Wednesday, December 9, 2009


For the final two weeks of our pilot mapping project in Georgia we've moved the CO team to Tbilisi. With the help of some satellite imagery we hope to make the best possible public domain, digital map of the city.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rustavi Mapping Club

The first Rustavi Mapping Club!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Community Organizers (Part 3)

This is the third of a three-part series which gives a little background on our awesome Community Organizer team!
written by Jesse Tatum

Beso Ghoiniashvili
(Born in Gori, 16 July 1988)
Beso is meticulous. He once mapped a park in Kaspi, marking no fewer than 520 points within it, and added them in what appears as a perfect sort of trapezoid on the map. A whiz on the computer, there is nothing Beso cannot do for the Project. He taught himself to use Photoshop and is great at training volunteers to use JOSM. Quiet and modest by nature, his actions have earned him the greatest respect from team members, and he loves working in Gori, his home and favorite city in Georgia.
Beso has a Management degree from Tbilisi State, and he sincerely hopes to extend CaucasusMap’s work to other areas outside Shida Kartli.

Nino Maisuradze
(Born in Gori, 25 October 1986)
Spirited and enthusiastic, Nino knows how to work hard and keep things interesting. She holds a degree in English Language and Literature from Tbilisi State University, and enjoys working on the CaucasusMap Project in order to meet new people. She also excels at teaching volunteers how to use the GPS devices and JOSM. Nino is especially keen to continue with the Project in other areas of the country.
Nino’s interests include playing guitar, dancing and reading. A Farewell to Arms is her favorite book.

Sopo Lomidze
(Born in Gori, 17 February 1984)
Wise beyond her years, Sopo is another natural leader. Her previous experience includes an English Language and Literature degree from Gori University and work with an NGO, where she gave lectures on AIDS prevention in local communities in the region. Working with the CaucasusMap Project has allowed Sopo to continue to learn new skills, travel to different areas around Gori and meet new people.
She enjoys the theater and loves teaching. She currently gives private English lessons to students in Gori and would like to continue teaching in the future. Sopo likes working with an international crowd and hopes the Project will continue after November.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Community Organizers (part 2)

This is the second of a three-part series which gives a little background on our awesome Community Organizer team!
written by Jesse Tatum

Nata Samkharadze
(Born in Tbilisi, 24 February 1986)
Nata exudes a cosmopolitan coolness—but she also shows a great amount of clear dedication. Commuting from Tbilisi to work for CaucasusMap, Nata’s efforts have certainly paid off. Learning how to use the GPS devices and JOSM, Nata also likes to practice her English with the group. She has also worked for the CARE office in Gori, where she was responsible for database management.
Nata holds a degree in Psychology from Tbilisi State and has been a dancer for ten years. She also enjoys jogging, listening to Georgian folk music and reading, with Victor Hugo and “Chabua” Amirejibi as her favorite authors.

Tata Tvauri
(Born in Gori, 21 March 1986)
Fearless and opinionated, Tata is able to get immediately involved in contributing to all aspects of the Project. Tata followed her degree in English Language and Literature from Gori University by teaching English as a volunteer with the Society Biliki. She enjoys working with CaucasusMap for the opportunities to visit new places around Gori and for the camaraderie amongst her co-workers. In fact, she thinks of Project Coordinator Lee Allen more as a “friend” than a boss (but don’t tell him that). Allen, of course, knows he is lucky to count Tata among his staff and friends.
She enjoys reading, hanging out with friends and hopes to begin a Master’s in English at Tbilisi State next year.

Nino Khakhutashvili
(Born in Gori, 21 November 1985)
Being cool, collected and urbane does not stop Nino from getting her hands dirty. She has quickly adapted to working with the team, and her linguistic skills continually come in handy. Nino holds a degree in English Language and Literature from Gori University, and then studied for a year at International House in Tbilisi. She also likes to try on the odd phrase in Spanish or French to keep team members amused.
She enjoys the theater, singing, church and trips to Tbilisi. Currently teaching English to several students in Gori, Nino hopes to continue with this in the future. For now, though, CaucasusMap allows her to use those skills while learning new ones and visiting places she would otherwise not have had a chance to see.

Lika Asanidze
(Born in Tbilisi, 7 November 1986)
Watching Lika in action, the word ‘multi-talented’ comes to mind. Equally adept at leading the group in song (traditional hymns, for starters) and leading them into a new town, she is always headed in the right direction. With a major in Finance from Gori University, Lika returned to Gori after the war to volunteer with the Red Cross, conducting interviews with IDPs and aid workers on the financial situation of the displaced.
In addition to having a great singing voice, Lika loves to travel and discover hidden gems in the areas around Gori. Good with maps, she like the process of using the GPS and JOSM to fill in all the little details that contribute to enhancing the Project’s efforts. She too hopes to extend the work of CaucasusMap, especially to areas like Racha and Svaneti.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Community Organizers (part 1)

This is the first of a three-part series which gives a little background on our awesome Community Organizer team!
written by Jesse Tatum

