Google Maps and the school that George built

October 2 2012

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So here’s something pretty amazing. I was browsing around on Google Maps the other day (as you do), and I noticed that the satellite imagery for the area of southern Zambia around Kalomo has been updated with some more recent pictures. Why is this important? Because it includes aerial photos of the new school at Simakakata, which I first visited in 2009 and have stayed in touch with since.

It’s pretty incredible, the fact that you can watch the progress being made there by the teachers and parents – who are essentially building it themselves. In the map above, the original school is the one labelled Simakakata community school. This is where 200-odd children were being taught in a collapsing farmhouse with barely any materials except the will power of the teachers to help them. The new school, which as been built with financial assistance from Care and LearnAsOne, is where the green arrow is. You can see it more clearly below.

The small buildings to the left, on the path to the two school buildings, is the toilet block. The path heading south leads to a small handpump for water. There’s no electricity there, yet, but there are power lines near the main road to the south that they’ll be able to tap into soon.

Even these images are a little out of date, though. The foundations for another classroom which can be seen next to the smaller of the two buildings are now another building, and LearnAsOne has just paid for materials for yet another classroom which is now being built.

You can see what the area used to look like, up until 2010, below. Thanks to Mark Jeronimus for a great API that lets you access historical mapping data.

It may not look like much when you compare it to Рsay Рthe building of The Shard in a similar period of time, but the amount of good that comes from those few small buildings is immeasurable in my opinion. Nothing is more important than a good education, which is what the kids of Simakakata can now look forward to.

Forget turn-by-turn directions and the whole Apple iOS6 Maps debacle: to me, being able to see this kind of change happening from thousands of miles away is what makes online maps so magical.

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