Hackney volunteer helped save 3,000 Tanzanian girls from FGM with mapping project

Activist Rhobi Samwelly and Hackney resident Janet Chapman at the United Nations. Picture: Tanzania Development Trust

Activist Rhobi Samwelly and Hackney resident Janet Chapman at the United Nations. Picture: Tanzania Development Trust - Credit: Tanzania Development Trust

A Hackney woman helped save about 3,000 girls from female genital mutilation (FGM) after setting up a mapping project to help activists protect girls in Tanzania.

Rhobi Samwelly with local mapping volunteers in Tanzania. Picture: Tanzania Development Trust

Rhobi Samwelly with local mapping volunteers in Tanzania. Picture: Tanzania Development Trust - Credit: Tanzania Development Trust

Janet Chapman is a Hackney volunteer and chair of The Tanzania Development Trust (TDT), an organisation which has fought FGM practices for 45 years and supported girls’ education, livelihoods and access to clean water.

She founded Crowd2Map five years ago in November to mark out huge rural expanses of the east African country, previously unmapped and difficult to navigate, to help FGM activists find and protect girls at risk of FGM.

The project sees volunteers from all over the world adding roads and buildings from satellite images, working alongside people on the ground in Tanzania who provide vital local knowledge.

Janet said: “Thank you to all of the 14,000 plus volunteers who have helped add nearly 5 million buildings to the Tanzanian map.”


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Better maps have helped activists like Rhobi Samwelly, an FGM survivor, find and protect girls from being cut.

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Rhobi set up her own project called Hope for Girls with TDT’s help, which aims to provide safe houses as refuge and a place for education.

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She said: ““Often we get a phone call in the middle of the night saying girls are about to be cut in a particular village. Round here there are no road signs, and before we had these maps on our phones it was very difficult to find girls quickly, so mapping is very important to us.”

To celebrate TDT’s 45th anniversary and appeal for donations to carry on its efforts, Janet has organised a free online event on November 28.

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The charities work includes 55 water projects providing clean water to over 500,000 people, workshops funded for women living in extreme poverty, many of which have began making face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

The charity has also built dozens of beehives and trained local beekeepers as part of income generation projects to sell honey.

The organisation is entirely volunteer-led and has funded a total of 607 projects, at a cost of £2.4 million, benefitting an estimated 608,000 people since it was founded in 1975.

Trust chair Janet said volunteering for TDT has been a “privilege” to volunteer at TDT for eight years : “To have seen first-hand the impact the projects we have funded are having in these remote regions, and meet the inspiring people running them.”

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In one village, Rungwe Mpya, children used to have to walk than two kilometres to find water for sanitation and drinking but, after a borehole was drilled last year with TDT’s help, one schoolgirl said: “We are rescued from the faraway walk through the bush, shabby water and time loss. We thank you all for this help and it is going to improve our school performance.”

The trust plans to repeat the low-cost, simple, and easy to maintain scheme, providing shallow wells with rope hand pumps, for an area of more than 1,200 people who currently need to fetch water from a stream 2.3 kms away.

Janet said: “Your match funding can provide people with clean water on site. And we have many more villages just like Rungwe Mpya; desperate for water. With your help we can bring them water.”

To donate and find out more click here

To join the charity’s anniversary event click here

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