief’s funeral stopped all work on friday. But the fan has stopped. The generator must have run out of fuel – probably around dawn, I suppose.

What a comfortable bed. We did not holiday yesterday. In fact we worked the whole weekend. And one of the products is this room I am staying in. I carefully pull the bednet out from under the mattress so as not to tear it. A blue decorative net. There are burns and stain on the simple ‘sepia’ african furniture. Everything I look at is monochrome. Even the bars welded onto the window (ex-concrete reinforcement bars) are painted in this cream. And the red dust of the forest adds accents, despite the obvious scrubbing the three sons have been doing since our recce on Friday. I was going to move into this ‘proper african hostelry’, as I have called it, on Saturday. We had found it through the grapevine, and visited to cut a deal. We were led into the big open downstairs cooking area – pots on charcoal on the floor, stools and cauldrons around in the mud floor of the courtyard. I had insisted on seeing the generator, to judge the veracity of ‘24 hour electricity’. Then upstairs a series of tiles concrete corridors led into rooms and balconied common spaces, with shutters against the west african heat. Echoing tiled floors. The bed I am still lying on is enough to sleep a family on. Massive. Shabby. Clean Comfortable. Like the hostel. They had to close this place during Ebola. We are their first significant customers since.

I’m tired from yesterday’s long ride into the bush. Last saturday, Ivan had been monitoring our mapping surveys as they arrived at the server from the pillion seats of motorcycles surveying the borderlands. The Africell network sends the surveys from the african bush direct to some  cupboard in a back room in a New York high-rise. Data. And now, in Dakkar, Senegal, it wasn’t making sense.

‘Gentlemen, we have a problem.’ came the WhatsApp message, just as I settled down to a longed-for cold beer at the end of a relentless week. One of our mappers was submitting bad data. Ivan had clocked it in one village. Wrong name, wrong area. But if this was the case, this surveyor could have been getting it all wrong for weeks. It is hard enough to get to these villages once, let alone for one of us to go around double-checking more than the ‘ten percent’ quality control checking we do. But without quality, our project is useless. Just another incomplete mapping attempt. This is what makes us different from ‘top-down’ mapping projects. We are comprehensive and exhaustive. So we can get around the problem that lack of complete data can mean all the data is useless in a set. People are actually inputting their own neighbourhood data, from the field, via their smartphones. The surveyors are from these very neighbourhoods. Our data is meant to be the best.

But here was the problem: somehow, the wrong names were being attributed to villages. A cross-reference to another surveyor had been made. The only way to way to deal with it properly was to find out which surveyor was correct by doing a survey myself, on-site. So yesterday, during holiday, I had got on a motorbike out into the border sections where this problem had occurred. It was a rough day, and we lost a surveyor whilst we consider re-training him.


Photo: Rupert Allan
Lifting Motorcycles through Blocked Roads

It was a tough day. The roads make biking exhausting. Especially pillion. For five hours on a 125cc motorbike down bush tracks. There is seldom a helmet, and the roads are spine-compressing. In the afternoon, I was feeling nauseous, and worried that I had what Randy had last week – Malaria. The week had included extracting him from the isolated hill town of Baama, whilst keeping the mapper-training going. So a painkiller and some doxycycline and a big bowl of groundnut soup with meat had just made me start feeling better when the ‘data-ache’ news came through.

As I start to wake up properly, I remember today’s new issue starting to rear its head: the surveyors in the north are not uploading any data at all! Why not? Three days without uploading. The money we have for this is from Ivan’s savings. If we don’t get data, and it is lost or seriously wrong, the project will fold. It is critical that we get it right for this pilot, so that we can try to get financial support for the next stage.