Beka Managadze
(Born in Lugansk, Ukraine, 30 September 1986)
Do not let the leather jacket and tough exterior fool you: Beka has a heart of gold, and always goes the extra mile to help out his co-workers. Resourceful and committed, Beka knows how to get things done, regardless of the obstacles in the way. A former merchant marine, he has traveled the globe and loves to see a new city for the first time from the sea. Nevertheless, he counts Georgia as his preferred destination, and has lived in Kutaisi, Batumi and Gori. With local contacts across the country and a solid knowledge of several regions, Beka is a key member of CaucasusMap’s team.
In his spare time, Beka likes to play basketball, go swimming and is a member of the Off-Road Club, Georgia. He has mapped numerous areas from the seat of his vehicle, and hopes to be able to continue for several months to come.

Natia Pavliashvili
(Born in Gori, 14 June 1984)
Natia’s dedication to the Project is immediately evident: she is totally in her element leading a group out into the pouring rain to finish those final few roads at the far of a village. Her background includes a stint as a tour guide in Gori, an experience which lends itself perfectly to her current role.
Natia loves getting to see new places through working on the Project, and is adept with the GPS devices and the final editing. She loves to travel, with Svaneti among her favorite destinations. In the future, Natia hopes to work with another NGO to continue to help people in need.

Khatuna Kharkheli
(Born in Gori, 14 May 1984)
A natural leader, Khatuna’s take-charge attitude allows her to get things done efficiently and in a timely manner. Working for ICRC as a field officer-translator, she returned to Gori after the 2008 war to investigate cases of missing soldiers and family members who disappeared during the crisis. She knows the Shida Kartli region intimately, which quickly becomes evident during her mapping excursions for the Project.
Khatuna enjoys dancing, visiting new places and meeting the IDP volunteers and local authorities. She is at ease working with an international crowd and, like her colleagues, would love to continue the CaucasusMap Project in some capacity for the foreseeable future.

Lika Demurishvili
(Born in Gori, 7 January 1986)
Bright-eyed and inquisitive, Lika’s background includes a degree in English Language and Literature from Gori University. Perfectly suited for her role in the CaucasusMap Project, she attained prior experience as a volunteer for Society Biliki, where her work consisted of teaching English and translating articles for Biliki’s magazine. She enjoys working with CaucasusMap because it allows her to meet new people and to continue to learn new things, especially editing the maps using JOSM, in which she now provides training for the volunteers who work with the team.
Her favorite villages are Noste, Bebnisi and Samtsevrisi, in particular because of their churches. She enjoys singing, dancing and reading up on the history of Georgia in her spare time. Lika’s future plans include applying for the Muskie Fellowship to study Special Education in the US, as she envisages a career that involves teaching children with learning disabilities.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


by Jesse Tatum

On Friday, 30 October, the rain showed no signs of stopping in Gori . . . but that did not stop Gori’s team of community organizers from mapping.

After an hour of hopeful glances out the window that were continually dashed, a group of four of the CaucasusMap Project’s team in Gori decided to head out, anyway, to finish the western end of the village of Shavshvebi, a few kilometers northeast of Gori.

Earlier the same morning, Lika Demurshvili, 23, said that one of the team’s biggest challenges is transportation: “Finding a minibus or a city bus that runs more than once a day back from the villages is difficult.”

Standing beneath the archway of a building next to Gori’s bus station to avoid the rain, Lika’s comment was all too clear.

Beka Managadze, 23, was running circles around the station, in a vain attempt to find or negotiate a ride for the team. I offered him my umbrella, but Georgian men do not use them, apparently. None of the minibus drivers would stop for us to disembark at Shavshvebi, even though it is on the Gori-Tbilisi route.

Waiting on Beka, I began to complain about the sudden change in weather (Tbilisi had, after all, just received three sunny weeks in the mid-20s C°) when we noticed some sparrows picking at a few soggy bread crumbs. “I like birds,” Lika D. said, “and these ones never leave—they stay the summer and the winter.”

In the end, after half an hour, a taxi was the last resort. Piling in to the back seat, it was bad disco music and cramped legs for a wet stretch on the Tbilisi-Gori highway, with an extra fifteen minutes stuck behind a nasty accident.

The west end of Shavshvebi was silent. Beka got the taxi driver to wait for us, and we split into two groups—Beka and I as one, and the three girls, Lika D., Lika Asanidze and Nino Khakhutashvili, in the other. I gave up on assimilating and used an umbrella. Beka was kind enough to ignore this.

Away from the village’s only paved road, it was a mix of mud, stones and cow droppings. Beka asked me if we had villages like this in the States. He said Shavshvebi’s school was not functioning due to a lack of funds; the children must go to schools in the neighboring villages. He was thriving in the conditions, marking several points on the GPS, and happy that he did not have to deal with any dogs. “I don’t like dogs,” he said, “especially in the villages.”

