BALOON MAPPING: Improving the living conditions in a refugee camp

BALOON MAPPING: Improving the living conditions in a refugee camp

Bourj Al Shamali is a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, under the jurisdiction of the UN, that was established as a temporary camp in 1948. Nowadays it is overcrowded, informally build and void of greenery. It has more than 23’000 registered refugees, and fifty percent of them are younger than 18.

This refugee community is using citizen science to map, analyze, improve, green and take charge of their environment. The project “Citizens science in a refuge camp” concentrates on the inhabitants’ community that has the objective of using the information received to plan and support future improvement initiatives.The main aim of this project has been to produce in a collaborative way what surprisingly will be the first detailed map of the city that its inhabitants have ever had. They used “balloon mapping”, a do-it-yourself aerial photography tool developed by Public Lab, the citizen science organization.

Working with a group of youths of the camp and with the support of Beit Atfal Assumoud, a humanitarian organization, they took thousands aerial pictures of this populated settlement thanks to the navigation of the balloon through the streets. The three camp resident who did the most of work on the balloon mapping are Amal Al Saeid (21), Mustapha Dakhloul (18), and Firas Ismail (19). They received a pair of invitations to present their work in the United States.

This way of mapping builds better relationships with the inhabitants of the place that has to be mapped. In fact, the low-tech balloon mapping permits a wider participation of the community members. Inhabitants as partners and co-creators of the solutions to their problems.

Started as a campaign to produce maps of the Bourj Al Shamali refugee camp giving the citizen scientists a chance to share their experiences with those abroad, after an initial support the project reached its goal and then expanded to include signposts and the camp’s first community garden.With Al Houla Association they launched a balloon mapping initiative that would help the local committee to launch an agriculture pilot project and to create a green space in the camp.

The mapping process is part of a wider initiative which goes under the name of “Greening Bourj Al Shamali”  aims at improving the living conditions and the living space in Bourj Al Shamali refugee camp in south Lebanon. Bourj Al Shamali is passing through a new political phase, with a new local committee that is independent and is currently working to involve numerous people around the camp in collective activities to improve daily aspects of the life in camp. To begin with, the project envisages the creation of the first public green space in the Bourj Al Shamali refugee camp in South Lebanon, in conjunction with the launch of a pilot urban agriculture initiative for the camp’s residents.


The number of refugee and refugee camps around the world is growing rapidly. This project has an an enormous potential to create solutions through new models for how people living in such situations might establish a measure of control over their own environments and futures, and improve their living conditions.


Bourj Al Shamali è un campo di rifugiati Palestinesi in Libano. La comunità di rifugiati utilizza la scienza dei cittadini per mappare, analizzare, migliorare, rendere verde e prendersi il carico del loro sviluppo. L’obiettivo principale di questo progetto è quello di creare in maniera collaborativa una mappa dettagliata della citta. Questo è stato possibile grazie al “balloon mapping”, uno strumento “fai da te” che cattura fotografie aeree, creato da Public Lab che è l’organizzazione dei cittadini. Nata come campagna per mappare la citta, il campo rifugiati ha raggiunto il suo obiettivo e ora si sta espandendo per creare il primo orto condiviso del campo che attualmente è privo di verde. Questo progetto ha un grandissimo potenziale in quanto, con l’aumento di campi di rifugiati, crea soluzioni attraverso nuovi modelli per le persone che vivono in queste condizioni, stabilendo una misura di controllo per il loro sviluppo e miglioramento delle loro condizioni di vita.