Student story: My summer working with the British Red Cross’s International Family Tracing team

Luke Harvey, Cartography M.Sc. student from the 8th Intake, is telling his story on how he supported the British Red Cross in mapmaking this summer…
The front cover of the mapping booklet I created

I spent my summer working with the British Red Cross’s (BRC) International Family Tracing team. The team supports enquirers in their search for family members that they have lost contact with. Many of these enquirers are young refugees who have lost family contact though migration. The BRC does this in numerous ways, one of which is by mapping the persons house and then deploying a Red Cross or Red Crescent ground worker who goes to the location searching for the missing family.

Many of the locations haven’t been mapped before and satellite imagery is generally very poor. As a result, creating cognitive maps with the enquirer is often the best way forward. There was no existing universal mapping practice used within the International Family Tracing at the BRC and it was my role to create a standard practice to be used nationally when mapping an enquirer’s hometown.

The map making process with enquirers can be a difficult task, mentally revisiting hometowns can invoke traumatic memories of family separation for enquirers, it was very important that any practice was sensitive to this. Different cultural approaches to address systems (or lack of) and some enquirers never seeing a map like projection before were additional hurdles which were needed to be overcome when producing the making mapping procedures.

Along with creating new mapping guidelines I curated helpful online mapping tools and created an interculturally understood standardised symbol set to make the maps easier to read. This was all compiled into a ‘mapping booklet’ – using skills I learnt during the Geo-Media Techniques at TU Wien. I also produced a video which accompanies the booklet showcasing the new mapping guidelines. I was then able to present my new guidelines and created resources nationally via a webinar.

Some of the new standardised map symbols that have to be interculturally understood.

My summer has flown by and I learnt a lot from the BRC. I have been inspired by the workers and the enquirers I have met. The work the BRC International Family Tracing team do is life-changing for people all over the world and I am proud to have played a little part. The BRC is an organisation filled with caring and compassionate people who were keen to meet and help the map guy!

Luke Harvey, 8th intake