At the top of the road we saw the Khurvaleti IDP settlement directly northeast of Shavshvebi, across the highway. Beka mentioned that they will be mapping the settlement and others in the area next month. The team has also been using volunteers from the settlements to help in the process, providing trainings on using the GPS devices and the editing work and lending an ear to all of their stories.

“Of course they all speak of home,” Lika D. had told me earlier, “because right now they just live in temporary housing [provided by the government]. One young boy said to me, ‘It’s like we are living in a dream.’”

Having reached the end of the road and taken a moment of silence in front of the settlement, Beka and I heard the noise from which we thought we were lucky enough to have escaped: frenzied barking. The dog rushed out from behind a house, while his owner looked on. To spare Beka, I feigned picking up a stone, and the dog cowered for a brief moment. We said a quick hello to the owner, who told Beka he would have invited us in for wine, but his windows were broken, and he did not want us to be uncomfortable. We politely thanked him and began walking down the path, back to the taxi and out of the rain. Another dog spotted us, and this time Beka was first to try the stone tactic. It worked once again.

We made it back to the taxi without any more over-curious canines.

The mapping process is an intimate, on-the-ground experience: from feet pounding path or pavement to eyes visually marking specific points, places and roads, recording them on the GPS device to, finally, fingers tapping the keypad of the computer, where the editing process can begin. The result: a map to which one can continually add, tweak for accuracy, and one that provides an incomparable amount of detail.

In fact, aside from the project’s obvious usefulness for foreign residents or tourists, Lee Allen, project coordinator for CaucasusMap, notes that the team will give a symbolic presentation at the end of the project, in November, to the local authorities. The maps’ potential for ameliorating local projects, Allen states, is unlimited: improving opportunities for tourism, being used for urban planning and logistical purposes and any other infrastructure schemes that arise in the future. It is about empowering the local community, according to Allen, and he has promoted this idea by hiring locals, helping to improve their existing abilities and allowing them to play a leading role in local development.

Rain or shine, Allen’s team of local community organizers is out on the street, mapping any and all points of interest, dedicated to finishing the two-month project early and making the case for continuing with similar future endeavors. Before November ends, they will have finished a large part of the Shida Kartli region, even to its northernmost border with South Ossetia where the threats of unexploded ordnance and surly soldiers remain a reality in several villages, notably in Kareli (18 kilometers west of Gori), as Allen and another team member, Khatuna Kharkheli, pointed out. For more information, see HALO’s website.

The team’s efforts have already paid off (see the map), and each member is eager for the project to be extended to other regions in Georgia—even to those villages with bigger, crazier dogs.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Kaspi Team

Volunteer Mappers in Kaspi

Yesterday we returned to Kaspi where a fantastic team of volunteer mappers helped us make a great public domain, digital map of the area. During the brief ceremony the participants took their certificates and gave a couple great speeches. Thanks so much for getting involved in this project!

View Larger Map

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dedication and Gratitude

Volunteers from the Karaleti IDP settlement

The dedication of our Community Organizers and volunteers has been immense, and it really shows. Most of the major towns have been beautifully mapped, including Gori, Kaspi, and Kareli, and over 40 villages have been completed as well. A hearty thanks to the local youth development NGO Biliki for connecting us with volunteers from nearby communities, and an additional thanks to CENN for providing us with shapefiles to help plan out our work! Most of all, thanks to all the volunteers who are getting involved in the first public, digital map of Shida Kartli! Cheers!

Nino discovers how to map in the rain

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Planning and Outreach

Planning the weeks ahead

Because the focus of this project is much wider than simply making maps, Community Organizers regularly strategize to maximize efficiency, engage volunteers, and build relationships with community members. It's important to work with local people in every region where we map, so maintaining an outreach strategy is an ongoing part of the process of community organization.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gori Mapping Party

Gori Community Organizer Team

Meeting Volunteers at the Gori Mapping Party

On Saturday we held the first mapping party in Gori, effectively launching our project to map the Shida Kartli region of Georgia. Our fabulous community organizer team trained local volunteers in GPS mapping and teams roved around the grid-like streets of Gori, collecting street information and points of interest. At the end of the day mappers uploaded their data to our server, and Gori's really started to grow!

View Larger Map

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Training Launched in Gori

JumpStart’s public domain mapping project in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia began on Monday. During a week of training, community organizers will explore various topics, including community-based Wiki development, GPS mapping, volunteer organization and planning. During the course of the training organizers will make plans to implement the two-month public domain project. The week will be capped by a Gori mapping party on Saturday, where volunteers will get a first taste of the project and with luck, Gori will be mapped! Work in Shida Kartli will be conducted on JumpStart’s public domain server, and as regions are completed they will be imported into OpenStreetMap.

