2009 Placement in India with Shelter Associates, mapping slums
We speak to Maxine von Eye, who spent three months in India in the summer of 2010, mapping slums for Shelter Associates.
Maxine is what you can call an international: having grown up in the USA, she was awarded a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science at the Colorado School of Mines. She then came to the UK to do an MSc in Modern Applications of Mathematics at the University of Bath, and a PhD in Applied Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. EWB-wise, Maxine was a bit of a late bloomer: “I only just got involved with EWB-UK in the final year of my PhD. I was working at the Canoe Club booth at the Cambridge University freshers’ fair and the EWB-UK booth was right across from us. I saw it and thought it sounded interesting, so I looked on the web site and applied for a placement”, she says.
It might not sound like a straightforward path for someone who has a PhD in Applied Mathematics, but this shows that not only engineers can get involved with EWB-UK! Maxine agrees: “My background in mathematics meant that I was not well suited for many of the EWB-UK placements. I have done a bit of ‘Geographical Information Systems’ (GIS) during my PhD, and I have experience in data analysis and writing software, so the placement with Shelter Associates seemed like a perfect match.”
The actual placement involves mapping slums and making various data surrounding them accessible. At the time of the interview Maxine’s team had outlined all 220 slums in Solapur on Google Earth. “We visited the municipal corporation in Solapur to show them what we have been working on and to check that the slums we outlined were correct. Then I wrote a web page explaining Shelter Associates’ use of GIS and remote sensing for their website which includes an embedded Google Earth plugin so people can see what we do first hand.”, she adds.
Her next task involved working on a web application to show all the slum level data that Shelter Associates social workers have collected over the years, which would enable users of the program to have access to information such as graphs, charts and GIS maps for queries such as education, water supply and waste disposal.
Maxine seems very pleased with her placement, and says it’s a valuable experience: “You learn a lot about different people, different cultures and different ways of thinking and working. And working on slums in India opens your eyes to a whole new world. I knew that in the West we take a lot for granted, but I never realized how much. We don’t think twice about things like electricity and running water, but here it is not uncommon for these to get turned off for an entire city for days at a time! I was also very lucky to have been paired up with another great EWB-UK volunteer, Jenny Pattison, so I think I will come away from this experience with a great friend.”
So you see, EWB-UK much more than just another organisation for engineers!