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  • Maria Fernanda Peña Valencia, UdeA

The world is a handkerchief...

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

...and through YouthMappers you can help to make it a beautiful one.

Since I was little, I've heard the expression: “The world is a handkerchief” all the time, I've even used it several times myself. It is the translation of a very popular saying in Spanish to refer to the fact that the world is not as big as we think, that is, we as humans have much more in common than we think we do. Come to Latin America for instance, and “El mundo es un pañuelo” you may hear, but over the last year I have been thinking about this a lot. About a year ago I started to be part of the 2018 YouthMappers research fellowship (to see more about this experience see the linked blogs below), an experience that changed the way I see many things in the world, and it has been a complete learning experience.

I am Maria Fernanda Peña Valencia and since 2017 I have been a part of the YouthMappers chapter of the University of Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia named GeoLab UdeA. I started as a volunteer in a project called COASTMAP. Last year, I sent a proposal to the 2018 YouthMappers Research Fellowship call, for a project that would give continuity to COASTMAP and my mentor and I were selected. In addition to the research project that we had to carry out, we had to participate in a research symposium in U.S. with the other research fellows and mentors. When I realized that I was going to be part of a group of people from literally all over the world, I got excited, but then I started to get a little bit worried. The language was what I thought least, I was thinking about our cultures, and the possibility that we could not understand each other in terms of what we liked. Now I look back and ask myself why I thought that; I don't know, but I think I'll blame the movies. Anyway, in the first morning in Washington D.C we met everyone that was going to be part of the symposium, and I found out that there is nothing that some games and food could not do, because at the end of the day I was laughing and talking with everybody. I have much more in common with all of them than I imagined. Everyone was very nice, starting from the professors and mentors. But besides all of the general and fun things we had in common and that made the symposium a much better experience, we all understand that it does not matter where we are from, there is always a lot of work we can do to help others and our countries, and we found in YouthMappers an opportunity to do that.

During the symposium, the professors of YouthMappers repeated several times that this organization is a global network, that we are a part of it, and that we should take advantage of that. Well, I understood those words, but I didn't really get them until I was back home. Why? I´ll give a little example: While working on my research project I needed help with an orthophoto I had to make. I didn´t know what to do, but I remember that I could ask for help to others YouthMappers members, so I did that, and help came from another continent! In less than a week I was put in contact with another student that works with orthophotography. He was very kind and worked with me till we solved my problem. But also let´s mention the mapathons that really get close all of us, where anyone around the world with internet and a computer can help for a cause that benefits a lot of people. And you might not know who is behind the computer screen, but you can see through the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) platform how everyone is working together, and it is very cool.

Additionally, I made amazing friends, ones that I intend to keep for the rest of my life. After a year we the students of the 2018 research fellowship are still a lot in touch. We might not be able to hangout physically, but we do it using different tools of social media, where we share ideas and stories, and where we even talk about the possibility of collaborate together, like about 2 months ago, when the GeoLab UdeA chapter (the one that I am part of) and the Polimappers chapter from the Politecnico di Milano had a collaboration together for the deforestation of the Amazonas rain forest in Colombia.

COASTMAP project in Bocas del Atrato community - Antioquia, Colombia.

Within YouthMappers, nor careers, nor ages, or even countries frontiers are a barrier to contribute to this world. A world that is a handkerchief, where a biologist from Medellín, Colombia can learn, work and be friends with someone from Zambia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Italy, Brazil, Canada, US, Ireland or South Africa. While being part of this network, I have really been experiencing that YouthMappers doesn't only build maps, it builds mappers.

Maria Fernanda Peña Valencia recently graduated as a biologist from the University of Antioquia (UdeA) in Medellín - Colombia. In 2015 she joined the ELICE research group UdeA's biology institute, where she began working on projects focused on ecology of coastal marine ecosystems and GIS applied to biology. While working in the research group she stressed the importance of working together with the different communities that inhabit a natural area, and this is how in 2017 she started volunteering with the YouthMappers chapter of the University of Antioquia called GeoLab UdeA. In 2018 she was selected as one of the 2018 YouthMappers Research Fellows. Currently, she is a YouthMappers Regional Ambassador and is working on the GeoLab UdeA project COASTMAP Colombia and learning data science for research. Her interests include social-ecological systems, conservation and ecosystemic ecology, sustainability, resilience, and climate change.

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