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Afghan man works with Google to chart unmapped territory in Afghanistan

John D. Sutter, CNN
A map of Herat, Afghanistan, shown before and after volunteers helped Google add details.
A map of Herat, Afghanistan, shown before and after volunteers helped Google add details.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Volunteers in remote countries are uploading data to Google Maps
  • The efforts are helping Google map parts of the world with new details
  • Maps were recently uploaded from Afghanistan, Antarctica and Iraq

(CNN) -- Before this week, Hasen Poreya's hometown was pretty much off the map.

But Poreya worked with a group of volunteers who call themselves the Afghan Map Makers to walk the streets of Herat, Afghanistan, over the course of several weeks, pen and pencil in hand, to fill in the details.

The group uploaded the data they collected to a Google program called Map Maker, and now the maps are freely available online. An area of western Afghanistan that, according to the Web, contained only two major highways is now digitally dotted with side streets, parks and universities.

"Afghanistan has passed decades of war and misery, but now is the time to rise up and construct the country and develop the abilities for making infrastructure, bringing technologies, being up to date," Poreya wrote in an e-mail.

He added: "Afghanistan totally doesn't not have any base map on the Internet, except old satellite imagery with a very low quality. Since we started our works we could finish Herat City, which is one of major cities in Afghanistan, and now Herat has a complete base map over the Internet."

Google announced Thursday that the efforts of volunteers like Poreya have led to several previously uncharted countries and territories being mapped online. They are: Afghanistan, Antarctica, Ecuador, Georgia, Guatemala, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Honduras, Iraq, Norfolk Island, Saint Pierre & Miquelon and Saudi Arabia.

Google describes its "Map Maker" project this way:

"These citizen cartographers help keep maps of their areas accurate and up to date. They add missing roads and new businesses -- and even map areas that have little to no data yet on Google Maps."

The company praised Poreya's efforts in conjunction with other volunteers and a university:

"Striking for its charm, bustle and impressive historic architectural treasures, the silk road city of Herat, Afghanistan has until today, been nearly 'invisible' online in digital maps. Luckily, Herat is home to Herat University, which is filled with talented, entrepreneurial students some of whom have worked together to literally put their town 'on the (digital) map,' " Google wrote in a blog post.

The company added: "This story is far more significant than the mapping of a city. It is a story of young people in a community coming together, taking ownership of their future and serving their country in a truly entrepreneurial and meaningful way."

You can watch the changes emerge in this time-lapse videos on YouTube, including one of the mapping progression in Herat.

And here's some interesting background on maps in Kabul, Afghanistan, from the BBC:

"At one of Kabul's Post Office distribution centres, I saw more than 30 private and official letters. None had an exact address - just a series of vague directions. One, which had been sent from America, simply states, 'Hamid Jaan, behind Darul-Aman palace.'"

It underscores the impact of maps. They help a country function.

For Poreya, this project was about much more than cartography.

He hopes to help map the rest of Afghanistan.

"It has always been my honor to help the country, which had nothing but war," he said. "This is my home ... and we are all hoping one day (to) have a peaceful country with great honors and glories over the world.

"The special thing for me is to make known the unknown (in) Afghanistan."

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