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News — 26 February, 2024

Young People Tracing Resilience in San Antonio de Prado, Colombia

Discover the impactful volunteer work of Ana Restrepo and a group of young people in San Antonio de Prado, Colombia. Their focus on collaborative mapping not only identifies areas of risk but also promotes citizen participation and demonstrates how youth and mapping tools can drive significant social change.

Outside of Medellín, Colombia, lies the township of San Antonio de Prado. This place, surrounded by hills and forests, stands out for its combination of nature and urban life. However, the community living there faces a significant challenge: landslides threaten their safety and well-being. The mountainous topography and intense regional rainfall create conditions conducive to soil erosion and landslide occurrences, putting the safety and welfare of the community at risk.

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In this context, we meet Ana Carolina Restrepo, a 20-year-old Environmental Sciences student born in San Antonio de Prado. Her vision of life is determined and proactive. Her learning in community mapping tools has been her guide. Together with a team of young people belonging to YouthMappers, she has undertaken a project that goes beyond simply mapping risk zones; their goal is to actively involve the community to ensure that their needs are reflected in the decisions made.

In our conversation with Ana, we explore her motivations and how social impact mapping becomes a tangible expression of resilience to contribute to her community in the face of the constant threat of landslides.


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—Who is Ana?

—I am an independent 20-year-old with clear goals and projects. I am always looking for actions that impact my community. I love to talk, have coffee, and relate to my surroundings. I am a leader, participating in projects where I try to be a supportive, listening, and collaborative person. Since I have been living alone for a long time, I consider that I have learned to adapt. Currently, I am studying Environmental Sciences at the ITM University and working in my free time.

When Ana recounts her introduction to the world of environmental sciences, she shares how her choice of this career was influenced by her social sciences teacher, who was also a geologist. In one of her classes, the teacher spoke to them about the composition of the Earth, a topic that captivated Ana from the start. Initially, her aspiration was to study geological engineering, but she eventually opted for environmental sciences. This career provided her with the opportunity to unite her two great passions: research and education. What motivates her the most is the possibility of teaching and contributing to significant projects. Ana found in environmental sciences the perfect balance between her interests and her desire to make a difference in the world.


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With this background, Ana offers us a vision of her community, San Antonio de Prado. On the map, it is shown as an area with predominantly mountainous topography, creating a vertical landscape. Surrounded by mountains, lagoons, and rivers, Ana highlights the natural beauty that surrounds them. Her enthusiasm shines through when she mentions the Doña María Creek, the main watershed of the township that is essential for the production and supply of drinking water. Despite concerns about occasional overflows, this creek is a constant presence in the community’s life and an invaluable source of natural resources.

San Antonio de Prado is home to a large population and boasts the title of being the second-largest township in Colombia. The essence of this community is manifested in abundant cloudiness, cold weather, and noticeable temperature variations as one ascends through the city. Here, the air has a distinctive aroma, unique compared to other places. Additionally, the constant sound of cars and public transport vehicles is an integral part of the soundscape, given the extensive transportation network that runs through the pathways and connects the township with the city center.

In this context, we asked Ana to provide us with a deeper perspective on landslides, one of the most pressing issues affecting the community.

—The issue we face in San Antonio de Prado is linked to water trapped in the mountains, causing mass movements. We live with the reality of being surrounded by mountains, and various parts of the township have geological problems. The issue is so palpable that they decided to focus on us for this project. We focus on the project because of the risks in pathways like Potrerito and Montañita, where there are many critical points.

In 2022, San Antonio de Prado experienced a significant landslide that resulted in two deaths, triggering an alert throughout the community. This event was a wake-up call that highlighted the vulnerability of the area. Furthermore, in the pathways of Potrerito and Montañita, two of the seven that make up the township, there were landslides that destroyed a key road. Also, in Potrerito, a rock obstructed the flow of water during heavy rains, causing floods and damage to homes. These incidents highlighted the urgent need to address the issue of landslides and ensure the safety of the community.


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Ana learned about the project through social networks when she saw an invitation from the research group of the University of Antioquia announcing a participatory mapping in San Antonio de Prado. Her excitement was immediate, as in the previous semester, she had immersed herself in the world of geographic information systems. She signed up and attended the first meeting, where they explained the essence of the project. Although she found it a bit confusing at first, she became enthusiastic when she discovered that it was something simple, an opportunity where she could contribute and learn at the same time.

