For two years, Catherine Njore has been mentoring children in rural schools in Kieni Constituency on drawing maps and reading for fun.
Ms Njore, a senior cartographer at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, has been setting up book clubs for children in rural schools through her community-based organisation, Thinkwords.
Thinkwords, which has so far introduced book clubs in eight schools, is not only encouraging children as young as four to read for fun but also steadily introducing the youngsters to an art that they would have had to wait until high school to master: drawing and reading maps.
Besides reading books, the project also seeks to create interest in mapping in children at an early age.
According to Njore, the average Kenyan child interacts with maps at high school. Even then, the interaction is limited to interpreting physical features maps.
This, she says, needs to change, and children introduced to mapping at a lower age as is the case in many education curricula in developed countries.
“Most of our children only encounter an atlas or mapping in secondary school, which is unfortunate because maps are a critical part of everyday life. Sadly, only few people are getting into the field of cartography,” she says.
To make the cartography fun for children, Njore has introduced fun games such as treasure hunting maps in her book clubs.
“I engage the children in a variety of mapping activities, where we map out their schools and hide prizes that they are supposed to find within the compound. It is an interesting game and it builds their curiosity in mapping,” she says.
The result is that under the map-maker's mentorship, children as young as four are engaged in mapping activities.
Selected maps prepared by the children have since been submitted to regional and international mapping competitions.
The children’s maps have been submitted to competitions such as the Barbara Petchinik children’s world map drawing competition 2019. The maps were also exhibited in Japan during the International Cartographic Conference.
“It is through these interactive platforms that we create awareness to relevant education stakeholders on the importance of introducing cartography in schools,” says the map maker.
Despite the progress made in encouraging children to embrace mapping, inadequate proper drawing materials, limited time, funds and little support from some education stakeholders pose a major challenge.
Several times Njore has had to dig deeper into her pockets to fund mapping lessons.
“When I run out of money, I rely on members to fund the activities, but my passion drives me on despite the hurdles,” she says.
Njore is currently writing a children’s book on mapping to introduce the subject to more youngsters, parents and teachers.