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Saving the future in Colombia — and the world

The explosion of new technology is bringing a new kind of haves and have-nots — those who have digital skills, and those left behind. 

In some places, the gap is growing quickly. 

It threatens to create a divided future and a lack of skilled people to run and protect the new digital world.

Archer News Network’s Kerry Tomlinson takes you to Colombia to see how they’re fighting to save their future — and how their work could help countries around the globe.

Watch our report here:

 

 

They call themselves “Los Victoriosos,” or “the Victorious Ones.”

The two young men try to make a living with their quick rhymes for tourists in the old city — the historic center of Cartagena, surrounded by a massive stone fortress wall built hundreds of years back.

“Tú no eres como el apio, tú, Leornardo DiCaprio!” they rap for a muscled American visitor, which translates to “You’re not like celery, you’re like Leonardo DiCaprio!” They earn the equivalent of a few dollars for their effort.

In the colorful old city, baristas pour Colombia’s world-renowned coffee, parrots warble in the trees, and tasty Caribbean food is served fresh on the street.

 

The main gate of Cartagena’s four-century-old fortress wall surrounding the historic old city. Image credit: Archer News

 

But people living in this city say there are two Cartagenas — the one the tourists see and the other one where people are struggling to survive.”

Jobs can be hard come by in this second city.

“Yes, there is work, but very little,” the Victories Ones say in Spanish.

You have to make your own opportunities to survive, they add.

Some people are barely holding on.

Not far from the corner where the Victorious Ones spun out their ad lib lyrics, Pedro twists wire into jewelry on the doorstep of an abandoned building.

He hopes his hand-made dragonflies will catch someone’s eye.

He is surrounded by bags, his cat and dog lying at his feet.

Sixty-five percent of the city’s people are in poverty, educators say.

 

A dog & cat belonging to street jewelry-maker Pedro lie at his feet in Cartagena. Image credit: Archer News.

 

“The sixty-five percent that I am talking about is the Cartagena that many people do not know about,” said Libis Valdez, dean of the faculty of engineering at the technological institute Tecnar, also known as the Fundación Tecnicológica Antonio de Arévalo.

Archer News met with Valdez and her team at a restaurant in downtown Cartagena.

Their mission is to reach out to those in the poorest communities and offer them a chance to study technology.

Most young people in the city can’t afford college, they said, and may otherwise repeat the cycle of poverty — some turning to gangs and violence.

“The truth is that there are young people who have a lot of potential, but there is no opportunity for education and to feel like they are capable, that they can be someone important in their city, in their country,” Tecnar instructor Angelica Mendoza explained.

In their country — and maybe even the world.

The digital revolution is creating a future where jobs will require technology skills, but there aren’t enough people to run it and keep it safe.

 

Students at the technical institute Tecnar present their projects to other students & instructors. Image credit: Tecnar

 

“We realized there was a large problem involving children,” said Jorge Yepes, chief operations officer of the start-up World Tech Makers in Colombia. “Our children are currently learning skills that will at some point will no longer be needed in the new wave of technology.”

Yepes grew up south of Cartagena on a farm near the tiny town of Rodania, with less than 300 people.

“I lived in a rural area,” he told Archer News. “There was no internet access. There were no computers.

But a government program brought used computers to rural schools. And suddenly, Yepes’s tiny world became global.

Now he’s chief operations officer at World Tech Makers in the big city of Medellin, with a population of more than two million.

 

Jorge Yepes grew up near the small town of Rodania, Colombia, population about 200. Image credit: Google Maps

 

World Tech Makers gives technology boot camps — with the goal of closing the digital divide in developing countries.

Yepes and colleagues are now launching a new project for 50,000 Colombia children called Nativo Digital or “Digital Native.”

With Nativo Digital, children who live in rural areas or whose families have little money can play a series of games teaching them how to program.

Many of these kids have old phones or computers and little Internet access. 

Yepes said they look for ways to set up apps on old technology, using little memory and Internet service, so they can reach children in the remotest of places.

“I want the people to have the same opportunity I had, to amplify their perspectives, to start using technology, to learn to program,” Yepes said. 

 

Image from the Nativo Digital program to teach kid show to code. Image credit: Nativo Digital

 

On top of that, the Nativo Digital games help them come up with ideas to solve real-world issues.

“The children will play and empower themselves,” Yepes said. “And resolve challenges facing humanity. Learning based on real problems.”

A third Cartagena is now rising, where data is the currency and digital is the future.

The ancient wall will not stop cyber pirates, just as it did not stop the Caribbean privateers of old.

But people like Yepes, Valdez and Mendoza are fighting to strengthen the digital skills of the next generation — for Cartagena, for Colombia, for the world.

“We will achieve it,” said Yepes.

“All they need simply is the opportunity,” Valdez said. “From this moment, their life changes.”

 

Main image: Street in Cartagena’s old city. Image credit: Archer News

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