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Voluntary aid work is possible even when sitting on your own sofa

Author: Vesa Vattulainen Translation: Merja Luukkanen

A post on the public site of HOT-OSM Finland’s Facebook group caught a journalist’s interest. Soon he was participating in drawing maps of Zimbabwe’s unmapped areas, together with an international group of volunteers. Digital voluntarism is quickly growing both in Finland and around the world.

Seeing the following post in Facebook aroused my curiosity. What is this HOT-OSM Finland group and what are they inviting you to do? I decided to find out.

”Created for the group HOT-OSM Finland Finnish Red Cross.

Welcome to a Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Mapathon @ SPR event on Wednesday, September 21st at 17 – 20 in the office of Finnish Red Cross (SPR).

We will edit together OpenStreetMap material from a selected project area (for examples, see No previous experience is needed! Bring with you a laptop and mouse (drawing maps without a mouse is fairly challenging!)”

The group can accommodate 50 persons, link for registration is In case of overbooking, those registered officially are given preference.

Distant participation from your own sofa is also possible. A link will be provided later.”

”So, put the date in your calendar! Further information will be given closer to the event. More information can be found also at the OSM wiki:

I followed further the group’s time line, and soon found more information:

Posted by Erno Mäkinen on August 21st:

”WHAT HOT, WHAT OSM? The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) coordinates collection of map data for the needs of development and crisis aid. HOT cooperates with several relief organisations, like the Red Cross. OSM (OpenStreetMap) is map data which is free of cost, available for everybody and open to be edited by everybody. Charts are created and updated constantly by volunteers. The data is published under an open licence.”

HOT-OSM Finland is an unofficial network targeted to all interested in the subject. In this group, views and ideas related to the HOT mapping can be exchanged, and information of future events is shared. Welcome to join us :)!!

Further information is available e.g. from the group administrators, at the site https// or from the presentation on HOT-OSM activities in Finland:

I joined the group instantly and went on the spot to learn more about the event.

I decided to be there in time, wanting to see what kind of people would turn up. Slowly the room was filled with youngish women and men. Many of them seemed already to know each other. A cheerful chat filled the room. The room was full.

Participants were turning their laptops on. I, too, opened mine.

”A full room, and you cannot even see them all in the photo”, writes Eero Sario on the HOT-OSM Finland’s Facebook site.

We were told that we were requested to help in mapping some areas in Zimbabwe.

First we were familiarized with the OSM program and how to draw maps. After that, participants concentrated on independent working. Mouses were clicking constantly.

Afterwards I learned that during that HOT @ SPR mapathon, on a single Wednesday evening, 52 web volunteers put, among other things, over 3,500 buildings on the map!

Preventing meningitis in Togo was the target of the first Finnish Red Cross OSM mapping event

Meningitis caused by bacteria killed over a hundred people in Togo by the end of February 2016, most of them children. The epidemic started in Ghana shortly before Christmas 2015 and soon spread to the neighboring Togo.

Fighting the epidemic was challenging. What made it even more difficult was the fact that maps of the area are scarce. The existing maps are not accurate. Not even all the roads are marked, let alone the settled areas.

In March the Togolese web activist Hermann Kassalouwa registered on the Facebook site of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, asking for assistance.

On a Saturday morning a group of activists were examining Kassalouwa’s HOT mapping request #1588. This was how the first mapping event Mapathon@SPR, organized by the Finnish Red Cross started.

Just like any voluntary work, also the web voluntarism is a hobby for those participating.
– Everybody is welcome to join. Actually, all you need is just a laptop, a mouse and a will to help, says Vuokko Heikinheimo in an article published in the issue 2/2016 of the magazine Avun Maailma.

– Although OSM mapping is easy, the threshold may be high to start at home by oneself. So it was also for myself, even though I like to be occupied with maps. It is easier to get started in the mapping events, with more experienced persons there to help you.

– Besides, the events are always a great time, and together we always get more done.
That time, in a couple of hours, about 4,000 buildings and roads were put on the map, helping to fight meningitis in Togo.

Video: Vuokko Heikinheimo interviewed by Karttakeskus on OpenStreetMap and humanitarian mapping during the event Paikkatietomarkkinat 2016 (Location Intelligence Exhibition).

For further information see e.g.

– the group’s site at

– the presentation ”HOT-OSM activities in Finland”:

– Facebook:

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