Things That Matter

10-Year-Old Activist Francisco Javier Vera Is Calling On The Colombian Government To Act Against Climate Change

Greta Thunberg has been gaining international fame as the face of youth climate activism, making deeply moving speeches in front of both massive crowds and the world’s most powerful leaders. Thunberg is not the only jovencit@ fighting for environmental justice—children and teenagers all across the globe are (and have been) purporting the same message for years. Thunberg’s rising fame has catapulted this message to the mainstream media, garnering the attention it so desperately deserves. Another awesome kid at the forefront of this movement? Colombia’s Francisco Javier Vera, a 10-year-old activist calling on the Colombian government to enact more effective climate legislation in the immediate future.

On December 20, Vera led a dozen other niños in a march of protest against government inaction on the issue of climate change. Vera is not only protesting and raising awareness through a wide range of platforms—he recently addressed the Colombian Senate with an impassioned speech calling for conscious environmental action at the government level.

He addressed the officials in Spanish, but the English translation reads:

“Today, I came to represent my group Guardianes Por La Vida to ask everyone to be conscious of the damage we’ve caused the environment, you and me, the damage we’ve caused. I ask you, as senators of the republic . . . legislate for our lives. For example, go against fracking campaigns, animal testing, single-use plastic, and the mistreatment of animals. We are, in my opinion, unfairly tasked as children to fight for our planet.”

Vera also urged the Colombian Senate to vote against a major tax reform bill, claiming that it disrespects and would ultimately harm the rural populations of Colombia. These populations are often the most susceptible to the effects of natural disasters, as well as the most likely to suffer without resources in the aftermath of a severe storm.

Over the past few years, the Colombian government has worked to improve climate disaster prevention by relocating high-risk neighborhoods, constructing retaining walls in areas vulnerable to landslides and floods, and reducing annual deforestation. Indeed, as climate change continues to evolve, populations on the deforested slopes of the Andes Mountains—as well as those placed along riverbeds—are most at risk for severe floods and avalanches. Cities in the Andean country have a cumulative population of about 49 million people, all of whom are in constant danger of potentially devastating climate events.

Luis Gilberto Murillo, a former mining engineer who served as Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development from 2016 to 2018, told Reuters in 2017 that “Colombia is very vulnerable to phenomena of extreme climate variability and climate change.” He added that around 500 municipalities are constantly on medium or alert for flood and landslide risks.

“We have to move toward a culture of prevention and response to early warnings. Close to 12 million people are in high-risk conditions,” said Murillo.

Credit: Columbia University / phys.org

In 2017, Colombia unveiled the country’s National Climate Change Policy, which aimed to expand existing programs that addressed the risks of climate change, from disaster management plans to financial protection plans to strategies for emissions reduction. Twenty-three separate regions proposed their own plans for climate change, and all state capitals included climate change on their respective development plans. The country committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2030, acknowledging that another 10% cut could be achieved with international support.

These efforts may not prove to be enough. Many scientists are reassessing their original estimates about the rate at which climate change would unfold—few people thought that the effects of our warming planet would arrive so quickly, and the unexpected nature (not to mention the urgency) of this situation is not lost on the Earth’s youth.

“There is little time left. For our home to not reach its end we need to help it, to look after it, and to love it,” said Vera. “There’s no Plan B. This is the only planet in the universe that sustains life, and if it’s the only one and it comes to an end? Then life ends.”

Credit: Oro Noticias

Damn, boy. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, but this sounds so wise coming from the mouth of a young child. And when you see a 10-year-old kid advocating for legislative action so that he and his peers can live long, fruitful lives on a beautiful and abundant planet, doesn’t it make you wonder what the heck you were doing when you were 10? If you’re a millennial who grew up in the 90s or the aughts, you were blessed with the innocence—the ignorance—of the times, and you had the luxury of ignoring the terrors of our imminent climate crisis. Today’s kids aren’t so lucky, and they deserve all the support they can get as they fight for their right to a clean and healthy Earth.

READ: Activists Interrupt Harvard-Yale Football Game To Protest Climate Change And Cancel Puerto Rico Debt Holdings

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Nicole Chapaval Advocates For More Latinas In Tech Through Teaching App Platzi

Fierce

Nicole Chapaval Advocates For More Latinas In Tech Through Teaching App Platzi

The gender disparity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs remains wide in Colombia. As of 2019, Colombian women hold 32.9 percent of all STEM jobs in the country.

Nicole Chapaval, the VP of education at Platzi, wants to get more women into STEM. As someone who found herself in tech, Chapaval understands what it takes for women to break into the industry.

Chapaval’s own passion for computer science started in her youth. Despite wanting her parents’ reservations about her career choice, she went to school to study software engineering.

“I learned how to code with Platzi. I was a student back in 2012 before I worked here,” she told mitú.

Platzi is a professional learning app targeting people ages 22 and older.

Photo courtesy of Apple

Instructors for the app are teaching livestream courses on programming, marketing, design, and business. The classes are available in English and Spanish.

Chapaval took an interest in content optimization practicing her coding on a personal blog while taking online courses. Starting out as a student advocate, the two founders of Platzi noticed her dedication and started to involve her more in the team.

As Platzi expanded, so did Chapaval’s job description.

Chapaval has been successful in her career. Yet, despite the success, she has seen the gender disparity firsthand. It has only further inspired Chavapal to work to get more women in their tech careers.

