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GISCorps Volunteers Teach GIS and Remote Sensing at Kabale University in Uganda


The Department of Environment and Natural Resources at Kabale University (KAB) in southwestern Uganda requested GISCorps volunteer(s) to teach GIS/Remote Sensing to their faculty members.  KAB intends to establish a GIS centre including training departmental staff in aspects of GIS/Remote sensing with specific focus on: Database management systems, Raster based ELTs, Vector based GIS software, as well as Open Source tools and other programs relevant to successful implementation of the GIS centre.

Two volunteers were selected for this project and were in Uganda from March to April, 2015. They were Joey Abrams, a Senior Systems Analyst with Vencore, Inc in Virginia and Adam McKay, a Data Analyst with Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care in Toronto, Canada. Here is their mission report.

Adam (left), Joey (right)

We want to start by saying thank you to GISCorps, Kabale University, and the people of Uganda for offering us such a special opportunity.  This post-trip report will run (mostly) chronologically and outline some of our challenges and successes during our time at KAB.


The first task for this trip was the procurement of travel/living funds via a crowdfunding platform.  We fundraised over $3400, which helped cover flights, vaccines, medications, and entry visas.  Overall, the crowdfunding was a success.  However, the platform that we chose “Volunteer Forever” (VF) did not hold up their end of the bargain.  The site boasts that it will offer 30 minutes of free campaign advice via Skype if your campaign reached $500.  They failed to provide us the Skype session, despite our requests.  The site also boasts a featured advertisement on the website home page if your campaign reaches $1000.  They failed to provide the featured advertisement, despite our requests.  We do not recommend using “Volunteer Forever” for future projects.


Our first few days at KAB were full of surprises, both disappointing and inspiring.  The most disappointing surprise came when we found out that the ESRI Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had not been completed by all parties.  This meant that we would not have ArcMap to use as a teaching resource.  As a result, we quickly restructured and rebuilt the lectures and labs so they were compatible with Quantum GIS (QGIS); an open source software.  We were both surprised by the flexibility and overall performance of the software but agreed on its inferiority to Esri’s ArcMap. The most inspiring surprise came when we found out that one of the professors at the school was using rudimentary GIS for some fault line analysis in the Virunga Volcanic Region.  We involved the professor in the class as much as he was willing to participate and Joey helped him digitize fault lines in the Virunga Region using scanned maps from the professor’s files.


Lecture and lab topics included: Intro to GIS, Intro to Remote Sensing, Georeferencing, Data Collection, GPS Applications, Digitizing, Cartography/Map Design, Geodatabases, Open Source GIS, Webmapping and more!  Having access to strong internet connections and electrical power was a consistent challenge throughout the six weeks.  Oftentimes, we were forced to develop lectures and labs without the use of the World Wide Web and without the ability to download larger files (i.e., >5 mb).

As can be expected of any class, there was a range of interest.  Some people took the class to learn something specific, others wanted to learn everything, yet others were content to complete the bare minimum.  Those students who were motivated to learn made the class worthwhile.  For example, two of our students worked at an agricultural research farm which was interested in the potential uses of GIS.  These two students were on a mission to learn how GIS could help the research center.  Joey and I visited the research centre, which was located on beautiful Lake Bunyonyi.  We have also offered our continued support to the students for their future GIS initiatives.



Our living arrangement was a highlight of the trip.  The Bahumura Guest House on Makanga Hill is truly a home away from home (check them out on TripAdvisor).  The manager of the guest house, Nathan, made sure that we wanted for nothing and the housekeepers Stidia, Sarah, and Owen were always offering help and a friendly smile.

Gorilla Tracking

On April 20, we were fortunate enough to track down the Nshongi Gorilla family.  With approximately 10 individuals, the family was vibrant.  An infant played in the trees next to the silverback, which was quite content eating berries under some protective vegetation.

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