More Than Just An Internship

Melanie Eckle, Heidelberg University, Germany

Time flies when you are having fun….a sentence that exactly reflects my internship with Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL), an exceptional little office in the capital of Nepal. I joined the team in October last year and soon decided that I never want to leave! Not only because they play Futsal twice a week and showed me (a German girl) how to score goals but also because this team has accomplished amazing things since they started their work only a year ago. They impressed me every day with their ideas, their technical and mapping knowledge and their excitement for open data and basically everything that they do. They taught me crucial things for my career in disaster management, a lot about life and working in a team as well as in an international open community. Now we already celebrate the end of the winter and my four months are coming to an end… four months that changed my life!

From the very beginning the team fully involved me in their exciting work, beginning with the Full Exposure Survey. I learned about mapping, building features, the use of Quantum GIS–an  open-source GIS and much more from the very first day (see Blog: A German Mapper in Kathmandu). This experience made me even more aware of the importance of open data, not only for Nepal but for the whole world, and of the possibilities open data offers – one of them being OpenStreetMap. I was already learning so many things so fast in the first few days that I was convinced I would soon run out of things to learn… I have never been happier to have been proved wrong.

Our next assignment, however, was not based on a happy occasion. At the beginning of November a massive typhoon (Haiyan) hit the Philippines – a shocking natural disaster that cost many lives and left many people in need – and that requested the help of international communities. The KLL team soon realized the urgency of the situation and supported the relief efforts from the first day through mapping, mapping, mapping and giving technical support. Thus, we helped the staff in the field to get better situational awareness that again helped them to enhance the disaster management on the islands. Typhoon Haiyan offered me the opportunity to learn and observe how different organizations work in disaster situations and to gain a better understanding of how disaster management and relief works are conducted and coordinated across these organizations. I also discovered the power of remote mapping and the difference it causes in the real world. What makes me real proud is that Nepal was ranked 6th on the list of mapping contributors to Typhoon Haiyan – and my contributions were a part of it. Mapping really has no borders… and you don’t need a visa for it 🙂

After the Phillipines mapping, I focused on mapping inside Nepal to improve the state of the OpenStreetMap of Nepal. It was an important task again, as more map data will help to enable more app developments and enhance urban planning as well as disaster management in the country. Apart from this, I was entrusted to conduct the validation of our entire Full Exposure Survey with Manoj, one of the most experienced mappers of the team. Thus I had another chance to broaden my technical knowledge and also improve my writing and organizational skills, as I had to develop a project methodology and document the whole project professionally.

When I reflect on my time with KLL, I realize how much knowledge I have acquired since my arrival in Kathmandu – from helping during the Full Exposure survey, during the relief efforts in the Philippines to potentially saving many lives in the face of a major disaster in Nepal – all through mapping.

My final project turned out to be another highlight: creating a movie about KLL! As my first career goal was to become a movie maker, I could not believe my luck and started the project with a lot of excitement- the final result is soon to be seen on the KLL website, so stay in touch, it´s worth it!

I will miss this team a lot and cannot imagine not being in this small lab anymore. There is so much more to do, discover and learn. But I am as well looking forward to making more people in Germany aware of this amazing project and to support the team from Heidelberg… and like people say, no one comes to Nepal just once – this is just the beginning of my work with KLL!

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