Teaching OpenStreetMap in Cebu

Hello again from the Philippines!

As the summer comes to an end, my days are filling with all sorts of “lasts” and “finals”. Final reports are being written, our last trainings are wrapping up, final meetings are taking place, final stops at our favorite food places…

One such “last” was our last trip out of Manila. Myself and two other Fellows, Lu and Prabesh, traveled to Cebu City to train a group of over 100 students on OpenStreetMap. And it was a blast.

The students range from ages 17 to 21, and are sponsored by the French NGO Passerelles Numériques. They study IT with a focus on either Systems Network Engineering or Software Development. We were amazed by their work ethic, discipline, and the intense structure of their schedule. Their days start early; once Lu and I got up at 6am to go down to breakfast…only to discover that we’d already missed it and everyone was cleaning up! (Luckily they had saved some for us.)

Lu and Prabesh with Group 2.

Lu and Prabesh with Group 2.

We held four trainings with PN students over the course of three days. We told each group about ourselves and our work this summer with AidData and Map the Philippines. Then we walked them through the basics of editing on OpenStreetMap. It was a joy to show them how to use aerial imagery to trace features in their hometowns. The students all come from underprivileged backgrounds and PN’s program offers them a chance at profitable future employment. However this means that they have to move to one of PN’s centers in Cebu City to live and take classes. Many of the students were from the northern or southern parts of the island of Cebu, but many also came from other islands in the Visayas region: Bohol, Negros, Samar, Leyte…

Lu explains OSM.

Lu explains OSM at the front of the room.

Once everyone was comfortable editing, we introduced HOTOSM, or the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. This platform allows mappers around the world to contribute to maps needed in response to crises or in areas with high risk of disasters. HOTOSM was recently used with success after the earthquake in Nepal last spring. For our training, we got the students working on mapping roads in Bohol, and by the end they had finished an additional 34% of the project.

We were also lucky in that we got to bring in a couple of guest OpenStreetMappers. Randy and Delbert have used OSM in some of their own work, and when they heard about our event, asked if they could participate. It was really awesome to have some local mappers come in and talk to the students, especially because they could speak the local language.

Us with Delbert and Randy.

Us with Delbert and Randy.

All in all, our time at PN was a great success. We made new friends, new mappers, and learned a lot more about life in the Philippines.

Emily McLenigan

P.S. If you want to see a few pictures about the other events and trainings we’ve been a part of this summer, check out our story map.

P.P.S. And if you’re interested in visiting the Philippines for yourself, be sure to check out this exciting opportunity! 😉


  1. cmcrowley01 says:

    Hi Emily,
    Sounds like you guys did some awesome work in the Philippines this summer! I am curious about the extent to which there was a language barrier for you. Did you feel limited in your tasks or even in making friendships because of this, or was it not much of an issue?

  2. Emily! What a great opportunity. After you leave, do you know if there is a way you can stay involved with the OpenStreetMap Project in the states? It sounds like you guys got so invested in it!

  3. ermclenigan says:

    Good question! We were pretty lucky because English is really widely spoken in the Philippines, and most people we worked with had a strong command of it. However there definitely was still a bit of a gap between us and the students because English is not their first language, and we speak next to nothing of their native dialects. But I wouldn’t say that language prevented us from having meaningful relationships with the people we met, and I would say that it only very rarely limited us in what we could do.

    Another interesting note: There are almost 200 different dialects in the Philippines. At this event in Cebu, I definitely heard some students speaking to each other in English, and I suspect it was because they came from different islands and spoke different local dialects. So I think it’s for this reason too that a lot of Filipinos speak English well.