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Last year, I joined the State of the Map 2018 and shared about my then “young” project on mental health awareness. I was actually supposed to share about how we use OpenStreetMap and Open Data for social welfare and development, but then our Department did not allow me to do so because… reasons. And so I had to change my topic at the last minute. Guess it was a blessing in disguise because I was able to share my advocacy and how I apply my expertise and OSM to this personal project for something very close to my heart.

And so off I went to Milan complete with plans on how to save my money yet make the best out of my first trip to Europe. With no support from work, or from people I wrote to for support, I had to support and pay for everything myself. It’s been a year since I’ve came home from the trip and I am still paying for a portion of my fare up to now! 😂 Thank you and I hate you, credit cards. Lol

From that experience, I promised myself that should I join 2019’s SoTM, I’ll take all my chances to get support in promoting my project and encouraging people to use OSM, open data, and free and open source technologies for advancing their advocacies and promoting the welfare of underrepresented sectors and communities.

I have created the website and pages for the mental health project, organized workshops and mapathons for it, prepared all the necessary logistics, invited people to talk about mental health for free, collected data, gathered resources, and promoted the project ALL BY MYSELF, and I thought this should change and SoTM is a great venue to support that change.

As soon as the submission period for talks was opened, I took my chance. As soon as the application period for scholarships was opened, I took my chance.

But I knew there was a very little chance I could get a scholarship. I had very few OSM edits which I was only able to do during disaster response periods or during my free time from work. I have school, work, personal projects, personal life, and an unstable mental health I’ve had to juggle afterall. Too bad though that I was not able to make my OSM stats look great with all the mapathons, workshops, and trainings I have conducted to encourage more people to join the OSM community. Our GIS Team also always makes sure to add these in our activities with participants from all the regions in the Philippines because we are all huge supporters of opendata. And no, I won’t stop doing this—teaching how to map with OSM and sharing my knowledge about it—even if it doesn’t make my OSM username look pretty.

Alas, I got invited to present my submitted topic but did not get a scholarship. I resolved to not push through with it because I also did not think I’d get any financial support from anyone based on last year’s experience. But the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) also accepted my topic on mental health and invited me to present my project at the HOT Summit 2 days before the State of the Map 2019! Both were to happen in Heidelberg, and boy was I so torn on what to do! I was so resolved into not adding up to my pile of debts I keep on making for all these personal projects I keep on doing but which also keeps on making me feel worthless all the time. (But that’s another story for another day.)

So yeah, I decided that I cannot pay for this trip myself. But I really really really wanted to share my projects to the world! I thought that if I could share about it, I could get more support and more technical help from fellow mappers around the world. This was a great opportunity for mental health ~~awareness~~ awhereness!

So I took all my chances.

I wrote to our Congressman. I wrote to our Governor. I wrote to the Mayor. I even wrote to the author and most vocal advocate of the recently passed Mental Health Law in the Philippines. I did not get any response about financial support.

As a Contractual government employee, it was also not easy for staff like me to request for funding from our department, let alone request for official time off from work. And I did not have any paid leaves left! So there I was, with no financial support, looking at unpaid work days I’d have to incur from attending these events.

But my boss was supportive and so I took my chance.

He already knows about the invites but I’ve told him before that I won’t attend them. But when I told him about my final decision to attend, he agreed. I also told him about the deadlines and days I might miss from attending the events, and he allowed me to render work on Saturdays to cover for these days and to finish all the work I have to do. And so I worked from almost 8-7 on weekdays (unpaid, but I had to), and 8-5 on Saturdays.

I was so tired and my mental health was also not on its best. I was spiraling.

But the mapping gods are still good to me afterall! HOT opened a scholarship application for partial support to attend the summit.

So I took this chance!

A month before the conferences, I received an email that I got the scholarship! Yay! This was a huge help on the expenses! I was excited and finally decided that I’d definitely attend the HOT Summit and SoTM 2019! But this was A MONTH before the events and I. STILL. DID. NOT HAVE. A VISA.


Two weeks before the summit, I finally completed and submitted all the requirements for the visa. My fellow GeoladiesPH were also going and told me that they got their visas approved in just three days after submitting their requirements. But a week after, I still haven’t gotten mine. Being the worrier that I am, I’ve thought of all the worst case scenarios and kind of accepted my fate. I thought that the Embassy might have been calling me during office hours, but couldn’t get through because very very ironically, our office which is the ICT Management Service for our Department, DID NOT HAVE network signal for my phone’s carrier. Hahaha! I’m deadt. The Embassy must have thrown all my shit away because I was unreachable and they could have important concerns about my application. Time was running out!

But thanks to my partner and my friends, they pushed me to not give up. I thought about my connections from the Young Leaders Network, my friends who work from embassies, everything! I asked around for tips on how to contact the Embassy myself, just to update my contact number into our office landline. And I took these chances!

Luckily though, good news came to take my mind off this whole visa fiasco! The Office of the Mayor called and told me to come home to our province on a weekday to personally tell him about this chance to present at these international conferences.

But remember that I had no work leaves left? Meh. I’ll take this chance.

So I went home to the province and went to the Mayor’s. But I went back to Metro Manila the next day defeated. The Mayor needs my approved visa to be able to decide whether their office could provide financial support. Sad. A day off from work went to waste. But at least I was home with my family.

And just as I thought, the mapping gods love me! 2 days later, my approved visa came! That was 4 days before I had to leave! Phew!

But a day before my flight, I got another good news! The Office of the Mayor was able to grant me a small amount (but huge help!) to assist me on my financial expenses for the trip. He also wished me luck and made me feel proud about myself.

Without my mother’s help though, this could not have been possible.

Without my partner’s and friends’ encouragement, I could have given up.

Without my boss’ support, I could have decided that attending is not worth all the trouble.

And now here I am in Heidelberg.

I was able to share about the Mental Health aWHEREness at the HOT Summit. I was able to share MAPAbabae and how OSM has encouraged more women-participation in mapping at the State of the Map.

There were slots left for more talks at SoTM and I also took my chance and presented the Mental Health aWHEREness project again on a more technical structure to hopefully gather help from the developers who are at the venue.

I was able to share the project too at the poster viewing. Yes, I took that chance, too.

I was able to share all these things and face my stage fright and a lot of other fears and limitations I punish myself with.

And it’s all worth it. I got to learn from other mappers, advocates, women groups, academics, and a new generation of mappers! I got to take part in an important event for the people who contribute to mapping the world and applying all these data and technologies for improving lives. I was able to talk to people I could work with to improve and promote the Mental Health aWHEREness Project!

Here I am 3 talks and a poster after. Tired and missing home but happy.

I took all my chances. It was definitely not easy. But it was definitely all worth it.

Thank you OSM and HOT. Thank you fellow volunteers and advocates. Keep doing the good, good-in-all-its-meaning, work.

Location: 49.378, 8.702


Comment from mboeringa on 25 September 2019 at 11:28

Amazing story. Great you managed to finally visit SoTM 2019 against all odds, and present about your own interests and share your experiences.

Comment from Polyglot on 26 September 2019 at 15:30

Wonderful story indeed. I’m glad for you it all worked out!

I don’t think the number of map edits influences the decision to support mappers with scholarships. It’s really hard, I think, to review all those applications and then decide which 21 there is enough budget for.

Really glad you are part of our community!


Comment from Plutocrat on 30 September 2019 at 07:03

Great to hear. Your persistence paid off!

Comment from Iyan on 7 October 2019 at 03:58

Thank you for sharing your story and be a part of the conference, Andi!. I enjoyed your talk too, I like how we can also contribute through mapping for this important issue.

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