During the course of the project, organizers will also offer trainings and promote community mapping beyond Shida Kartli. As the regional map data improves, we’ll also explore practical applications of the data in the Caucasus and promote trainings on the side of technical development and use of open data.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

OSM Mapping Party

On Saturday we organized the first OpenStreetMap mapping party in Tbilisi. Twenty-four people participated, and for most it was an initial look at OSM. Mappers went out in groups and explored some of the nooks and crannies of Tbilisi's winding streets and steep staircases, and we all gathered at the pub at the end of the day to learn a bit more about OSM and add our data to the database. Luckily several of Tbilisi’s experienced mappers were present to show everybody the ropes and get the new folks involved. A group of students from the American Academy of Tbilisi were in attendance, and are planning to start a mapping club at their school. As community mapping expands in Georgia, this will be a fantastic model on which to base other clubs around the country!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tbilisi Mapping Party

Of course building up a community of interested participants is integral to open mapping projects, hence we're organizing Tbilisi's first OSM mapping party this Saturday. We look forward to getting new mappers involved!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


CaucasusMap is about developing open maps throughout the region, building an active mapping community, providing technology training, and making active use of the data. JumpStart will be launching a pilot program in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia (around Gori) to create public domain map data over the coming months. This time around, we're training community organizers, who will train and work with local volunteers to map the region. Alongside this we'll offer trainings to other groups in Georgia and encourage an active OpenStreetMap community.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gaza Tourist Map

The eWork guys at UCAS designed the first tourist map for Gaza using our data!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Putting the Data to Use

We're currently undergoing the process of making our data available with OpenStreetMap and other partner organizations. But since the information is free for anyone and everyone, we look forward to seeing some valuable and creative applications!

Download - last updated July 31, 2009

To view the kmz file, you need to install Google Earth, which you can download here. Open the file and our road and point of interest data will be overlaid on Google Earth imagery. Click any item to see it's attributes.

If you're using the data, we'd love to hear about it. Send an email to and let us know what you're doing!

We're continuing to improve the data over time, so check back for updated versions. And we're always looking to make more data available to the public, so if you own any geodata in Palestine that you'd be willing to release for others, please let us know!

Thursday, May 28, 2009


The Gaza field teams have finished their seven weeks of hard work and they've collected a whole lot of data! 13,706 road segments to be exact, and 2,344 points of interest.

Jeff Haack and Project Coordinator Montaser Bakroun review the data
with mappers Abd Alkareem Aloul and Mohammed Elhessy

Mohammed Elhessy (pictured above) wrote a small software program to help keep track of all the teams work. It enables the guys to run searches and see which teams completed each area and other information about their work. The energy that these guys devoted to this project has been fantastic. They've gone above and beyond what was asked of them.

Having finished the project it was time for some fun on the beach. A special thanks to our kite-making friends in Jordan!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mapping in An Nuseirat

The "Shebab" (young men) are in the middle area this week, the last area remaining to be mapped. Things are on schedule and going great! We look forward to finishing up this project, and all the guys think it's pretty cool what we've achieved.

Mapping in An Nuseirat

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Moving South

With Gaza City and North Gaza 98% complete, our field teams have begun working around Khan Younis and Rafah in the south. The quality of their work has been great, and they've not only collected road names and points of interest, but other detailed information including surface type, width, and number of lanes.

Work in the border areas and in certain difficult neighborhoods has been a concern, but we've had no major safety issues to date. Additionally, as the project has progressed, our mapping teams have grown more and more adept. While we continue to map all urban areas on foot, one of our top mappers is surveying large agricultural areas by car. He also identifies missing data and follows up in those areas. The teams are going strong, and we hope to finish by the end of May!

Ekramy and Mohammed Inputting Field Data

Saturday, April 25, 2009

FreeMap Gaza Moves Forward


The Gaza map is going great, it seems. With a talented group of young engineers and GIS students, tremendous effort by the University College of Applied Sciences, and a continually improving set of procedures for field work, our data collection is moving forward with no insurmountable complications.

Our teams have been well organized and picked up the OSM technique quickly and easily. Gaza City is nearly finished, and our teams are moving northward this week. After sorting out a myriad of technical issues during the past week, we expect the development of our data set to grow faster and faster.

Currently the GIS unit of the Gaza municipality is working on unifying their geographic data and developing a road management system to anticipate and improve road repairs, and with luck we will soon be able to collaborate on some of our field surveying work.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

West Bank Update

The past two weeks our editing team has been hard at work reconciling our field work with road tracings and data provided by our partner organizations. At long last our West Bank data set is reaching completion, and all that remains is to upload the remaining data to the server and do some final verification and assessment.

In the meantime we are pursuing meaningful ways of distributing the data and putting it to use, assessing the procedures implemented in our project, and pushing forward with FreeMap Gaza to complete our data set for all of Palestine.

Hebron returns, as we put our completed data set back up on the FreeMap server

Monday, April 13, 2009

FreeMap Gaza Launched

After an 18 month absence, JumpStart returned to Gaza and received a warm welcome. The mapping initiative has begun with our partners at the University College of Applied Sciences, and our teams have already started to map Gaza city. There's a great deal of under-utilized talent in Gaza, as thousands of university graduates go without work. We're happy to be working with some highly qualified engineers and geographic students in the development of our Gaza map.

