Friday, 23 March 2012

My ICCM Geneva Experience

I just returned from attending the International Conference on Crisis Mapping in Geneva Switzerland and I just thought it wise to tell you a little about how it all happened.

On June 2, 2011, while at work, my boss Kate Cummings asked the entire staff of Ushahidi Liberia to apply to the World Bank for a sponsorship to attend the International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM) that would be hosted in Geneva, Switzerland. We all did accordingly and sent in our applications for sponsorship. Fortunately, on July 21, I received a letter back from the World Bank saying I had been selected as one of the three candidates from Africa to attend the Conference. I then started to follow all the next steps they proposed and completed all my requirements for their sponsorship. Though I received my visa at the last minute on November 13, the day my flight was scheduled to leave but I still made the trip.

The interesting part is that I am 24 years of age and this was my first time being on a plane.
On the SN Brussels flight

It was also my first time going to Europe, seeing a more beautiful place than Liberia and feeling extremely cold weather. While on the SN Brussels plane I had a window seat, and I was enjoying the ride as I watched the scenery below. I saw the blinking city lights of Abidjan, Brussels and Munich while transiting there.

I almost lost my way in the Brussels airport because this was my first time seeing a big airport that had so many terminals, but I found my way out by asking people. It's always good to ask people whenever you are confused about a thing. Oh! Not to forget, the food on the planes was delicious and the flight attendants were wonderful, too.

When I arrived in Geneva on the morning of November 14, I couldnt find my friend Dave who had gone to pick me up at the airport, but I later found him standing with my name and Ushahidi logo on a computer screen. That also drew the attention of Ushahidis Erik Hersman who was also landing at the time. When we left the airport it was way too cold for me, as I had never experienced this kind of weather before. Luckily, my boss bought some hats and gloves for me before I left Liberia, so I immediately put those on.
Erik and I at Geneva Airport

While en route to the hotel the World Bank had booked for me, I had the opportunity to see beautiful buildings, clean and well laid-out streets, electric buses and a very organized city.

My experience in Geneva, though short, taught me a lot of things. French was the common language spoken and written and that complicated my communications a little bit. Luckily, I was not there alone, so I always had a good back up: Dave who would always tell peoplehe speaks only English, so please speak in English.

While at the conference I listened to great presentations from Adam Fink about the LRA Crisis Tracker, Christiaan Adams of Google, where he talked about Google Earth, Google Maps and Google Earth Builder, Laura Hudson of FrontlineSMS and others.

These talks gave me a new perspective that crisis mapping can help greatly in Liberia. From the amazing talks I heard at the ICCM about mobile technology, I believe that Crisis Mapping could become an important part of Liberia's emergency response and peacebuilding efforts because mobile technology is the most common means of reporting information here.
Apart from the conference, I was able to visit many important statues and places; the UN office, the World Bank office, the Catholic Archdiocese Geneva Headquarters, the old part of the city and also the famous water fountain (Jet d'Eau) at lake Geneva. I also had the opportunity spending one of my days there at the home of a Liberian lady named Krubo who had lived in Geneva for the past 20 years. At her home, she and I sang the national anthem of Liberia, talked a lot of Liberia and we also had a great dinner. 
At Lake Geneva
Geneva is an international city, seen by its different populations, enriched by their cultures and displayed by the variety of building architecture.
All in all, it was indeed a good learning experience for me and one to remember always.

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