Semester projects 2019 in the Colombian Amazon

For Amazonian people, urban transformations bring about new challenges in the way they inhabit and coexist with others. Many of these transformations have to do with their concepts of health, and a broader understanding of how to protect life. Some very practical challenges include the loss of language, and with it, the transmission between generations of their ancestral knowledge. Also, new diseases emerge, which are perceived as a consequence of their new ways of living, including their subsistence practices, forms of housing and organisation of the space they inhabit, relationships with rivers and other sources of water, and also the effects of climate change. These projects will give interested students the chance to explore theories, methods and technologies in relation to their disciplines, in the context of a small city in the Colombian Amazon, with the aim of collectively contributing to solutions of real problems affecting indigenous peoples in tthis region.

Participating students will work on their projects and come to Leticia for 21 days in the summer of 2019, where they will join an interdisciplinary group of students from EPFL, UNIL and UNIGE, other team members at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Leticia, and will have the unique opportunity of working alongside indigenous peoples in Leticia participating in these projects.

Two strands of projects will open for Spring-Summer 2019:

Tikuna language learning app

In this project, students will develop alongside indigenous Tikuna people an app/game, with the aim of giving Tikuna children an opportunity to learn their language in a playful, practical and embedded way. Tikuna children living in the city or nearby villages often do not learn their language anymore, speaking only Spanish. Many of these children have access to smartphones, and spend considerable time playing foreign games, which further distances them from learning from the stories that elders tell. The idea, developed from the start with Tikuna teachers and elders, is to turn around the negative effects of digital technologies, into a tool that promotes the transmission of culturally meaningful knowledge and the learning of their language. The game will be based on the story of a cultural hero, as told by the Tikuna elders collaborating in this project.

Tasks: Students will contribute to the design of the digital platform, as part of a team developing the conceptual and artistic design of the game.

Who are we looking for: Master level students from IC, ENAC or Digital Humanities (CDH), with skills either in programming, social media and computing, digital technologies for learning, or spatial analysis and design.

Waterborne diarrheal disease and water quality

This project explores health challenges to that indigenous peoples living in Leticia experience, in the face of increasing urbanisation, their difficulties in accessing clean sources of water and climate change. In particular, diarrheal diseases are one of the most common causes of morbidity and mortality in the region, especially among children. We aim to investigate the link between climatic and hydrologic factors and the seasonality of diarrheal diseases in urban and peri-urban areas of Leticia, through exploratory statistics and modelling methods, considering as well the effects of the distinct cultural practices of peoples in the region.

Tasks: Students will conduct statistical analysis of epidemiological and environmental data, and will integrate extracted information into mathematical models of disease transmission.

Who are we looking for: Master level students from SIEE/ENAC with skills in statistical data analysis with R/Matlab/Python and solid knowledge of probabilities and statistics

This strand of the project is currently developed in collaboration with Prof. Andrea Rinaldo’s Ecohydrology Laboratory (ECHO), under the supervision of Dr. Javier Pérez Sáez. PDF document with more detailed information on this project.

Practical information

Start date: February 2019 (Spring semester)

Dates of fieldwork: 12th to the 30th August 2019

Information and registration:

Please write or send your CV and motivation letter to [email protected].

For the project on waterborne diarrheal diseases, you may also write to [email protected] for more information.

Past semester projects: 2018

Adapting technologies in Africa and Latin America

These projects explore the technological needs of natural park conservation and healthcare in French-speaking Burkina Faso and in Colombia. In groups, you will work on the development of a technology or a study protocol, which you will then test-drive during 2-3 weeks of fieldwork in either country. You will be able to use your technical skills in the solution of real life problems, alongside other students from different disciplines and cultures.

Practical information

Start date: February 2018 (Spring semester)

Dates of fieldwork:
Burkina Faso: July 2018
Colombia: End of July until mid-August 2018

Who can apply?
Burkina Faso: Master students from I&C, EL and MT enrolled in MA2
Colombia: Master students from all sections enrolled in MA2

Information and registration:
Burkina Faso: Please contact [email protected]
For more information, see Embedded systems for African Parks

Colombia: Please send your CV and motivation letter to [email protected]

Burkina Faso: technologies for wildlife conservation and natural parks

As a member of a multidisciplinary team, you will participate in the analysis and development of technological solutions for the monitoring of issues related to protected areas in Burkina Faso (inventory of fauna and flora, poaching, elephant damage, etc.). You will imagine and develop technological devices adapted to challenging tropical climate and to economic, social and human realities of the park of Nazinga (Southern Burkina Faso). During your stay in Nazinga, you will be able to exchange with local students and park staff, and explore together local issues.

They are many potential topics for semester/master projects:

  • Control of a drone for images acquisition and analysis
  • Elephants detection around villages by sound and image analysis
  • Poachers detection by gun sound detection and triangulation
  • Network of detectors

Colombia: developing health technologies with indigenous Amazonian peoples

For this project, students will travel to Leticia, a small city in the Colombian Amazon. Urbanization is increasingly transforming the lives of Amazonian peoples, including their health care. Together with local students and indigenous organisations, we will explore three domains related to health and the potential contributions of different technologies:

  1. Language and culture: For indigenous peoples living in Leticia, that young people no longer learn their languages is a threat to their culture, and therefore to their health and wellbeing. Students shall work on developing an app for learning languages, adapted to the habits and preferences of young indigenous peoples in Leticia.
  2. Water and urbanization: Leticia is on the border of the Amazon river, and seasonal diarrheas are common in these riverine cities and villages. The increase of fuel-driven motor boats, of mining and deforestation is also affecting the quality of water and the health of people. Students shall explore the eco-epidemiology of waterbourne diseases and use remote sensing technologies to develop predictive spatial and dynamic models.
  3. Snake bites and other poisonous animals: Changing patterns of habitation and forest-use may be transforming how often people come into contact with poisonous animals such as snakes or caterpillars. In this project students shall work on understanding the eco-epidemiology of poisonous bites and thinking about technologies which may contribute in better prevention, diagnosis or treatment.