Thousands of buildings were destroyed in the recent war, and with no construction materials entering Gaza, structures continue crumbling

Gaza continues to experience the aftershocks of the January war, and it seems like there are daily scuffles, strikes, and tragedies. With few to no reconstruction materials allowed through the borders, the local infrastructure remains in disrepair, and the collapsed buildings are a constant reminder of the situation here.

We hope to finish our map project in Gaza in mid-May even though, as our mapping recruits assure us, nothing is sure in Gaza. With the effort here we'll reach our goal of a free and open data set for all of Palestine, information which can be applied to a wide range of uses in public, private, and non-govermental spheres. As we develop our free Gaza map, we look forward to giving more detail to the already excellent work of the OpenStreetMap crew.

Let the mapping commence!

Engineers and GIS students examine a GPS

Many buildings, including those at the university, were hit during the war

Field Program Manager Jeff Haack with the first teams of mappers

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hebron Lives

While it's been a challenge to coordinate our work using between OpenStreetMap tools and data produced as ESRI shapefiles, we have developed the necessary protocols to get this done.

Although the Hebron region (in the south of West Bank) was the first place to be mapped when we started operating in December, it was taken offline for editing and has been missing from our server for a month. We continue to work on the data offline to properly classify and identify the roads, but today we put the road system up on our FreeMap server.

Developing the data offline from our various resources has proved to be greatly efficient, and we have nearly completed the road system for the Tulkarem and Qalqiliya regions in less than a week.

Hebron roads (not classified)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ramallah Ramallah

Five weeks ago we moved our field teams from Hebron to the northern cities of Jenin, Nablus, and Ramallah. During this time they've worked with local volunteers and university students to map those districts. Within a week we expect to complete the field work in each of these regions, with the four smallest of eleven districts remaining. Our editors have been working with data collected from various partners, and we've begun to establish road systems at an excellent pace. This makes our field work much easier and more efficient, as the teams in the north need only to collect detailed waypoint data, verify roads, and identify missing road information.

Ramallah road system

Thursday, February 19, 2009


After signing an agreement last week with Atlas Corporation, we've begun to work with their existing road and waypoint data for the whole of the West Bank. Our editors in Bethlehem are hard at work organizing and updating the data, and are putting a system in place for coordinating with our field teams around Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin.

Yesterday a team went to Qalqiliya (west of Nablus, adjacent to the wall with Israel) to get field work initiated there. Boundaries and borders continue to define our work. Mapping Qalqiliya was neither plan A nor plan B, but our intention to get started in the region just north of that area was delayed by the closure of the road and reports of arrests.

One JumpStart employee lives in Hebron but is working at the PCBS office in Ramallah. This morning she was unable to come to work due to the closure of Hebron checkpoints. It's not easy to move around in the West Bank, though we've been fortunate not to have progress hindered tremendously.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Partnership Agreement with Atlas

Today we finalized our agreement with Atlas Corporation to get their shape files for the West Bank in exchange for updating them with recent satellite imagery and field surveys. Atlas Corporation is a private company, the largest land survey and map-making company in the West Bank. We approached them a month ago with this idea and after obtaining a sample of their data and updating it for them as an example of our work, they were happy to approve the deal.

Even though adding this new data load to our already demanding timeline does not make things easier for us, it makes JumpStart's map much more accurate and improves our map-making protocol for future endeavors.

Jamal Jumaa, General Manager of Atlas Corporation, and Christopher Weaver, Program Manager for JumpStart

Monday, February 9, 2009


As we're now about halfway through mapping the West Bank, it's a good time to look at what we've accomplished. We have
  • >> created over 1200 job opportunity days in the community
  • >> mapped Hebron and its villages, Jericho, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Jenin
  • >> employed approximately 20 mappers
  • >> partnered with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem to utilize their satellite photography and to help train our editors in ArcGIS
  • >> partnered with Relief International to access their computer labs around the country and train their volunteers in mapping techniques
  • >> partnered with Atlas Inc. to obtain and update their existing road map data
  • >> partnered with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics to allow our mappers to access to the Palestinian Authority's maps to acquire official street names
  • >> begun working with volunteers from the GIS department at Al Najah University in Nablus
We expect to have a "rough draft" of the data completed during the next month. March will be dedicated primarily to editing and finalizing the data, and verifying information acquired in the field.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Back to Nablus

by Sarah

We went back to Nablus this weekend to evaluate some new mapping methods that will better our ability to cooperate with our partner organizations, ARIJ and ATLAS. The JumpStart team and volunteers have been mapping there for weeks, and on Saturday a dozen new volunteers came from the GIS department at Al-Najah University. The day went well, although a major difficulty was reached as we asked the mappers to take photographs of major buildings. Nablus folk were understandably wary of teams walking around with GPS devices, taking photographs, and writing notes, and the volunteers found they could not walk 100 meters without being stopped and asked what they were doing, why, and who they were. The solution JumpStart found is to provide them with identification cards as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately on Monday the suspicion of our mappers turned into a problem, as a pair of the GIS students were put in jail by the Palestinian police. They were quickly released after we were able to speak with the mayor, however operations will be slowed for a couple days while we communicate with the Nablus mayor and Palestinian Intelligence.

