Portmarnock Community School have won an award at the Young Social Innovators competition sponsored by the Vodafone Foundation. They had to work hard to get there. Not only did these kids ask me (through their teacher Mr. Niall FitzGerald) to come to the school to initially show them how to use openstreetmap, they were put through their paces by Dave Corley in subsequent visits, who taught them JOSM and showed them how to be consistent and validate the work of other mappers. As if that wasn’t enough they went into the Dublin Young Social Innovators Den for one of two national events to face the “Dragons”, and make a pitch for why their project deserved special recognition.
Their pitch focussed on the fact that the school community has an NGO arm called Action Ireland Trust. Mapping Lesotho is one way of preparing for one of the numerous annual trips that community has made down to work on their education, health and child development projects. Using openstreet also throws what they learn in Maths, Geography, Technology, Science and Civic/Social/Polical education into a big pot, and applies that interdisciplinary experience into a conversation about the country they are mapping. These kids “get it”, without much explanation, that Lesotho is poorly covered by online maps that are free to use by all.
Having asked Dave and myself to return to the School four more times they then did what I have rarely seen schools do, and asked for the use of County Hall Swords to host other local schools coming in to learn about openstreetmap, humanitarian mapping and #MapLesotho. And in doing that the Portmarnock kids became openstreetmap mentors and evangelists. And they also connected to Red Bank High School in Chattanooga USA where a bunch of kids also worked on drawing the features on the map.
I can’t imagine myself (not at that age) going into a competitive encounter, making a four-minute pitch followed by, four tension filled minutes of probing by normally skeptical “Dragons” scrutinising my motivations, my methods and my outcomes. But that’s just what Grace, Oliver and Anbu did! And they walked out with an award of €1,000. Naturally the prize money will be used for their friends in Lesotho. Who knows what will happen next, maybe the computer room in Hlalele school will become a Humanitarian mapping hub. The future of Ireland is in good hands if these are the kids who enter the community and labour market as adults in a few years time. These kids will reach higher and further than previous generations by using technology, but also by using it to further causes like helping a developing nation. Dare I say it, given that they have so many friends in Lesotho maybe the futures of two countries are in good hands.