When Temidayo Isaiah moved to Akure to attend university, he was shocked by the amount of pollution he found in this big city in southwestern Nigeria.
Temidayo was surprised to see trash piled high in the streets of neighborhoods across the city. Due to poor infrastructure and a lack of policy and regulation on trash collection, informal dumping sites and poor waste management created a large urban waste problem.
“Without anywhere to go with their trash, most households just contribute to the issue, piling waste around their neighborhoods.” — Temidayo
Akure’s mounting urban waste problem is not just unsightly — it poses significant health, sanitation, and environmental consequences for the community. Though tackling this challenge is no easy task, Temidayo and his fellow students at the Federal University of Technology were motivated to find a way to clean up their city.
As a remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) major, Temidayo decided he would put his mapping skills to work and convinced the recently launched YouthMappers chapter at his university to take on the challenge. Forty students from across the university began mapping urban waste across the city.
YouthMappers is a program launched by the USAID GeoCenter to cultivate young leaders to address development challenges in unmapped places where USAID works.
“We all know there is trash everywhere in our city, we see it every day, but in order to clean it up, we first have to get a clear picture of the situation.” — Temidayo
Tapping into the YouthMappers network, Temidayo and his classmates mobilized students at universities around the world to help create new geospatial data using an open, web-based mapping platform known as OpenStreetMap.
Sitting at computers with satellite imagery of Akure as the backdrop, students digitally mapped roads, buildings and parks in the city that had never been mapped before.
Armed with this new basemap of the city, YouthMappers hit the streets of Akure on bicycles and motorbikes to identify the location of illegal dumping sites. Students recorded GPS coordinates, descriptions and photos for each site they found.
The students ultimately proposed more suitable locations for disposal facilities away from residential areas and water sources.
“It wasn’t enough for us to simply map illegal dumping sites, we also needed to give solutions to the problem.” — Temidayo
The work conducted by the YouthMappers will be used by the Ondo State Ministry of Environment to inform urban waste policy planning and also serve as a resource for local NGOs that work on urban waste clean-up. Despite the already impressive impact, Temidayo sees an even greater potential for their work.
“Perhaps the most important reason to map is to spread the message,” said Temidayo. “If seeing is believing, then looking at a virtual map of overflowing trash sites will help open our eyes to the problem. And, hopefully, it will also inspire people to join us to do something about it and we can look forward to a cleaner city.”
Temidayo and the YouthMappers at Federal University of Technology in Akure are not alone in their efforts. Over 5,000 students have joined the rapidly growing YouthMappers network at 100 university campuses in 30 countries across the globe.
Reaching 100 chapters in only 100 weeks since launching, the momentum behind the YouthMappers program has far exceeded expectations. The YouthMappers network does not simply build maps, it also builds mappers and fosters global connections and learning for students.
“It’s inspiring to see the power of so many young people from around the world connecting through the map,” — Dr. Patricia Solís, YouthMappers co-founder & director
“At the same time, they are learning about new technologies, learning about each other, and working to solve real-world challenges together as global citizens,” said Solís, who is also a professor at Texas Tech. “The fact that in less than two years, we have been joined with 100 campuses gives me hope that their leadership and vision for creating a better future has already begun today.”
To date, the YouthMappers program has contributed 2.5 million buildings, 400,000 roadways, 14,000 land uses, and 5,000 waterways to the OpenStreetMap platform. This new geospatial data is used for local projects generated by students, as well as for USAID programs. For example, YouthMappers supports the President’s Malaria Initiative, creating new geographic data to help teams better estimate the number of homes that need insecticide in malaria-prone villages in Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda and Mali. In Uganda, YouthMappers map rural transportation networks to help analyze access to life-saving maternal and child health services provided in clinics by USAID.
The YouthMappers program empowers students to take a leadership role in addressing challenges in their own communities.
As Temidayo explained, “Seeing how the maps I created help USAID programs tackle development challenges, it inspired me to use my mapping skills to make a difference in my own community.”
USAID’s YouthMappers consortium — led by Texas Tech University, George Washington University and West Virginia University — is a global community of learners, researchers, educators and scholars that use web-based open geospatial technologies to highlight and directly address development challenges worldwide.
About the Authors
Chad Blevins is a Senior Geospatial Analyst with the USAID GeoCenter and Meghan Lefeber is a Knowledge & Insights Advisor with the Center for Digital Development.