Archive for October, 2014

October 28, 2014


As some of you may have seen on the news, two weeks ago Beni experienced significant insecurity. There were four  attacks that occurred in different villages in the Beni region. The attacks happened in the evening hours and randomly targeted vulnerable civilians. Although no one knows for sure, reports attribute the killings to the rebel group called ADF-NALU. The most plausible explanation is that they are lashing out in response to the FARDC (the national army) offensive that occurred several months ago against their strongholds deep in the bush. Spreading fear and discord would allow the group to continue their black-market operations across the mountains into Uganda. This hypothesis is one theory of many however.

They have definitely succeeded in sowing fear. The region is very tense. Beni has normally been considered a safe haven and attacking so close to the city was a strong statement. Although we were in no direct danger, we had to be wary of the resulting tension in the town. There were several protests following the attacks, some that were focused at the UN for their perceived inaction. Last week the international team at UCBC decided to go for a week to Uganda in order to recuperate from the emotional stress and to watch the situation develop from afar. The good news is that there have been no more attacks since we left and the tension appears to be subsiding. We plan to return to Beni tomorrow.

The week before we left was full of ups and downs. Every morning we would wake up nervous about hearing the news. There were several evenings when we had to discuss the news and the decision of what security measures to have in place and whether or not we were going to leave for a time.  It was really hard to know if we had accurate news. Friends from the community would often come and check up on us and give us reports of what was happening in town because for a few days we stayed in the compound. Some of the discussions would leave us drained, but then we would enter into a time of prayer and worship that would lighten our spirits. We were thankful to have support and wisdom from the leaders of Congo Initiative both in Congo and the US. I was also thankful to have the support of my international colleagues here in Beni. During the time of insecurity I moved in temporarily with the other international staff so that I wouldn’t be living on my own. Staying and traveling with them for this short time has been a wonderful opportunity to get to know them. One thing that was hard about going on this short sabbatical was leaving all of our Congolese friends and colleagues behind. They too have become like family.

Even in the midst of the insecurity we found joy in our community. One fond memory I have is from the evening before we were going to leave for Uganda. A small group of us just finished a day of editing the base map and were hanging around when we began an impromptu guitar jam session and then started kicking around the soccer ball in the yard. Soon everyone was out there with us having a great time!

Guitar Soccer

One thing that was good about being away from Beni was to have a break from my work and a chance to process everything that has happened during my time here. One thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I’m emotionally strong but then my body presents symptoms of being under a large amount of stress. My response to the violence has been largely of frustration and then increased frustration at not feeling more emotion or knowing how to think more deeply about what has happened. I have realized that it really is beyond comprehension and the only response is to pray and have faith in God’s promises. Sometimes it feels like it is easier to be angry though! Psalm 23 is a verse that I return to often:

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

You may be wondering what the meaning of the title is for this post. When you wake up in the morning, often the first people you see here will tell you “Mmeamuka”. It is an interesting thing to say because it literally means “You awaketh” or “You are awake”. At first it seems strange that they are stating the obvious, but as I spent more time here I began to grow a new appreciation for the phrase. I have found that people here have a daily and vigorous appreciation for life, perhaps because it is more fragile and there is a spiritual battle that is very real here. It is a great lesson to live every day to its fullest.

October 27, 2014

Around Beni

Here are some photos of points of interest that the team discovered around Beni.IMG_0228




Water reservoirsIMG_0301







Traffic circles (rond-points)1413196357999Markets

October 27, 2014

Sur Terrain


It was finally time to go out in field! For four days we met with the volunteers each morning, everyone partnered up, and we gave them an area of Beni to explore and map. The task was to find and fill out surveys for the following elements and place them on the map:

– roads: name (if applicable), type (primary, secondary, residential, footpath), condition (good, mediocre, bad), and coordinates

– bridges: name (if applicable), size (road bridge, footbridge, crossing), material, condition, and coordinates

– points of interest: name, type, subtype, photo (if have permission), and coordinates


One of the core team members stayed at a meeting spot to collect the phones from the teams when they returned. I stayed behind two of the days and went out in the field the other two days. It was a great experience to explore and see different parts of the city. Beni is a very dynamic and beautiful city and I hope that some of the photos I put up in this and the next post will capture some of the life of this place!

At the end of every day I took the phones home to take the data off of the phones and charge them with the few hours of electricity that I had between 6:30 and 10pm. I printed the field papers on the portable printer that I brought along. It was an exhausting but rewarding week! Credit goes to Jessica, Bora, and Archip for these photos.

IMG_0329 IMG_0315


October 26, 2014

Data Collection Tools

The first phase of my research involves creating a base map of the city of Beni. Before I came to Beni I traced the streets of the city using a program called JOSM (Java OpenStreetMap) Editor that I then uploaded to OpenStreetMap and can open in a desktop GIS program. The map is incomplete because it may have errors from tracing from an image and also because there is no road information such as road types and names. I learned that another important element to include on a base map of Beni is bridges. Beni has a large network of creeks that run through the city and there are hundreds of bridges of all shapes and sizes. Lastly, not many people know road names and so people find their way around using points of interest. Points of interest are also useful for preliminary research of the city, such as knowing how many schools or clinics are in the city. The only way to collect most of this information is to go and find it in the field.

In preparation for coming to Beni I researched methods for collecting data in the field. After exploring and testing several mapping application tools, I chose to use three tools called ODK Collect (with FormHub), OSMAnd, and Field Papers.

