El Salado is a hamlet belonging to the municipality of Carmen de Bolívar, in the Montes de María region of Colombia, a mountainous area mainly dedicated to tobacco cultivation. For years, daily life was not easy for the inhabitants of the region, as this was the scene of clashes between guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Then, one day, life broke down for the inhabitants of El Salado.
On the 16th February 2000, hundreds of paramilitaries broke into El Salado, occupying its streets and buildings without any obstruction. For several days they brutally killed dozens of its inhabitants, including children, the elderly and pregnant women. The survivors, shocked and traumatised, fled the town in the days following the massacre, leaving it abandoned.
Two years after the slaughter, the saladeros began a gradual return. The Colombian armed conflict would still take years to end, but for the inhabitants of El Salado the feeling of belonging to their place of origin was more powerful than the persistent threat of violence.
In order to rebuild their former community, it was first necessary to rebuild the basic infrastructure. This work was made possible thanks to the help of Ferrovial, Ayuda en Acción and the Semana Foundation, which provided the economic and material resources needed to provide the town with drinking water and electricity.
Little by little, the wounds healed and life returned to El Salado.
A cross-media story to tell the world the story of El Salado
Perhaps this story would not have been known by the rest of the world if it had not been for the commitment of its protagonists to tell it.
But how should they tell it?
How should they build a story that would leave a record of the hope, strength and gratitude of the inhabitants of El Salado, without omitting the tragedy they experienced?
And how should they take the testimony of what happened to the digital channels?
The solution: we designed a cross-media project that combined different formats and media to create an immersive digital experience, capable of telling a tragic story with a happy ending based on a powerful visual narrative and the interactive possibilities of the digital medium.
As a first narrative element, the Colombian illustrator studio Sharpball created a graphic novel that told the story of the attack and the reconstruction of El Salado in the style of magical realism. Original characters and scenarios inspired the drawings, and the most bloodthirsty part – the assault by the paramilitary groups – was represented metaphorically by a mythological creature, the Zaperoco.
We used the comic book as a base to build the website, Peace through water (aguaparalapaz.com). Why water? Water was an essential element in the reconstruction of El Salado. Even though it is located in a subtropical region with abundant rainfall, before the reconstruction there was no basic infrastructure to guarantee the supply of drinking water. The inhabitants of El Salado barely had nine hours a week of supply. Ensuring access to water was essential for the economic, health and social revival of the area.
A story behind a story
In aguaparalapaz.com we used the look and feel of the graphic novel to create a digital extension of the comic. The colour palette, a fundamental element in the narrative, was extracted directly from the novel, and the illustrations are three-dimensional versions of the original Sharpball drawings.
“Creamos una experiencia digital inmersiva, capaz de contar una historia trágica con final feliz.”
Following a carefully guided narrative, the vertical scroll allowed us to recall the story of what happened in El Salado, following a storyline that first introduced the novel and then provided information about the context and the process of rebirth of El Salado.
To this we added the interactive possibilities offered by the digital channel: in each section we added callouts – highlighted in yellow – that allowed the user to access new layers of information.
In this way, we created a digital variant of a children’s pop-up book. By pulling the interactive tabs, we moved from the novel and magic version to a new layer of reality. All those who wish to go deeper into the story could access an extended level of content based on real facts and testimonials, from knowing the original face and voice of the characters who inspired the novel to listening to the sound of the market.
The result is an immersive experience, with which we try to communicate in a pleasant and didactic way some facts that were deeply painful, relying on a narrative of enormous visual strength and the interactive possibilities of the digital medium.
The project was completed with social media campaigns run by Ferrovial’s Corporate Communications Department, which helped to spread the message of hope and reconstruction learned in El Salado.
Several awards have recognised the value of this work, including the 2019 Dircom Award for the best External Social Responsibility campaign, the European Excellence Award 2019 for the best Communication campaign, the Marketing and Communication award from El Español and a bronze Laus in the Websites category.