Returning from Nablus was long again, with an aggravating three hour wait at the checkpoint. We found it a good time to work on our laptops and connect to the free checkpoint WiFi, which was somewhat oddly available. “Nice, free internet… we should come back some time,” Jeff said.

The check points make the moving around a challenge, between cities and sometimes between villages. The soldiers, often victims themselves of pressure from their backgrounds, are often aggressive physically and psychologically, making life difficult for Palestinians and serving as a continual reminder that they’re under occupation, that they are not free.

There are around 630 check points in the west bank, usually made of some blocks of cement with a barrier, sometimes ditches, a cabin, barbed wire and some soldiers. There are even mobile check points that change position when they feel like it. “They want to surprise us!” commented Majd with a smile.

Children often sell chewing gum or other things to the cars waiting in the lines, in some check points they help bring people’s suitcases from one check point to another for a few shekels.

I admire the people here, I’m proud of them, when I see them stand up for what they believe, rebel to injustice, so often in nonviolence, demonstrate, perseverate, (one small but big example, here in Beit Sahour, since the beginning of the attacks on Gaza people have been meeting every day in the square at 6 pm with Palestinian flags and black flags in grief around a fire).

And we learn. Sure, coming from a cultural and social contest like ours in the west, it becomes difficult to understand, so we listen, we share, we ask, and once we identify and start to live the life here maybe we can understand a little, just a little, that feeling of impotence and frustration too, that strength that grows inside – “it’s probably the same feeling that superheroes feel in front of injustice,” I was telling Anas and Jeff yesterday after 3 hours and a half in a check point, "cause we all have a conscience".

When you see that you can make a difference in something or somebody, however small, you can’t pretend nothing happened. The hope for a better world is alive, but it must be fomented through concrete effort, and it starts from every single one of us, starting from everyday life, in Europe, Canada, America or wherever, from the way we spend our money, our attitude towards the weak and the marginalized, from the way we relate with other cultures and different religions… from our way of living in our world. For a different and more fair world, but if we don’t change direction and we don’t pass to new models that consider equality and justice in every level, it won’t be possible, but this, I repeat, starts from us.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Nablus Adventure

Another day full of adventures and obstacles, the Jumpstart lead team went to Nablus to meet the GIS department at Al-Najah University, and to visit the Jumpstart team working in Nablus. The team set out in the morning from Bethlehem where they had been for the last two days meeting with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem. Traveling north they passed through the "container" checkpoint , also passing by the villages of Abu Dis and Eizariya, to Nablus through Za'atara checkpoint and Huwarra checkpoint which is the worst in the West Bank.

The way to Nablus was uneventful; we didn't wait for long at the checkpoints. When we arrived in Nablus, we first went to Relief International's office to meet the Jumpstart team and the volunteers who are working with us. We spent a productive but enjoyable time with the group as they expressed their appreciation for Jumpstart's efforts with them.

Then Chris and Anas went to the Al-Najah University to discuss the partnership between the university and Jumpstart. Their meeting was successful and they planned to have a training for the GIS students at the university the following week.

We reached the Hawara checkpoint by five, and hundreds of cars were waiting in line for the Israeli soldiers to let them pass. We found out that there were cars there that had been waiting at the checkpoint since three in the afternoon, two hours before we arrived. After a long three hour wait in the car it was finally our turn to pass through.

Huwara checkpoint has its own instructions which require passengers to exit their vehicles ten meters before the checkpoint and the driver of the car should drive alone to the soldiers, carrying the identity papers of all the passengers. So Anas, who was driving, dropped Majd and Chris ten meters before the checkpoint. They acted nonchalantly, despite the obvious hassle. Chris didn't know that he shouldn't move until the soldier calls him to get into the car, so he start walking to go into the car and suddenly the soldier was shouting "wakef.. wakef " in Arabic which means stop , but Chris didn't understand; he thought they were saying "Ok, ok" and he kept going until the soldier shouted louder. After the inspection and scrutiny the soldiers started calling for the people to get into the car ladies first then the men, real chivalry in action. Before the men are allowed into their vehicle they must lift their clothes to show that they have nothing hidden under their clothes. So Majd got into the car and they searched Chris by asking him to lift his clothes. The guard stopped searching him once she realized he was an international.

So we continued our great journey, to be stopped again by another checkpoint called Za'atara, which is five or ten minutes past Huwarra. An hour later we moved on again, but of course the story wasn’t finished yet. We dropped Majd off at Jaba’a checkpoint, between Ramallah and Bethlehem. Majd got the last taxi to Bethlehem. At the last checkpoint the soldiers stopped the car and asked for all the IDs. The guy sitting next to Majd gave a paper saying that he had been released from jail a few hours ago.

