Back to Congo

I’ve been in Europe for nine days and I fly out tomorrow to Uganda. It’s definitely time I write about the next journey I am about to go on! After a year of planning I am finally heading to Beni in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to partner with UCBC in research related to mapping and urban studies. The goal of my research is to design and implement a digital mapping framework for the university and community of Beni, while at the same time testing what digital tools can offer to promote agency in the real spatial and social condition of a precarious city. You may wonder where this research came from. Two years ago I did an internship with a Christian development organization called Engineering Ministries International in their East Africa office. I lived in Kampala Uganda for four months and for two weeks went on a project trip with a team of architects and engineers to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to complete a master plan for a Christian bilingual university called UCBC (Université Chrétienne Bilingue du Congo). Living in a developing country definitely changed my perspective as a designer. When I was there I realized that the young generation has an incredible amount of hope and energy for improving conditions in the country, but lack agency. I started wondering what design could offer. Since that trip I considered how I could perform research in the area of community development using design and mapping tools to foster community programs and networks. At the beginning of my research I contacted UCBC out of the blue to see if they would be interested in partnering in this type of work. It turned out that it was good timing for them because they had just launched a new GIS program. This was the beginning of a year of work to prepare for this upcoming trip. There was a lot of planning and learning involved in such a large scale project that was a step away from my expertise. I tackled coding of html, CSS, and JavaScript; I communicated with expert mappers and geographers; I learned about all sorts of data collection and mapping initiatives; I learned the use of different open source tools for data collection; I prepared a plan for how I will run workshops and what the content and purpose of them will be; I researched and purchased equipment such as a portable printer, GPS units, solar chargers, and a portable external battery; I collected a few used GPS devices and smart phones. On top of that I dove into the theory of mapping to determine what the positioning of my work will be in the discourse of mapping and architecture. What a year! I look forward to sharing with you about the trip! I’m going to try to post as often as I can even if it’s just a phrase or a single photograph. I’ll be posting some photos from my short trip to Europe shortly! Best, Lise

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