“One of my first jobs was in a company that was doing mobile applications and in this company there were 15 male developers and myself,” she says.

Wanting to engage with her male colleagues, Chapaval admitted to feeling weird when her enthusiasm was not reciprocated.

“I was always very extroverted and wanted to meet everyone [but] they didn’t want to talk with me,” she says.

Chapaval teaches 60 percent of computer sciences courses hoping to attract more women to the field.

Photo courtesy of Apple

“I think that representation is very important. So I try to be very vocal and very present with everything that we do in social media and in content creation,” she says.

Whether it be attending company livestreams or podcasts, it is imperative for Chapaval to have women witness others in the field to show the possibilities they can achieve.

Prideful, she also amplifies the achievements of other Latinas in STEM, like that of Diana Trujillo. Yet, she still expresses a need for more women to get managerial roles.

“I am very proud of Trujillo,” she says. “She’s from my hometown and she was in the NASA project that launched the Perseverance Rover. These kinds of things are great!”

Thirty-six percent of Platzi‘s more than 1 million students are women and it is growing.

Photo courtesy of Apple

“That’s very low,” she says, “but we doubled that percentage from 2018 so we still have a long way to go.”

A key step needed to attract more students is accessibility, both financially and in content. Platzi, Chapaval mentions, offers free programming courses that aim to be accessible to those with low internet connection in all parts of Colombia and Latin America.

It’s not just about what you are learning as an individual, but also as a team or a group,” she says. “That also adds to the working ecosystem of Latin America.”

Regardless of gender, age, or background, Chapaval believes “education is very important if we want to break these blockers.”

In fact, two crucial skills she believes everyone should know is programming and English. “I like to say that both skills have to do with communications; communication with machines and with other people in the world,” she says.

In a time when remote jobs are pertinent due to the pandemic, having communication skills is a valuable asset for STEM careers in any country.

“Programming should be a basic skill that schools teach as well because it’s not only [beneficial] to be a developer,” Chapaval says. “It helps you understand how to solve problems in a logical way.”

Chapaval is grateful for her personal growth in STEM and hopes that Platzi can help others grow.

Photo courtesy of Apple

“I hope [students] can create what they dream of with the coding skills that they can get with us and can show it to the world,” she says.

“Latin America is a lovely region and a lot is happening here,” she says. “I hope that if this community can get to know each other and create the next big companies and big solutions for problems that we have right now, I would [be] fulfilled.”

As the gender disparity in STEM slowly expands, Chapaval continues to vouch for women to speak up and push through in the field.

Proudly Chapaval says, “Latinas are very extroverted, and the tech and software engineering world needs more extroverted people [like us] to add to their ecosystem.”

The App Store featured Platzi for Women’s History Month.

Read: She Came As A Teen From Colombia With Only $300 To Her Name, Now She’s a Director For NASA

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Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Culture

Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Medellín, Colombia was once home to one of the world’s most powerful cartels – Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. During the ’90s, drug gangs and guerrilla fighters controlled the city’s streets and few people ventured out the relative safety of their immediate neighborhoods.

That Medellín is a distant memory for many Paisas thanks to the fall of the cartels, but also to a distinct set of ideals and values that have shaped the city’s development over the last decade.

Medellín was named the world’s third city of the future and it’s leading in so many categories.

Medellín is nestled in a valley high in the Andes, and many of the city’s poorest residents live in comunas they built on the steep slopes. And although the city still struggles with high rates of poverty, city planners are working to bridge the divide between these poor communities with little access to public amenities and the core of Medellín.

The technology that helped save Medellín is not what you’d see in San Francisco, Boston or Singapore—fleets of driverless cars, big tech companies and artificial intelligence. It is about gathering data to make informed decisions on how to deploy technology where it has the most impact. 

Where most smart-city ­initiatives are of, by and, to a large extent, for the already tech-savvy and well-resourced segment of the population, Medellín’s transformation has for the most part been focused on people who have the least.

The city’s cable car system is one out of sci-fi novels.

Think of a gondola suspended under a cable, floating high off the ground as it hauls a cabin full of passengers up a long, steep mountain slope. To most people, the image would suggest ski resorts and pricey vacations. To the people who live in the poor mountainside communities once known as favelas at the edges of Medellín, the gondola system is a lifeline, and a powerful symbol of an extraordinary urban transformation led by technology and data.

“The genius of the Metrocable is that it actually serves the poor and integrates them into the city, gives them access to jobs and other opportunities,” says Julio Dávila, a Colombian urban planner at University College London. “Nobody had ever done that before.” As people of all classes started using the cars to visit “bad” neighborhoods, they became invested in their city’s fate, heralding a decade of some of the world’s most innovative urban planning

Designers have created safe spaces for all with parks and libraries.

The Metrocable succeeded in connecting Medellín’s poorest neighborhoods to the rest of the city – but where would they hang out? This lead to the construction of five libraries sprinkled throughout Medellín, all surrounded by beautiful greenery. These “library-parks” were among the first safe public spaces many neighborhoods had ever seen. 

The key ingredient of Medellín’s transformation, experts agree, is perspective: The city looked beyond technology as an end in itself. Instead, it found ways to integrate technological and social change into an overall improvement in daily life that was felt in all corners of the city—and especially where improvement was most needed. “Medellín’s vision of itself as a smart city broke from the usual paradigms of hyper-modernization and automation,” says Robert Ng Henao, an economist who heads a smart-city department at the University of Medellín.

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