“Why were you in jail?” she asked.

The answer was that he had a work permit to work in an Israeli settlement, with permission only to go into the settlement. But he went with his boss (an Israeli settler) to Jerusalem to buy things for work. The Israeli police caught him their illegally, and he spent two months in jail.

After an hour checking his papers, the taxi moved on, and a long day of checkpoints was complete. From Nablus to Bethlehem in six hours – five at the checkpoints and one for the way…

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Team Interviews in Nablus

Name: Raneen Abdilaziz
Age: 19
From: Nablus city
Occupation: Interior design student at Al Najah University

I live in Nablus city; I’m currently in the second year at al Najah University. I learned about Jumpstart through a friend of mine who volunteers at the Relief International office in Nablus. The work is so nice, I’m really enjoying it; the atmosphere is great, the people are fun to work with and the end result of the project is so useful. It also gives us the opportunity to learn more about our cities and villages, many of which I've never visited or knew existed. It is also very important for the public to eventually be able to get the geographic data freely and easily and for Palestine, in general, to have it’s own map of the road system.

Name: Mutaz Al slem
Age: 18
From: Nablus city
Occupation: Economics student at AL Najah University

I live in Nablus city, a large city in the north of the west bank. I found out about the Jumpstart project through the Relief International. I think this project is one of the best projects that has ever been undertaken in Palestine.

The way of the work is simple and easy to understand; this is especially the case because the supervisors are very good to us, they encourage us to work and to do something useful for our beloved Palestine. We truly feel that we’re all one family here doing a very useful project that gives us the opportunity to expand our knowledge about places in Palestine while having the potential to benefit things like tourism and business development. I feel it's very important for Palestine to have its own maps and not to be connected to the Israeli one.

Name: Suna
Age: 24
From: Hebron
Skills: Civil Engineering

I finished university in June of last year (2008) and after that I stayed unemployed for a few months. Then, in November I started a training program at The Rehabilitation Committee which lasted until December which is when I heard from my cousin about the position with Jumpstart in Hebron, and I came.

I like it, it's an interesting job and there are so many nice people working with me. Like I said, before moving to Jenin with Jumpstart, I was living and working in Hebron on the same project. It was really good, now we are doing the same great work in Jenin. However, I think Jenin is a very boring city, all the shops close at 5pm at the latest, so I pass my time at home watching TV or playing cards.

In Hebron we did two things, GPS surveys and drawing maps, now in Jenin, we do that in addition to training the volunteers. Our volunteers are students, currently they have free time to work because they are on winter holiday, but on sunday their school will start again and they'll go back to their studies.

When the West Bank project finishes, I would love to continue with Jumpstart mapping some other place, but it's difficult for me as a girl because my family won't allow me to travel.

Name: Isra
Age: 23
From: Hebron
Skills: Architecture Engineering

I'm originally from the center of Hebron. I graduated from university in November and after that I didn't even have to look for a job because my friend Enas told me about Jumpstart.

Originally I was with Jumpstart in mapping Hebron, now they have moved me to Jenin. I preferred Hebron because Jenin is a very boring place, there is nothing to do here for fun after work.

We start our days in Jenin by going to the villages around Jenin; there are many villages here so we keep busy. In the villages we walk along each road, recording their locations with a GPS and writing the names of the roads in our notebooks. We also record the names of points-of-interest and mark them in the GPS as waypoints. Our points-of-interest include shops, pharmacies, universities, schools, organizations, government buildings, etc. After our fieldwork we go to the Relief International computer lab. There we input the data we collected into the computers and draw the streets and the points-of-interest on our map. For lunch, we go to the apartment and we all eat together, I especially enjoy this time with my teammates.

Of course the war in Gaza affected me, it made me sad and frustrated to see on television what was happening to our people.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Team Interviews in Ramallah

This week we interviewed the staff in order to learn more about their feelings and experiences. The following are condensed versions of what they said:

Name: Ali Ja’far
Age: 27
From: Jerusalem, Sawahreh village

I live in Sawahreh, a village of Jerusalem. In 2004, after the Israeli government built the apartheid wall, the village was divided in half, into east and west. The Israeli government confiscated a big portion of the land in Sawahreh. The east part of the village was excluded from Jerusalem on the other side of the wall; the west side remained connected to Jerusalem and under Israeli government control. The wall separated my relatives; some now live in the east and some in the west.

To travel to Bethlehem from the village is a problem for the presence of Container checkpoint; this checkpoint is considered one of the worse checkpoints in the west bank.

