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Georgia College Honors student maps roads in Tanzania

The young carry the old on their shoulders – wading through muddy floodwaters to town to sell bananas, buy supplies or see a doctor.

Draft of mapping geography major Jessica Craigg is doing for a small town called Mto wa Mbu .  
Craigg's research will help government officials in Tanzania identify roads that need priority repairs.

Roads in the small, East African village in Tanzania become dust bowls in the dry season and swimmable in the wet. No one has cars. Potholes are everywhere. Cement slabs under houses don’t keep the water out.

And it only gets worse, as agricultural practices render the land impervious to water.

But one Georgia College Honors student is doing something about it. 

With only two weeks left in her trip abroad last semester – senior geography major Jessica Craigg took out her handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) to log coordinates. She’s now using the computerized Geographic Information System (GIS) to chart roads and prioritize routes that need improvement most.

“Jessica’s research will help improve living conditions for countless citizens in Tanzania by helping improve travel conditions and linking economic resources to people who most need access to new opportunities,” said Dr. Doug Oetter, her geography professor.

“I am most pleased with Jessica’s attention to applying the skills we develop in geography to a part of the world where knowledge transfer is most needed,” Oetter said. “She has helped pave pathways not just for Tanzanians, but also for other Georgia College students interested in making their education significant in a global setting.”

Craigg was exposed to geography and geology at an early age, growing up in Duluth. Both parents worked as geologists, and her mother had a background in geography.

When she arrived at Georgia College, Craigg didn’t know what to major in. After talking with Oetter, she felt geography encompassed all her interests. It delved into land geography, as well as culture, weather climate, economics and politics.

“It was almost like not choosing a major at all,” Craigg said. “Being undecided, I didn’t want to choose one thing and eliminate other cool things. Geography was perfect, because there’s so many fields you can study.”

Craigg decided to study abroad last fall in Tanzania, after taking Dr. Eustace Palmer’s Intro to African Studies class and Dr. Amy Sumpter’s Geography of Africa. She’s written several papers on Tanzania – which merges aspects of India and Arabia, as well as southern and western Africa.

It’s a country with amazing natural resources and great populations of wild animals – but the average person earns less than a thousand dollars a year, Oetter said.

Photos taken by Jessica Craigg while studying abroad in Tanzania last fall. 

“She selected Tanzania not only because of its astounding natural splendor, but also because of its incredible challenges,” he said. “Her study examined the interaction of nature conservation and human development at the front line of difficult decisions, regarding how developing societies can and should provide for their citizens.”

Craigg's photos of wild animals at Serengeti National Park and 
Tarangire National Park. 

Craigg joined the School for International Training (SIT), which exposed her to safari adventures, political-climate discussions and the opportunity to do independent research.

Craigg (far right) with a group of students at Mazumbai 

Some mornings her class would analyze lion-hunting behavior from a protective Jeep. In the evenings, students rode the plains in search of wild animals. Craigg saw herds of elephants with their young, leopards and cheetahs. She particularly liked the blue and white “Secretary Bird” which looks like it’s wearing a feather-pen hat and trousers.

One interesting discussion involved a planned highway on the Serengeti, an ecosystem where the world’s largest animal migration occurs. The road would bring needed economic help to villages, but cut off the great journey of wildebeest.

In the last month of her trip, Craigg chose to research the relationship of a large national park with its neighbor – an impoverished, small community called Mto wa Mbu (mm-toe WAH mm-boo), which in Swahili means “River of Mosquitoes.” It’s located on the edge of Lake Manyara National Park, about two hours west of Arusha in Northern Tanzania.

“The community popped up there because of tourism. But there’s a lot of corruption in the system,” Craigg said. “The national park generates a huge amount of money, but a lot of times that doesn’t end up trickling down to the community.

“For a lot of people, their entire livelihood is selling fabrics or trinkets to the tourists. And they’re not going to come,” she said, “if the roads are flooded.”

Through an interpreter, Craigg interviewed townspeople who told her their biggest problem was poor roads. In the dusty dry season, they cover their faces with bandanas. In the wet season, some roads become impassable for months and are especially troublesome for the elderly and disabled.

“If you’re someone who’s very very poor, you’re going to live in an area that most likely floods a lot,” Craigg said. “Water goes into houses and shops. Everyone’s houses are built on cement blocks to stop the water as much as they can. But the flood level is rising every year.”

Craigg with a group of painters she interviewed.
Her interpreter, George, has a red bandana. He
provided valuable insight for Craigg's research on 
the lives of people in Mto wa Mbu. 

In the last two weeks of her trip, Craigg veered from her original research and walked the roads with her GPS, logging coordinates of about 400 roads. She noted the condition, traffic volume, amount of flooding and whether important structures raised a road’s priority status.

She’s now mapping five of the most-used, interior roads and dozens of less-traveled pathways. The GIS, a virtual-mapping software, enables Craigg to make “heat maps” targeting areas that need repairs the most.

“To my knowledge, this hasn’t ever been done before,” Craigg said. “I am really excited for the potential of what I’m doing to directly benefit the community that helped me do my research.”

When done, Craigg will share maps with the Tanzanian community and government. She’s hoping the national park will help fund repairs.

Honors director Dr. Steven Elliott-Gower said Craigg’s research will provide great practical value to the people of Mto wa Mbu.

“It reflects the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that she has acquired here at Georgia College,” he said. “It also reflects and reinforces our commitment to public service—in this case, at the international level.”

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