- Feye Andal
As a dedicated community volunteer from OSM-Philippines, and a Regional Ambassador of YouthMappers, I recently had the opportunity to attend the FOSS4G conference in the beautiful city of Prizren in Kosovo. With the backing of a travel, volunteer, and top-up grant from the organizers and sponsors from FOSS4G and the team of HOT Tech and Innovation, my journey was inspiring and beneficial, allowing me to make a difference at this international conference.
In this blog post, I intend to share my experiences in Kosovo and emphasize its vibrant atmosphere, my experiences as a workshop leader, the strong sense of the FOSS4G community, and the difficulties I faced during my journey.
Gratitude for Travel, Volunteer, and Top-Up Grant
I am immensely grateful for the travel, volunteer, and top-up grant that allowed me to attend this year’s international FOSS4G. Without this support, I wouldn't have been able to participate and volunteer this year. Moreover, I was able to explore the natural landscapes and experience the rich cultural history of this remarkable country. The opportunity to participate in FOSS4G as a volunteer also was a dream come true, and I cherished every moment of my involvement in making the conference a huge success.
Volunteering in FOSS4G
As a first time volunteer at FOSS4G, I want to commend the exceptional professionalism of the local organizing team (Besfort and Gresa, you are the best!). Their dedication and efficiency in handling on-the-spot issues were commendable. Their strong communication skills (shout out to the Social Media Team for the best updates and videos all over social media!) and technical expertise was evident throughout the event (Sidorela and Danijel, you are the MVP! The EngelSystem was innovative and impressive too!), inspiring me to bring these qualities back to my own local community. Witnessing their seamless coordination and problem-solving abilities reaffirmed the importance of effective teamwork and communication in organizing successful conferences. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from their example and to apply these valuable learnings in my own experiences.
Breaking Barriers as a Workshop Leader
As a woman in the field of FOSS4G, I initially had doubts about whether it would be the right space for me. However, I was determined to challenge this perception and prove myself. I am happy to say that my efforts paid off, as I had the incredible opportunity to lead not just one but two workshops during the conference.
One of these workshops was a collaboration with Meta, a renowned company that actively supports the OpenStreetMap community. It was truly an honor to work together with them and contribute to the FOSS4G community through co-leading this workshop. Meanwhile, the other one was using KoboToolbox, a powerful open-source data collection tool.
These workshops align with the offerings of the UP Resilience Institute and the UP Resilience Institute YouthMappers. Leveraging our experience from the OpenStreetMap (OSM) community and YouthMappers, we bring valuable insights and expertise to empower individuals and organizations in building resilience.
As a woman workshop leader, I had the opportunity to break barriers and share my expertise with other professionals in the FOSS4G community. The experience of preparing and delivering a workshop was highly rewarding, and it gave me new insights into my work and provided ways to improve it.
Prizren: A Perfect Host City
Located in the heart of Kosovo, the small city of Prizren served as a perfect setting for the FOSS4G conference. Being situated in a more remote location had its advantages, as it allowed attendees to forge deeper connections and cultivate a stronger sense of community. The intimate atmosphere created by the city’s charm and beauty provided an ideal landscape for networking, sharing ideas, and fostering lasting friendships.
One of the conference's highlights was the opportunity to learn Prizren’s history and explore its landscapes: I joined the Adven-Tour! These added an extra layer of fascination to the event, giving attendees a chance to immerse themselves in the local culture and truly experience the mountains of Prizren. Due to unfavorable weather conditions, we were unable to partake in the exhilarating zipline experience (I was particularly looking forward to that despite my fear of heights!). However, even with this unexpected setback, it was an unforgettable experience. As they say, what happens in Kosovo, stays in Kosovo ;)
Beyond Professional Connections
One of the most notable takeaways was the exceptional warmth and openness of the attendees. Engagements with fellow participants and volunteers went beyond mere discussions related to our professional lives. Instead, we delved into various and random topics, exchanged personal experiences, and formed friendships far beyond the confines of the breakout rooms and exhibition areas.
This unparalleled sense of camaraderie is what truly made the event an unforgettable experience. It was inspiring to see people from different backgrounds, cultures, and expertise come together and build such meaningful connections. It was a testament to the remarkable inclusivity and all-embracing nature of the FOSS4G community.
Challenges and Observations
Although my time in Kosovo was filled with many remarkable experiences, I did encounter some challenges along the way. One of the most significant hurdles I faced was obtaining a visa for Kosovo. This difficulty was particularly shared by attendees hailing from countries with weaker passports, underscoring the need to consider accessibility when selecting future FOSS4G venues.
I would like to share that in my personal experience as a Filipino passport holder, the visa application process was conservative and carried a certain level of risk. To ensure my entry into Kosovo, I had to apply for a multi-entry Schengen visa. Given the circumstances, and considering my recent travel to the United States before visiting Kosovo, I deemed it too risky to send my passport to the Istanbul consulate. Therefore, while taking precautions became paramount for my own travel plans, it also made me reflect on the challenges faced by others. I realized that not everyone is privileged enough to take these extra steps or go beyond what is necessary. It highlighted the importance of considering the accessibility and inclusivity of visa processes, ensuring that they are streamlined and accommodating for participants from all backgrounds. It is crucial to create an environment where everyone can participate in events like FOSS4G without facing unnecessary barriers and risks.
The experience served as a poignant reminder that achieving diversity and inclusivity requires more than just selecting a new location. It's essential to also consider the practical, logistical challenges faced by different communities and nationalities. By addressing these challenges, the working group responsible for assessing future venues can ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and benefit from the FOSS4G community.
Despite these challenges, my experience in Kosovo was overwhelmingly positive and has left a deep impression on me. Connecting with friendly attendees from all over the world and learning from their diverse perspectives was truly inspiring and rewarding. My time at FOSS4G in Kosovo has further solidified my passion for FOSS4G and has given me a strong motivation to continue contributing to this remarkable global community.
Overall, I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend FOSS4G in Kosovo, and I am grateful for the many ways in which it has enriched my life, both personally and professionally.
See you in Brazil next year? :)