And this is what I will deal with today. Wish me luck. But first, I must pay the Mama of the hostel. And get out into that insistent-sounding Sierra Leonean street…


A truck sheds its load on the main North-South road, blocking the arterial route for all but motorcycles, when an over-ambitious HiLux tries to pass…

Photo: Rupert Allan



The Whole of West Africa

Kenema City, Kenema District, Sierra Leone
Friday, July 21, 2017

by Stanley Bockarie

Crew Leader – Stanley Bockarie

I am Brima Stanley Bockarie, people can call me Stanley; I am a native of Kenema city in South Eastern Sierra Leone. After I had field experience working for MSF as in Security and as a Labour Supervisor, I learned about GPS surveying in a position for a project by Unicef and Kenema city council. In 2014-15, during the Ebola crisis, I met Ivan Gayton when he was stationed in Magburuka in Tonkolili District. MSF sponsored some surveying and I was left with supervising over ten teams of surveyors, handling the payroll, the route management—everything.

Honestly, I think this project is very good, and history making. We go to the people’s own village, and ask them about it to put them on the map. When you go into a village, the first thing is that people want to know is, “Why are you in our village?” They won’t say anything without the Chief at first, but either way, you have to explain about the project, and if you can find the Chief, get informed consent. Sometimes the Chief might not be available, and then you have to explain that a person who knows about the village can also answer the questions, and how the project will help Sierra Leone.

The other residents of the village will also help give the information. Everyone will help out to get the proper information. They are happy to know that they will be on the map. When you start doing the survey, people gather around—the women, the children, the Elders. Sometimes there is someone among them who is educated. It could be the Speaker of the village for example. The Speaker is a person who speaks for the village, and who defends the village. The Speaker is a representative for the village, but it is only the Chief who takes decisions about the village. The Speaker can only communicate information approved by the Chief. The Speaker works under that mandate.

During the survey, I make sure to show people the spelling of the names on my phone, especially the name of the village, which is our top priority. People will be helpful. It is not only a sense of pride to be on the map, but villagers understand that there is a connection between being recognized and seen, and ultimately to be recognized by the world and included in future projects instead of being left out and unnoticed.

This survey is more difficult than the work in Magburuka, because I was more of a planner. This time I am leading by being out in the Field as a surveyor myself as well. It is important to me to set the best example for my team. Sometimes I have to be very strong in training them and to keep pushing to get the standard higher for the surveys to be completed properly. I want the surveying to be a continuous process—new villages actually come into being, and somehow that needs to be checked regularly. In my heart, not only do I want the rest of Sierra Leone to be finished completely if we can get funding, but if possible, in the whole of West Africa.

Working for Humanity

Kenema City, Kenema District, Sierra Leone
Friday, July 21, 2017

by Alberta Watta Abu

PHUs (Primary Health Units) in Gorama Mende and Wondor Chiefdoms

I am Alberta Watta Abu. I am a Sierra Leonian of course. I was born in 1990, and my educational level is that of a BSc holder in Banking and Finance. Currently I am working on my MBA in Marketing at Njala University at Bo Campus. I started surveying by working with Sierra Leone Red Cross Society as a Communications Officer during the Ebola scourge.

For the past three years I’ve been working for communities doing community sensitization and mapping for both the SCRCS and MSF. Especially, I’ve been out to the border districts—Kailahun, Kenema, Kono, Pujehun, Kambia, Koinadugu, and Bombali. I also served as a Field Team Leader for Pujehun and Kenema.

Currently, I’m working for WAMM mapping Kenema and Kailahun districts as a Crew Leader.

I like working for humanity—especially for children. For WAMM, I find we are having a very good mapping system. The questions are short, and to the point, without any time wasted. I’m learning more about my country because I’m visiting places I’ve never been before. It has made me realize that Wonder and Gorama Mende [Cheifdoms in Kenema District] have so many forests and water.

The people in the villages are really appreciative of the project because some communities are not on the map. Some of them have changed names, some villages have actually moved locations from one place to another. This project can help the whole country, and other countries as well. The names of villages will be known, and sometimes the meaning of the name tells about the history of the village!

I hope this project will not only do Kenema and Kailahun, because I think some of the other Districts might have the same problems with change of names and locations, or not even being shown on any map.