I started my studies in Iraq, but because the US invaded Iraq I had to flee to Jordan; however I soon found that universities in Jordan did not accept my credits from Iraq, so I moved back to Palestine. I finally graduated in 2007, in accounting and finance at Alquds University in Abu Dis. After I graduated I found a job with a bank in Palestine; but, the working conditions there were bad so I had to leave and start looking for something else. My friend Mahar told me about a job with an international organization called Jumpstart, this organization was looking for young people for a mapping project in Palestine. Soon thereafter I started to work with them, I liked it, it didn’t feel like working for a boss, it felt more like a family. There is small opportunity of finding a job in Palestine and if you do manage to find one it will most likely come with poor working conditions, with a low salary, and not relating to anything you trained for academically.

I’ve been working on mapping throughout the period of the Israeli attacks on Gaza and have been greatly affected by this event; it upsets me terribly, the killings of so many innocent people, so many children being bombed and the world not caring. In some way these feelings make me stronger; and mapping makes me feel I’m doing something for Palestine.

In my opinion, this project is very useful to Palestine; I think it’s one of the best projects I've seen here because it’ll help Palestinians learn about their country and people all around the world to have access to a map of Palestine.

Name: Mohammad Ayyad
Age: 24
From: Abu Dis village in Jerusalem
Skills: Computer engineering

I live in Jerusalem, in the village of Abu Dis. I live in the Israeli part of Abu Dis but I don’t have an Israeli ID. Every time I want to go home I have to pass through a particular checkpoint where I’m registered. Because I have a Palestinian ID I cannot go to Jerusalem or other Israeli cities even though I live on the Israeli side of the wall and under their governmental jurisdiction.

Before I finished my studies I started a computer engineering training programme in the Alquds University. After I finished my studies last year, I went looking for a job; however, I couldn’t find any work so I decided to continue the training without any salary and hoping to find a job connected to the university. After sometime without work I heard about Jumpstart's mapping project and that they were hiring, so I went to work with them. It’s difficult to find job in Palestine, the job conditions are no good, the salary is not nearly enough to live on, and finding a job that matches your previous training is rare.

I was working with Jumpstart when Israel attacked Gaza. I felt worried and sad; all my thoughts were for the victims, the people of Gaza. Although, throughout this I work hard and continue my job dilligently. My crew and I will cover a large area of Palestine doing amazing work. I can see how extremely useful a map will be for my society. Most importantly we are creating a map in the public domain, it's not owned by a government or corporation, this freedom is good, especially for maps. It is great that we are creating a separate map from the Israeli-controlled one, so Palestine can be on the world map.

I am grateful to Jumpstart for this job opportunity and I appreciate that they are helping Palestine. I hope to work with this project until it finishes; know the data we collect will be helpful for people in the future.

Name: Sa’eed Alqaloti
Age: 25
From: Abu Dis village in Jerusalem
Skills: Computer engineering

I live in Abu Dis, a village of Jerusalem. This is the same village that Mohammad is from but the wall divided my part of the village from his; I live outside the wall, he lives inside it. I graduated from Alquds University last year with a degree in computer engineering. I found a job in Ramallah with a programming company and worked for them for two months. However, because of the low pay and high cost for transportation, I used all my salary just to pay for my travel costs each day. Because of this, I left the job and stayed unemployed until I heard about Jumpstart. They were looking for people to make a map of the West Bank, I really liked the concept it and so I joined the crew. The work is enjoyable, the salary is good, and they treat me well, like a family.

I felt terribly upset when Israel attacked Gaza and I told myself that I must continue my work because it’s a way to help Palestine. I can see this project is a very useful one for Palestine and it gives many job opportunities to young people, providing some valuable work experience. I am thankful to Jumpstart for the opportunity to work on this map and I hope all the organizations and people who are in, or concern themselves with, the West Bank will utilize our maps, for free of course!

Name: Maher Hidmi
Age: 24
From: Jerusalem
Skills: Computer engineer

I’m from Jerusalem, however I am only allowed to have a Palestinian ID even though my mother holds a Jerusalem ID. Both my father and I have Palestinian IDs yet my mother has a Jerusalem ID which allows her to go to Jerusalem and Israel. Israel only gives me permission to travel within Jerusalem and I must renew this permit every year or I'll loose it.

I work as a project coordinator for one of the teams working with Jumpstart's mapping project; we’re making a map of the West Bank. There are four teams around the West Bank now, my team started in Jerusalem and we’re now in Ramallah. I hope we’ll finish Ramallah city within the next few days and then we’ll move to collect the data from the villages in the surrounding area. This project must be finished by April but you can’t guess anything in this country, you can’t really plan for what’s going to happen tomorrow, thats a strategy of the occupation.

I feel that, through this project, I’m helping my country and it encourages me to work harder. Before working here I was working in a small company in Jerusalem with computer engineering. The salary was bad and the conditions were not encouraging, this job is better because we work as a family, especially with Chris; I value my relationship with him.

We all felt grief stricken about the bombing of Gaza, they’re our people and so naturally it affects us deeply and even effects our capacity to work; when you know that your people are being brutally killed and there is nothing you can do, it can become difficult to focus. None of us are allowed by Israel to travel to Gaza, so we’re trying all our best to focus on this project to help provide more geographical information for our country.