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Volunteer from California teaching GIS in Zambia

We have been assisting the South Luangwa Conservation Society (SLCS), a nonprofit organization based in Zambia, for the past few years with their GIS needs. They recently asked that we send one of our volunteers onsite to teach ArcGIS desktop and Online to their team. The recruitment resulted in selecting Michelle Kinzel, a GIS professional from California who left for Mfuwe in late July, 2013.

The one month workshop included teaching Introduction to GIS, Basic Map Making Skills and Data Management to the members of the SLCS. Lessons included lectures and hand on practice of basic GIS skills.  Topics covered included Introduction to GIS, Projections and Coordinate Systems, Attributes, Queries, Map Production and Cartography.  Class Activities included Q&A, Review on Lecture Material, Field Work Using GPS Units to Collect Data, Ground Truthing Land Cover and Vegetation Classes, Creating a Geodatabase for Poaching and Snaring Records, Adding Data to ArcMap, Querying Data, Creating Map Layouts, and Sharing Map Layouts.

Slides from ‘Introduction to GIS’ lecture – Class 1.

The participants created map layouts using SLCS database files and records.  The map layouts were very well done, professional examples of maps displaying Elephant Mortalities, Vegetation Types, South Luangwa National Park Boundaries, Map Insets and showed excellent usage of cartographic skills, including display of spatial data, and inclusion and proper placement of map elements.

ArcGIS Map produced by SLCS CEO Rachel McRobb.

While there, Michelle sent the following email and photos:

Hi Shoreh, 

Thought I would share an email I sent to family and friends….these are all tourist shots – Rachel has had me go on 3 proper African safaris already!!!  I am so spoiled, and enjoying it very much.

The GIS workshops have been going steadily along, we have covered a lot of content and concept and begun the hands on lessons – and have covered the following –

Lectures:  Introduction to Mapping and GIS Systems, GIS Data, Displaying Data, Projections and Coordinates

Hands On:

Field Work Collecting GPS data

GPS à GarminBaseCampàExcelàArcGIS files

Adding x,y data and saving as shapefiles

Visualizing a Pixel (marking of 30 m square areas to compare with Landsat imagery)

Using ArcGIS Help Functions to search for help

Thanks again for this amazing opportunity –


In the same email but to friends and family…

Zambia has been amazing. I have so many new experiences in my head – and have been trying to journal each night. I am getting some of it on paper, some on film, and some will have to be captured later. The days are very busy, filled with teaching in the morning and then lesson writing or trying to install software and set up the database for the South Luangwa Conservation Society in the afternoon.

The camp – Thornicroft Lodge, is very luxurious, and they have me staying in a Chalet which is 5 star “camping”…I have running water hot/cold and it is basically a stand alone building with 4 proper walls that have large screened windows, a working desk, a little closet area, an indoor toilet (NOT a given in this part of the world!!) a porch, and a thatched roof – so it feels like being outside in comfort and luxury.  The staff are very friendly, everyone in Zambia, actually has been very welcoming and warm – everyone exudes a warmth and a genuine happiness to be in their jobs, to meet you and to help serve you. I was helped by some guides at the airport – getting my Visa and my luggage and I thought at first it might be a scam, but they were just helping me as they were assigned to meet a couple traveling on the same plane as I was, and they saw I was traveling alone.  From the airport on, everyone I meet is very friendly and sincere.  I don’t even rely on that kind of genuine and sincere happiness to be doing their job from the folks at Starbucks anymore!

The pictures aren’t even close to capturing the true essence of all that has happened on the drives, and in camp –

I have seen these animals in zoos and in documentaries and studied them for what seems most of my life, but nothing can compare to seeing them in all their natural glory – no fences and no restrictions on them – except, of course, for nature itself… fascinating to watch the behaviors – the calls, the stalking, the postures, the signals, the alerts, the demonstrations (one female elephant started to show our jeep that she was boss……we didn’t stick around long enough to argue J …………..) and about a hundred other stories I have……that will have to wait until I return.

Some things I have learned –

Elephants are BIG! And they are noisy when they eat outside your window at 3am.

Hippos are big and when they run past your window, they shake your Chalet floor.

Relaxing hippos are chatty……….they snort and grunt at each other in the river below our camp during the night.

When a shot is heard in the night – the people I am working with get on their phones immediately to investigate….the one incident during dinner my first night was a warning because a ‘cheeky elephant’ was trying to get in a car.

Rachel (my host) is like a really nice (to me) bad ass Sherriff in town…..we ‘investigated’ a road which wasn’t proper and discovered a “dodgy camp” that she thinks is NOT poachers but people trying to get out of cooperating with the parks and fees…..

Rachel McRobb (SLCS CEO) and SLCS Scouts

SLCS Member Richard, Workshop Participants – Benson Kanyembo, Rachel McRobb and Jerome Hugonot with an SLCS Vehicle.

The poaching problem is pretty big – looking at the datasets is a bit much to take – and the photos still bother me, but it helps to know I am leaving behind some skill sets and tools for the SLCS staff to use in making a difference.

Vervet monkeys are sneaky little bastards – and they DEFINETLY know the difference between me and the staff…..they creep up on me when I am sitting by the river – no doubt they won’t forget the peanut butter and toast they managed to steal from me the first weekend…..but if they see or hear a staff member, they scatter quickly!! The staff tell me the catapults (slingshots) are just for show, but the way the group scatters I imagine they know the concept of a rock being launched from one on more than just a conceptual basis!!

I love Zambia so much we (Rachel and I) are talking about ways to get funding for a larger workshop next year – same location here but having folks from other organizations come and do the training……

More to come…..maybe when I am back in the states….

“A lot of people claim they have had life-altering experiences, and I can honestly say that working with the South Luangwa Conservation Society on a GISCorps assignment has been one of the best experiences of my lifetime.  I am honored and humbled to be able to dedicate some of my professional skills and apply my experience and talents towards the betterment of the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, Africa.  The month that I spent with Rachel McRobb and the SLCS team has been an incredible experience.  I am so glad that I found GISCorps and was matched up with one of my new conservation heroes, Rachel McRobb – and am proud to call Rachel McRobb and Shoreh Elhami my friends!  The world is a safer place for elephants because of these women.”

Michelle Kinzel
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