  • ODK (Open Data Kit) Collect is a smart phone application for creating and employing custom surveys. A project leader can create the survey using Excel, upload it to FormHub, and then download the survey onto the phone. Multiple field volunteers can then use the same survey in the field. All of the data that gets collected gets saved onto the phone and then can be uploaded to the FormHub website when there is access to a wifi network. The data is automatically compiled and available for download from the website as a csv, xls, or kml file. The application allows for a variety of question types including taking a photograph and collecting the GPS coordinates. It took a lot of work to structure the survey and create all of the questions and hints in both English and French.


  • OSMAnd is an application that can also collect GPS coordinates, but the real strength of the application is that maps can be downloaded onto the phone so that they can be viewed without internet access. Since I was intending to send groups to different parts of the city, it was important for them to have a way to locate themselves on the map. Even a physical map would not be enough to locate oneself since it is very difficult to distinguish which road is which or where the limits of the neighbourhoods are. Since OSMAnd uses the OpenStreetMap base map, field volunteers are able to locate themselves on the map that I traced. OSMAnd also has a tracking option so that we can see where the volunteers go when they are in the field. This is useful if we need to double check the location of a road or point of interest, or see where we might have missed an area. Lastly OSMAnd has the ability to show the areas that each group will be assigned to explore (see last post). I used QGIS to save the divisions as a gpx file that can then be made visible as a layer in OSMAnd.


  • Field Papers is a tool that combines digital data collection and physical note-taking. I chose it so that we would have a back-up in case we have technical difficulty with the phones or need to double check any information. On the Field Papers website it is possible to tile the OpenStreetMap base map into a print-ready pdf of the desired area. Field Volunteers can then take the papers into the field and mark them up at the same time as collecting the digital data. After the data collection is complete it is possible to take a photograph of the papers and upload them back to the website, where they are automatically geolocated because of a scan code that is on each page. JOSM Editor has a plug-in for FieldPapers so that allows the elements to be traced offline.


By word of mouth and text messages, we recruited a group of students who were interested in learning the GIS tools and join us in the field. I originally had the goal to recruit ten to twenty people, but we had thirty students come to our first meeting! We went through an introduction of how to use the tools and then the students partnered up and spent time wandering around the grounds and testing them out on the phones.



October 20, 2014

Map Hunt

The next task of the mapping project was to see what kind of maps of the city already exist. The core GIS team spent a few days visiting the various cadastral and municipal offices that might have information. It was a bit of a scavenger hunt because we would go to one office and they would suggest we go to another one. Sometimes they would be too busy and so we would have to come back another day or book an appointment. We went to the mayor’s office to see if they had any maps, but also to share and get support for the project. They responded very positively and expressed that it was a real need for the city. In our search for maps we discovered that there are no digital maps of the city that use or were created with GIS. At the office of urbanism we found a few hand drawn maps that had the names of some roads and rivers and the neighbourhood limits. It has been quite a challenge to overlay this information and transfer it to our own map. Originally we were planning to use the divisions of the neighbourhoods as the way to assign areas for upcoming fieldwork, but realized it would take us too long to resolve what the limits are. The quarters also vary too much in size. For the purpose of the fieldwork I divided the city into a series of “assignments” of areas that follow main roads and are manageable to explore on foot in one day. Beni Map


October 15, 2014

Canadian Thanksgiving, Albertine Style

On Canadian Thanksgiving I went to church with Jessica and Lauren and then went to the Hotel Albertine to work on our computers and enjoy lunch together. We ordered a half a chicken and fries to share, which we decided was as close as we would get to a thanksgiving meal. Another treat that weekend were Kate’s delicious home-made donuts, complete with hot apple juice! It was fun to have a small taste of autumn that I am missing from home. That night I got to skype with my crazy fam who were about to eat thanksgiving dinner at Jen and Chris’s place. I enjoyed talking to them all together. Overall it was a wonderful weekend!

Chicken Dinner


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October 12, 2014


Last weekend I went with the Shaws, Lauren, and David to check out a piece of vacant land that has a great view of the mountains on a clear day. We had a fun time climbing around on the rocks and taking in the splendour. What an amazing creation God has made!

Mountain view

Silly kids  David on the rock

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October 12, 2014

The Question of Land

One  thing I’ve discovered about this region is that there is a lot of conflict that arises over land. The problem is that there are multiple claims to land from different authorities. There are cadastral claims that are registered with the city, claims with local chiefs, and even ancestral claims that don’t belong to either group. It is a common occurrence that a piece of land is sold even though it already has another claim. In many cases the conflict becomes violent. There is no easy way to resolve such a deeply embedded issue, but mapping has the ability to offer transparency as a first step to reaching resolution.

An example of land conflict is the tension between the Congo Pygmy population and new populations that are moving in and buying land in the region of Mbau, north of Beni. The chiefs of the area are selling land that Pygmies say they already have claim to. Two weeks ago I went with a few professors and students from UCBC to an advocacy event that was arranged by an organization called PAP-RDC (Programme d’Assistance aux Pygmies) in partnership with the Catholic University of Graben in Butembo. Many Pygmy representatives were gathered to express their sentiments about how their land was being taken from them. They were seated in a circle and people stood up and spoke passionately one at at a time in front of a video camera. It’s a very sensitive issue because the Congo Pygmies have been subject to decades of discrimination and exploitation.  The advocacy group is making a video to spread awareness about the conflict from the perspective of the Pygmy population. It was interesting to be an observer. We are hoping to meet with the team from PAP to see what kind of mapping they have done and to learn from their experience of responding to land conflict.

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