Fundación Universitaria Tecnológico Comfenalco (FUTCO)

Environmental Guardians

In Colombia, which has experienced decades of civil conflict, violent gangs prey on and recruit vulnerable youth. At the same time, in a country with a richness of threatened and critical biospheres, Colombian public infrastructure for environmental protection is virtually non-existent. El Guardia Ambiental, also known as “The Guardians of Peace and the Environment,” are a burgeoning youth movement that engages youth in monitoring and protecting precarious natural ecosystems. The Guardians provide abundant opportunities for youth to develop and practice important portable skills and competencies.

Through the Social Justice Repair Kit project, the Inclusive Design Research Centre is working with FUTCO Fundación Universitaria Tecnológico Comfenalco to support the Guardians in welcoming and engaging youth with learning differences. Ultimately guided by the Guardians, the youth themselves, and local partners; the IDRC is providing scaffolds, tools, resources and awareness training to ensure that youth with learning differences can participate fully in the activities of the Guardians. This includes support for accessible open data monitoring, analysis and synthesis, and scaffolded communication tools. Among the tools and resources that have already been integrated is a function called “Learner Options” that enables the personalization of the Guardian Web site to match personal needs and preferences such as text-to-speech, “simplification” to support focus, and text spacing. The Guardians have integrated an accessible personalizable learning management system, originally developed by the IDRC, called ATutor. The team is also co-creating applications to analyse and understand data in a way that supports learning differences.

In engaging youth with learning differences in environmental protection, the Guardians are protecting vulnerable youth from predatory recruitment into violent gangs and paving a way back to engagement in productive learning.

An image showing several youth in uniform in a single file line walking in ankle-deep water in what appears to be a lake or inlet.

The Environmental Guardians at work.


Through the Social Justice Repair Kit project, FUTCO has developed a story gathering and story sharing platform. This platform provides an opportunity for participants in the city of Cartagena and surrounding areas to share stories about their lives, which gives them a chance to reflect on their strengths and needs and to find commonalities with others. Through this process systemic issues are revealed, both to the participants (informing their analysis and understanding of their experience), as well as to government and policy makers.

The stories create a dialogue about diversity in Cartagena and in Colombia, and promote greater social awareness and acceptance of that diversity, by including the stories of people with disabilities and learning differences. Among the tools and resources that have already been integrated is a function called “Learner Options” that enables the personalization of the Cuentalo site to match personal needs and preferences. Access to these stories can inspire others in similar situations to reflect on their own lives and to know they are not alone in their circumstances. The full library of stories can also be found on the YouTube channel.