##Background on the project
Bourj Al Shamali is located 3 km east of Tyre in south Lebanon and has approximately 22,000 registered Palestinian refugees. Obtaining a map of the camp seems like an impossible task, and as it is a small compact space, the current aerial images (on google) are not of high enough resolution to distinguish the narrow streets and individual buildings.
For this reason with Al Houla Association in the camp, we launched a kite and balloon mapping initiative in May 2015. The aim of this aerial map was to have a tool that would help the local committee in the camp to do two things: (i) to launch an urban agriculture pilot project; and (ii) to create a green space in the camp.
Our Experience and Lessons Learned
As Bourj Al Shamali is such a compact space, we took images at various altitudes to ensure we had high quality images of rooftops, but also good overviews of the camp. The aim was to get close to the ground photos for small, precise images and higher up images with greater range but lower resolution to help us piece together the map. On average we took photos at 80-100 and then at 200-250 meters altitude. We measured this by marking our line with the different altitudes we needed.
Our main equipment issue was acquiring helium in Lebanon. Helium is expensive, although it was relatively easily available. In addition, logistical challenges stemmed from the physical aspects of the camp. In an ideal setting, one can cover large areas if you are able to walk around with the balloon and there are no obstacles. In Bourj Al Shamali, however, streets are narrow and therefore difficult to maneuverer in with the balloon.
There is also a maze of electricity cables above all streets and around the buildings.
The camp is on a hill and with the sea close by, the area is also often windy, with the wind going inland. At some of the most strategic locations this meant that the wind worked against us, making it difficult to steer the balloon where we wanted to.
We compensated for our inability to walk around by launching our balloon from many different locations. In total we mapped from 16 different positions within the camp, covering the whole area.
To solve our problems we also had a lot of community support: the wind meant that twice the kite broke and we needed help from a seamstress in the camp to help us fix it.
We also received help from a local carpenter who constructed a case to protect our camera, and from the school physics teacher who helped with ideas. When the balloon was shot down, the local tyre shop helped to patch up the holes. In addition, we were also invited to roof tops and people's homes constantly, as people wanted to partake in the project.