Community Mapping Uganda Acholi, Northern Uganda

About Us

Community Mapping is an organisation based in the School of Environment, Education and Development at the University of Manchester. Our goal is to create maps of previously un-mapped areas of the world, in order to help address chronic humanitarian crises.

Our work began in the Acholi Sub-Region of Northern Uganda, where we use our maps to provide prosthetic limbs to the many thousands of people who lost arms and legs during a conflict that ravaged the region for over 20 years. This is achieved through the creation of an outreach orthopaedic clinic that we created, based at Gulu Referral Hospital. Our team of prosthetists and orthopaedic surgeons travel to communities using a bespoke mobile-clinic vehicle that we created, and provide healthcare and bespoke prosthetic limbs free of charge for anyone suffering from major limb loss.

Our outreach clinic travels to remote communities throughout the Acholi Sub-Region

In a remote and rural region such as Acholi, finding communities is extremely challenging without detailed maps. A complete set of maps is the only way that we can be sure that everyone has access to this life-changing service.

Our methods are simple, volunteers fill in blanks on the map by drawing around buildings, roads, footpaths, rovers, and other features that they can see in satellite imagery. We send all of the data that we collect to an organisation called OpenStreetMap, which makes the data freely available for anyone who wants it, and we also make the results into digital and paper maps that are freely available to local people.

This workshop in gulu is where we make our bespoke prosthetic limbs

We stay in touch with all of our recipients in order to ensure that they are able to receive any on-going care that is required, as well as to ensure that we can maintain the prosthetic, ensuring that it continues to fit perfectly. Along with our partners In Place of War, we also run outreach theatre events alongside our clinics, in order to provide communities with education about disability, with the goal of reducing stigma surrounding disability within communities.

In addition to the delivery of prosthetic limbs, our free maps have also been used for a variety of other purposes, including the installation of Internet connections to dozens of health centres and hundreds schools in the region, several medical programmes including the delivery of prosthetic services and cervical screening to remote communities, and the creation of new water supplies in order to reduce inequality in access to clean drinking water across the region.

We keep in touch with all recipients of our prosthetic services, in order to support them with on-going care and maintenance of the prosthetic

Our family is also getting bigger, following the outbreak of COVID-19, we have extended our operation into Kenya, in order to support valuable research into new interventions to stop the spread of respiratory disease in informal settlements, many of which exhibit population densities too high for measures such as social distancing to be considered.

Local Mapping Partners

We can't map everything remotely - many important features need to be mapped locally, and so we work closely with local partners (such as Gulu University, Uganda), in order to train local volunteers to help build our maps. Using a bespoke paper-based system, local volunteers validate the data that we have created, as well as add place names, road names, building usage, water supplies and many other features that we cannot discover remotely.

Using teamwork in this way, local and remote volunteers work together to produce freely available maps of the highest quality and level of detail, which can then be used for a variety of applications, including the provision of services and resources such as water, healthcare, and internet access.

Training Mappers

A major part of what we do relies upon training mapping volunteers. This includes a wide range of different approaches, incliuding:

  • Holding events at schools, universities and workplaces in the UK;
  • Appearing at public events in the UK, ranging from local pubs to music festivals;
  • Delivering in-country training to local volunteers, often using specialist systems designed to work in settings where resources are scarce.

Innovaton in mapping

We are also continuously developing new approaches in order to make mapping easier, faster, and more accurate. One example of this is our new 'Centaur VGI' method, in which volunteers team up with state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms in order to allow the computer to do much of the hard work, whilst simultaneously learning from the human volunteer in order to improve its own abilities.

OUr family of volunteers is large, ranging from schools to music festivals!

What Next?

Our work continues to grow, and as our base of volunteers rises, so does the potential good that we can do in the world. Our maps are being used by several other research groups and NGOs throughout Uganda, but there are lots of other things that we want to do with them too.

We are currently working on using the maps to install new drinking water supplies in Northern Uganda. Using detailed maps to support this work means that, for the first time, we can optimise the location of new drinking water supplies, allowing us to concentrate on serving those who need it most. In doing so, we hope to have a significant impact upon inequalities in access to clean drinking water in the region.

A drinking water supply in a village just outside of Gulu, Northern Uganda

We won't stop until the Acholi has a comprehensive set of high quality maps, owned by everyone and managed by local community organisations. Hopefully, we can build on what we have done here, to provide similar services (and maps!) in other remote and rural regions of the world.

Get Involved!

If you want to get involved with Community Mapping, the easiest way is to go to our website communitymapping.org and do some mapping! If would like us to visit your group, or would simply like to learn more about what we do, then please don't hesitate to contact Dr Jonny Huck.

Created By
Jonny Huck


Dellen Drake, Timna Denwood and Kirsty Watkinson