When Kana Walsh was working on a project on coastal flooding for Girl Scouts of the USA, a project that ended up winning her the Bronze Award, the highest award given in her age group, she discovered a problem - there are no online humanitarian mapping platforms designed for kids.
So Kana, now a middle schooler at St. Andrew’s, decided to write about it. Her op-ed, which was published last month by the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, has been shared worldwide today, the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child.
“It’s cool and I’m glad people actually recognize that this matters,” Kana said.
In her op-ed, Kana argues that mapping platforms should be created for children and, on the International Day of the Girl Child, countries should promote programs that introduce girls to humanitarian mapping. Humanitarian mapping is critical when natural disasters and other similar crisis arise. Aid workers and first responders sometimes struggle to find adequate maps of impacted regions, and with today’s technology, creating such maps is something anyone can do from virtually anywhere, given the right tool kit.
Putting this work in the hands of ordinary people, or in this case young girls, would provide girls with more STEM education and an entryway to STEM careers.
“In the words of Gwendoline Tilghman, these programs would not only increase STEM education for girls. They would also present an opportunity to strengthen economies for future generations. This makes them a smart, sustainable investment that will promote prosperity, gender equality and disaster preparedness,” Kana writes.
She has also been invited to write a series of op-eds for Plan International, a non-profit organization that seeks to end global poverty. Kana said she is humbled by the opportunity to contribute similarly to other girl activists like Malala Yousafzai.
On October 11, the world will celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. This year, the focus is on preparing girls to enter a world of work that is being transformed by innovation and automation. By engaging organizations and groups around the world, the United Nations is bringing people together to address this global issue. This involves encouraging them to expand existing learning opportunities, chart new pathways and call on others in the global community to rethink how to prepare girls for a successful transition into the world of work.
I believe one way we can work together to prepare girls for the world of work is to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). As pointed out by Gwendoline Tilghman, the gender gap in STEM starts in school. When girls are not introduced to STEM technologies early in life, they are far less likely to pursue STEM degrees. Furthermore, girls are far less likely to study STEM subjects when their friends are not studying those subjects. We therefore need programs to introduce groups of girls to STEM subjects. This includes humanitarian mapping.
Open-source, collaborative mapping projects allow users to contribute geospatial data to help visualize locations around the world. This information can be used to tackle humanitarian challenges by identifying where help is needed most. If we want to prepare girls for a successful transition into the world of humanitarian mapping, then it is clear that we need to get more girls mapping at a younger age. And that isn’t going to be easy. Right now, there are a lot of barriers that make it difficult for girls to learn how to use humanitarian mapping tools.
Unfortunately, there are no programs specifically designed to get kids into humanitarian mapping, and there are no humanitarian mapping platforms that are specifically designed for kids. Furthermore, age restrictions limit kids from being able to use humanitarian mapping programs, and there are no learning materials specifically designed to help kids understand them. It is also very difficult for kids to participate in humanitarian “mapathons.”
Take YouthMappers, for example. They have created a campaign called “Let Girls Map,” which supports the inclusion of girls and women in mapping communities. It also encourages the celebration of achievements of women student mappers. Let Girls Map is a great way to get girls and women involved in humanitarian mapping. But the problem is that it is specifically designed for young women in college—not for children my age.
Recently, I completed my Bronze Award on coastal flooding for Girl Scouts of the USA. While researching my project, my dad introduced me to Missing Maps. After using this humanitarian mapping platform, I realized that it would be fun and educational for girls my age to learn how to use humanitarian mapping platforms. I really enjoyed being able to visually go to places halfway around the world and see how mappers can help people affected by coastal flooding. However, I also realized that these platforms are not designed for kids to use. That needs to change. Girls my age should be able to map too.
On the International Day of the Girl Child, I believe that countries should promote programs that introduce groups of girls to humanitarian mapping. In the words of Gwendoline Tilghman, these programs would not only increase STEM education for girls. They would also present an opportunity to strengthen economies for future generations. This makes them a smart, sustainable investment that will promote prosperity, gender equality and disaster preparedness.