Quilombola youth leader presents project on mapping and data collection at Google Conference

After three days travelling,  Patrícia Costa, a member of the Alto Pirativa Quilombola Community, a remote settlement in the northern state of Amapá,  attended the Google Geo for Good Summit in California in September. Together with Muryel Arantes, from ECAM, she described the process of mapping quilombola communities in Amapá. The data will be used to better manage the quilombola territories, by organizing socio-economic information and identifying the needs of each community.

Before the trip, Patrícia, who is an educator and also owns a cassava flour mill, was both nervous and thrilled: “What can I say? I have butterflies in my stomach, but at the same time I feel very grateful to ECAM.” She also felt a little nervous before submitting her application, as she feared she might not be selected because of her age. “I kept asking myself, ‘Should I sign up?’ But then I said, ‘Why not?’ – though I thought they’d never pick me because I'm 31 already, and Sharing Worlds is a project for young people. But then they did. I will be there representing my state, my quilombo. And I'll have a chance to learn more, and share what I know.” 

“Sharing Worlds” is the second phase a program run by ECAM which trained quilombola youth in mapping and data collection technologies Google Earth and ODK. In this new phase, data collected by communities is analyzed and deployed to help them share their realities with the broader world and collaborate in identifying solutions to the challenges raised. The objective was to offer technological tools so the youth from the communities may systematize and structure their needs, such as basic sanitation, drinking water, education, health services, among others.

Patricia's trip to California wasn't easy. Her community, at the heart of a densely forested part of the Amazon, is only accessible by boat. It sits on the banks of the Matapi River, 84 kilometers (approximately 52 miles) from Macapá, the state capital. It took her two days, by boat and then three flights to reach the conference venue. In Brasilia, a few days before departure, she told us a little about the data collection process, and what the project has meant for local communities who gained  autonomy for identifying needs and solutions for themselves.

PCAB: Why did you want to participate in the project?

PATRICIA COSTA: “It has always been part of my life. My mother asked me the same thing, and I told her, ‘Mom, this is very enriching: mapping a quilombola area. You can see everything with one click.’ I never thought I would be able to create such a map. Before, I only knew how to answer questions. But now, I can answer questions (from researchers), and I can do the research myself.”  

PCAB: Could you describe the process of visiting the communities for the survey?

Patrícia: “Every Friday we left for the field. We would call the community leaders on the previous Wednesday, describe the project, and ask them if we needed a meeting with the whole community first. These arrangements made it easier to talk to people because they were prepared to meet us. And young people from the community (who took part in ECAM’s project) were there, waiting for us. 

And if people had any concerns that we were not writing down the information correctly, we'd show them what we had written – only what they answered. And we told them we didn't keep anything – it all went straight to the satellite. There was no way I could alter it. They felt safer because they knew we weren't going to make anything up.”

PCAB: How was the project received by the communities?

Patrícia: “In the past, our quilombola communities were only visited by scholars, anthropologists, geographers, university personnel. But they did not always show our reality as we described it, and there was no feedback. But the community wanted feedback. So this training program is different. With ECAM, young quilombolas themselves visited the quilombos.” 

PCAB: What did the project offer to the communities? 

Patrícia: “The communities that took part in this project have gained a lot because they have already received some feedback – just now in August, when we had the answer in Maruanum. Some communities have no schools, no churches, or no clean water. For me and my group, this survey has been very valuable because it is something that will remain with us.

The Maruanum meeting was about reflection. My group's demands, and the demands presented by other groups, were taken into account. And when I say "demand", I am talking about the survey, and how our answers helped us reflect on our realities: ‘Hey, my community doesn't have this, I'll write it down.’ Then another leader who was there also noticed that, and went, ‘Wow, this looks cool, the other communities already have it, let's do the same...’ Thanks to the survey, communities can identify what they need and can go after it. 

We are leaving our comfort zone, going beyond our quilombo to help others, who share our same pains. Our reward is that if you do a Google search anywhere, it will show how many quilombola communities are in a region, what they need, what difficulties they are going through, what they lack, and what public policies might benefit them. When we analyze this data, our needs become clearer, and we can access public policies to meet them.”

Watch Patrícia's presentation here: