Geography Awareness Week was observed in Belize from November 13-19, with the highlight of the week being GIS Day 2016—an event held on Wednesday, November 16, at the Ramada Belize City Princess. The event drew over nine hundred Belizeans students from all over the country including the cayes and villages.

During the opening ceremony for the event, Keynote Speaker Adele Ramos, highly respected journalist in Belize and Assistant Editor at the Amandala newspaper, shared with students how she has used Esri open source software to create maps and apps focusing on various issues and events in Belize ranging from social, economic and public safety. She also demonstrated to students how GIS and the maps and apps she has created, such as her app featuring the boundaries of Belize, can be used in schools to build knowledge.

“Applications on mobile phones are now ground-breaking tools that allow people who have GIS knowledge to be able to engage the wider public. So for example, somebody could develop an app where if a crime happens right now at a certain location, you could plug it in, report it and it appears on the map,” Ramos said.

Many youth may already be using GIS without realizing it. Dr. Diana Sinton, Esri Education Ambassador and Professor at Cornell University, New York, asked the students how many of them are familiar with Pokémon Go. Many of them raised their hands.

“So did you know that when you are holding a phone and playing Pokémon Go that there is GIS behind that; did you know that that game wouldn’t be possible unless we had GIS?” Sinton asked.

“If you have a phone that lets you navigate, or lets you find things… that location-enabled technology is what we’re talking about. So maybe you haven’t encountered it formally before but you might be using it all the time and more and more, you’re going to have chances for this to connect with your life,” Dr. Sinton added.

“GIS can help students better know and appreciate Belize and Belizeans, to develop their intellectual skills, to better grasp concepts involving quantity and space, to understand the geography and economy of Belize and the world, to enhance their technological skills, to understand the systems and subsystems of our natural environment and the need to preserve it,” Dr. Neulin Villanueva, Deputy Chief Education Officer, said in her remarks.

Loretta Palacio, Managing Director of Total Business Solutions Limited (TBSL), showed how Belize is connecting with the rest of the world, putting Belize’s events on a map of over 800 events held around the globe. Earlier in the week, TBLS held a two-day workshop during which Belizean educators learned from Dr. Sinton about integrating GIS in the school curriculum.

The annual GIS Day expo provided an opportunity for Belizeans to learn more about how several organizations are using GIS in Belize. Students also had the opportunity to learn about the Belize GIS Education Portal, an online platform which features maps and apps that provide a new and innovative way to learn Geography, Social Studies, History, Science and other subject areas. They also learned about possible careers in GIS and how it is used in almost every career. Students also visited the ArcGIS test drive station, where they learned to use and had hands on experience with ArcGIS Online, a mapping platform by Esri.

The expo boasted a diverse and engaging group of exhibitors. They are: The Belize Audubon Society, Frank Tench meteorologist, the Coastal Zone Management Authority & Institute, the Caye Caulker Ocean Academy, the University of Belize, the Statistical Institute of Belize, the Police Department’s Information Technology Unit, Adele Ramos, and TBSL mounted exhibits for the event.

Students got to see how UB students have been using a drone in a project to map Belize’s Barrier Reef System and the cayes using GIS. Students also used a web application to find their homes from schools and to see if they live in a flood prone zone.

Students were curious to see what their peers at Ocean Academy have been doing with GIS, and they were amazed that other students like themselves are already using the technology.

The corporate community helped to make GIS Day a success. Platinum sponsor, BTL, featured a booth advertising 4G LTE mobile internet, while silver sponsor, Fultec Systems, provided the hardware for the ArcGIS test drive station and showcased an advanced plotter which is used to print large maps and images. Belize Natural Energy also provided sponsorship for the event.

Supporting sponsors included Premier Charters and Tours, which transported some students to and from Princess; Wellworth Store, provided treats for students; and Santiago Castillo Ltd contributed prizes and goodies. Cakes by Karla provided a thematic GIS Day cake, which was raffled at the event; St. Martin Government School of Belmopan walked away with the prize.

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