—Why did you decide to participate?

—My motivation to participate in the mapping project was mainly my love for fieldwork. With technical training in environmental monitoring, I feel in my element outdoors. The first mapping experience was exciting; going out with the whole team to map the Montañita Pathway was welcoming and full of spirit. Although it initially made me a little fearful, Jessie, our leader, took the time to explain everything in detail, making the journey more enjoyable. The camaraderie of the team and everyone’s willingness made this project something beautiful.

The first time Ana went out alone to do the mapping represented a significant step in her participation in the project. Despite feeling some uncertainty about how the community would react to seeing her with a camera on a motorcycle, the warm welcome she received from the community and their genuine interest in knowing their own township exceeded all her expectations. Discovering unknown places and landslides that connected with other pathways turned out to be a fascinating experience, which made her understand even more the importance of knowing her community and understanding its challenges.

From those moments on, Ana made the decision to continue to be actively involved, feeling a deeper connection to her township and becoming an essential part of the project.

—What impact has the project had on you?

—I relate my personal experience to the purpose of the project, recognizing the importance of getting involved in the community. The fact that people now recognize me and know about my participation in the project has allowed me to establish stronger connections in the social sphere. Furthermore, the mapping initiative has given me the opportunity to focus on my specialization in geographic information systems. Seeing it as a field of professional growth drives me to move forward and learn more, strengthening my connection with the university and other related projects.

Ana is now more immersed in the social life of the township, openly sharing about the project and its benefits for the community. This involvement has broadened her perspective and allowed her to acquire valuable skills both personally and professionally.


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—What impact has it had on your community?

—The community has been so vulnerable and distant, mainly because we have been very distant from the municipality. People often put all the responsibility on the project. So when we have social gatherings, they want to involve everything in the project. They are looking for a way to release all those concerns or discomforts they have, and that no one has really listened to. That’s what has impacted the community. Yes, these days I met environmental leaders. There was a girl who offered to collaborate with me. She told me she could help by knowing the township, observing the vulnerabilities and disasters we have had. She made herself available to help; she is a biologist and is involved in many environmental issues.

The presentation of the project to the community marked a significant milestone. The contributions flowing to the community symbolize the culmination of the project, giving the residents of San Antonio Prado a tangible understanding of the collaboration they have forged. The participatory and collaborative mapping tool becomes a valuable legacy for the community, granting them the freedom to use it according to their needs and contributions. It has become an ingrained resource that will always remain accessible to them. This asset, already integrated into community consciousness, offers the certainty of being able to take it up again in the future. What excites Ana is that this project does not have a definitive end; it is rooted in reality. The possibility of taking it up again in the future remains latent, allowing for continued support and improvement of the community, as well as addressing any challenges that may arise.


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—Ana, what’s next for you?

—I am getting involved in another chapter or project. I signed up for a call for another participatory mapping project from the Latin America and Caribbean Hub. For the community, I want this project not to end. I want it to continue, to give it continuity, to have another more concise analysis, and to make ourselves visible at the municipal level.

By participating, Ana was eager to learn how to handle drones. Ana thought, “If any of them had known how to fly, they would have lent them the drone so they could take orthophotos.” The lack of technical capacity to use this tool worries her. There is a considerable gap in the technical part needed to face these projects. Although activities such as making polygons, lines, or going to do Street View may seem simple, Ana recognizes that there is an analytical part that remains in the hands of another team. Learning and training in both technical and efficient communication with the community are fundamental.

—My intention is not to distance myself from participatory mapping. I want to participate in other mappings that HOT invites us to, such as the Activation after Hurricane Otis in Acapulco, where I am currently participating. When I am interested, I encourage myself, I get involved, because I know that at some point, an even better opportunity will come. That’s what I try to do every day.

In San Antonio de Prado, where landslides threaten natural harmony, Ana Carolina Restrepo stands out as a transformative force. At 20 years old, Ana is a passionate young leader for community mapping projects, tracing not only the outline of risks but also weaving citizen participation into the heart of decision-making. Her work not only seeks to map the present but to build a resilient future, where maps become living tools for environmental risk management. Although her initial project in San Antonio de Prado concludes, the spirit of participatory mapping promises to continue resonating in the community and in every project Ana participates in, aware not only of exploring new frontiers of commitment and prevention in her community but throughout the Latin American region.