How can you improve women’s health in Guinea? Or help people in Haiti who have lost everything after Hurricane Matthew?

You could give to an emergency appeal to fund our life-saving work. But if you’re after something with a bit more direct involvement, then taking part in a mapathon could be the answer.

Missing Maps is a volunteer-led project that sees people from across the world create maps that could help people survive and recover from crisis. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection.

Volunteers have recently spent around two months mapping 777 square miles of northern Guinea – an area larger than Greater London.

Tracing roads, plotting buildings, identifying natural landmarks, mapping is a meticulous process, but it’s one that could save lives.

The aim was simple: To help Red Cross teams in Moyenne-Guinée find their way around this remote region as part of a reproductive health-care programme.

The road to better health

Guinea has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world – 61 deaths in children, aged under 12 months, per 1,000 live births.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is also widely practised, which can cause potentially life-threatening complications during pregnancy.

Around 96 per cent of women in Guinea have undergone FGM – the second highest rate in the world, behind only Somalia, according to UNICEF.

The Red Cross health programme aims to address some of the issues around reproductive health, such as gender based violence, reproductive rights and health care during pregnancy.

“Our volunteers need to go out and visit the communities that we are working in,” said Viviana Olivetto, a British Red Cross health adviser.

“We have to know how many villages there are, how big they are, how far away they are from each other.”


A village in Labé region, in northern Guinea

There were no existing maps of the programme area, so the Red Cross team turned to the Missing Maps project.

Beginning in April, 405 volunteers spent two months mapping the programme area, including 40,734 buildings and 1,283 residential areas.

After being checked for accuracy, the maps were ready for use by Red Cross teams in Guinea.

“The maps have been really helpful,” said Viviana. “The volunteers know their own areas, but they don’t necessarily know the neighbouring villages nearby.

“Having a map gives them confidence to visit new places and enables us to plan their visits.”


An section of the map produced by volunteers

Thanks to the maps, Red Cross volunteers have been able to visit 5,00 households in Moyenne-Guinée and carry out 1,024 interviews.

The information gathered helps to determine people’s exact needs around reproductive health and will shape the services we deliver and how we deliver them over the next three years.

“The maps enable us to plan our work better, saving time and money,” added Viviana.

“But they also really boosted the volunteers’ morale. They could see on the map exactly which areas they had visited. It really made them proud to see what they had achieved.”

Maps in an emergency

More recently, mapping volunteers turned their attention to Haiti. Ahead of Hurricane Matthew making landfall, the Red Cross teams requested mapping support for areas due to be hit by the storm.

So at the start of the month, around 80 people gathered at Aviva’s ‘digital garage’ in London to map Haiti’s south-west peninsula.


The map above was completed within three days and will be invaluable for teams on the ground.

Heather, who has attended several mapathons, said: “I first heard about Missing Maps at work. You really feel like you’re making a difference.

“You’re surrounded by people who are doing the same – they want to come here and help too. You never know what you’re going to map, so there’s that element of surprise.”

  • The British Red Cross is grateful to our corporate partner Aviva, who organised a global mapathon for their staff over one week, in five of their markets. Aviva employees completed the bulk of the Guinea mapping project.
  • Find out more about Missing Maps and how you can get involved.