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Center for Human Rights - Celebrating 15 Years! Students • Partners • Research

Itza Carbajal Works on Youth Learning and Storytelling Pilot Program in Buenaventura, Colombia

A student participant in the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN) Palenque el Kongal youth learning and investigation pilot program. Photo credit/ Itza Carbajal.

February 2, 2024

Investigando Nuestras Raíces

Learning About Yourself and Your Surroundings Through Research & Records


Ya no me siento invisible
Ya puedo ser quien soy yo
Busco de dónde vengo que me perdí
Busco de dónde vengo y aquí está mi raíz

– La Raíz de Mi Tierra
Lila Downs, Niña Pastori, and Soledad Pastorutti


As part of my Lisa Sable Brown Fellowship, I worked with the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN) Palenque el Kongal in the port city of Buenaventura, Colombia on a youth learning and investigation pilot project. Initially structured as a two week on-site workshop series, the project transitioned to a three week asynchronous lecture series with hybrid activities and one week of experiential learning project time. Six locally-based youth ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old were selected by PCN representatives to participate in the project from November 20 to December 15, 2023. 

As an after-school commitment, students commuted directly to the PCN library to learn about the importance of youth story documentarians and researchers. Through the assistance and guidance of designated PCN staff, the students participated in group learning sessions with end-of-the-week debriefing. Due to an unexpected transition to online learning, the lead investigator provided instruction via pre-recorded online videos, online and print based activity sheets, printed learning packets and digital and analog memory making tools. Youth participants also received their own set of documentation tools including an instant camera, an audio recorder, a video recorder, a DIY scanner, and flash memory sticks. 

A student in the program engaging in research. During the series youth investigated themes of personal, community, and institutional histories.

For the first three weeks facilitators hosted group video viewings and led discussions with the youth at the main PCN community library in Buenaventura. These videos covered three main themes: 1) creating personal stories, 2) locating and accessing family and local histories, and 3) using technology to preserve and share these stories. The lead investigator incorporated these three themes into the 12 recorded videos which included both topic-based lectures and overview of instructions for follow-up hands-on activities. Lecture topics covered various analog and digital storytelling techniques such as oral, writing, drawing, mapping as well as introductions to digital archival research, user persona design, digital humanities tools and projects, and the role of metadata in describing and interpreting online stories. 

In addition to the recorded lectures, daily lessons included individual or group knowledge-based activities that served as opportunities to apply lecture theories and topics into real world application. Activities ranged from recording personal oral histories, drawing maps to recount stories of local environments, designing digital personal portraits, reflections on existing digital archival collections and records, assessing award winning digital humanities projects, and practice sessions on how to browse, search, and deposit archival records. 

During the last week, the youth worked on individual Digital Humanities projects utilizing the knowledge and skills acquired throughout the instructional period. Students applied their skills in record creation, identification, analysis, and dissemination to design meaningful personal stories to be shared with friends and family. Using the KnightLab TimelineJS platform, students selected personal, or community stories told through mediums such as photography, audio recordings, videos, digital artwork, written text, as well as historical records found in digital archival collections such as those held by PCN. 

Overall, this pilot program helped PCN staff facilitators actively observe necessary adjustments to class expectations, the pace of lecture discussions, as well as project deliverables. This flexibility allowed for both the instructor, facilitators, and students to easily adapt to different learning styles, technology hiccups, or local events such as cultural festivities or community actions. Youth participants also gained opportunities to learn alongside PCN staff and reflect on their impact as younger members of their environments including their city, country, and cultural ethnic communities. This heightened awareness of their place within their community and cultural histories as well as an increased appreciation on the significance of stories by younger community members has laid the groundwork for these young investigators to continue exploring their roots and surroundings.