Field Apprenticeships

Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships, Stirring The Fire.

by Alissa Brooks

Hello world! My name is Alissa Brooks. I am a recent graduate of Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio and I travelled a couple thousand miles to attend this workshop. In between classes and interviews, I am also updating the social media sites and blogging. Here is my first post!

“…all of us who do creative work we get into it because we have good taste.  But there is this gap.  For the first couple of years you try to make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential…The most important thing you can do is do a lot of work…It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”        – Ira Glass, NPR

Day three of the STF workshop is just beginning, and as the group settles in to their seats some are saying, “I can’t wait to get on location and film” and “I think we really have a story here.” They are referring to the two heroes selected to share their personal stories and how they discovered Foundation for Women (FFW), micro-credit loans, and the impact each are making on their lives.

Photographer Toni Cervantes during a phone interview with women hero.

Yet, who are these people that are going to be behind the lens?  The short answer is they are six diverse individuals, each offering a skill set that forms a team of experts need to produce documentary media for a non-profit organization.  Further, they are students, of all ages and backgrounds, that want to learn how to hone their craft and learn new skills.  Even deeper, they are activists, parents, artists – all united in San Diego to learn and create.

The first part of documentary filmmaking, as the group learned yesterday, is research.  Part of research involves casting.  Six FFW loan applicants and recipients shared their stories.  The critical part was to pick whose story represented best the organization, the mission of the “I Challenge Life Campaign,” and resinated with our group.

Toni Cervantes, a workshop participant, was critical in casting.  Currently, she’s a photographer who documents cornea transplants throughout the world.  Before she began this project she was a commercial and music video casting director based in Los Angeles.

“For me this whole class is exemplary of that everybody has a story to tell.  If you ask the right questions, you find the story.  People always surprise you.  The quietest person can have the most profound wisdom to depart.  The most bubbly person can be on antidepressants.  You just don’t know.  My thing is – never underestimate anybody and what they have to say.”

Casting is just the first step.  There will be storyboarding, photographing, interviewing, transcribing, and editing.  Along the way information, advice, stories, and memories will be gathered – each a experience to add to their individual volumes of work.


Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships, Stirring The Fire.

Hello from sunny San Diego! The STF team is here leading a workshop for six talented photographers, storytellers, interviewers, and filmmakers to produce media for Foundation for Women’s (FFW) “I Challenge Life!” campaign.

Over the past couple of months, STF and FFW have worked together to determine how we, as media producers, can help raise awareness about their work in the U.S. to empower women through microcredit loans. After many emails, phone calls and time researching FFW’s online presence, we decided that in-depth personal stories of the loan recipients, who we’re calling “heroes”, would help the organization the most to achieve their campaign goals.

Which brings us here to San Diego, where we will start media production on Monday. Until then, we’ll be in the classroom learning how to capture the stories of these powerful women that are truly challenging life.

Stay tuned throughout the week for more updates on the workshop, campaign and production! You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and the hashtag #stfwksp.

Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships.

Reel Grrls by Sunni Campbell

During the summer of 2011 I had the privilege of interning for a non-profit organization named Reel Grrls, dedicated to empowering young women from diverse communities through media literacy.  Each year over 80 young women participate from several programs offered through out the school year and during the summer.  Reel Grrls is a unique media and technology training organization that empowers young girls to not just critique the media images that surround them, but to learn important technological skills in order to create their own media.

Circle up mainspace

Doc Arts Camp 2010

Residing in the Central District of Seattle, Reel Grrls fosters the importance of educating young women and cultivating important leadership skills vital to their future.  Reel Grrls offers a variety of hands-on workshops for adolescent and teenage girls in technology skills such as animation, cinematography, script writing, video blogging, apprenticeship programs, and other teen video camps.

These workshops take place during the school year as after school programs, and during spring, summer, and winter breaks.  The workshops also vary in skill levels, some are directed at younger youth ages from 9-13, while other programs are more advanced and target youth 13-18.  The tuition varies based on the length of each program and technology being used, but Reel Grrls does offer scholarships for youth that simply can’t afford to pay full tuition for programs!

framing 9
Teen Video Camp June 2011

There is a small dedicated full-time staff of five women including the executive director who keep Reel Grrls going, as well as several rotating Mentors and instructors who come in to help with different aspects of each workshop.  I was one of two interns at the time, and I mainly worked with the technical media and program managers.  There are so many different ways to get involved with Reel Grrls, and they are always looking for new talent, fresh minds, and strong, creative, independent young women who can be mentors, volunteers, and interns to help inspire and teach young women and girls.

If you’re interested in being an intern, I can tell you from my experience that this is an amazing organization to be a part of, and the experiences and skills you will pick up are invaluable.  I was not only inspired through my internship time spent at Reel Grrls, but I took away a passion to continue my education with digital media, film, and technology, and have learned both from the staff and the students.  Internships at Reel Grrls vary, but they are always seeking technical, program, and marketing interns. Volunteer positions are similar to those of interns, and vary depending on skill sets, and the capacity in which you would like to help out at Reel Grrls!

Animation in classroom 2

Animation Camp 2011

Becoming a mentor for Reel Grrls is another great way to get involved, and their main requirement: “is a commitment to empowering young women through media production. In exchange for their hard work, mentors gain access to Reel Grrls video equipment and the opportunity to network with other Seattle-based filmmakers, artists, activists, and educators.”  Technical mentors are experienced filmmakers familiar with either camera, audio, lighting, or editing.  Youth Development mentors  “help to create an open and safe environment for girls in the program by leading group-building activities, being active listeners, and providing girls with emotional support during the program.”  There are also curriculum mentors, and workshop leader positions; check their website for more info, or you can apply online.

Other ways to get involved are are becoming a Reel Grrl yourself if you are age 12-19, its fun and you will not only learn about the technology to create your own media, but you will learn about teamwork, leadership, and responsibility. For those who need extra financial aid for programs at Reel Grrls, they offer schoalrship as I mentioned earlier. This however would not be possible without donations, and scholarship contributions.  If you don’t have the time to volunteer or intern, you can donate to a great organization to support the grrls fund, and give a young girl the gift of media!

In the current climate where digital media is so prevalent, organizations such as Reel Grrls play an important role in social learning education.  The value of media literacy is growing as the technology for self expression grows, and the work that Reel Grrls does in educating young women in digital media is key to the technological competency of the youth.

For more information:

Reel Grrls Website

or you can Follow them on Twitter and Facebook

info@reelgrrls.org

 

Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships, Stirring The Fire.

Editor’s Note: Stirring the Fire comes to you from Guatemala where our team is producing a documentary about how Population Council Guatemala is preventing violence against Mayan women.  STF team member Kara Marnell reports from the field below.

As I knelt down and searched the bright brown eyes of a little Mayan girl, I saw a future far different than what her eyes might see today.  I predict a future, filled with hope and opportunity, a girl who would know confidence and self-determination.

Young Mayan Girl

The town of Maya Kaqchikel is an indigenous community on the outskirts of the bustling city of Sololá.  Though it is a mere 20 minutes from Sololá, Maya Kaqchikel is free of tourists and shops.  Instead, its dirt roads wind between the ribbons of corn and working women with babies sashed to their backs decorate the landscape.

Maya Kaqchikel

The Stirring the Fire team had the pleasure of visiting this remote community on Saturday and meeting its warm and welcoming people.  The men and women stood side-by-side smiling as their young, excited children ran to greet us, some barefoot, others with clean but threadbare clothing.

In 2010, the community of Maya Kaqchikel became Population Council’s pilot community for its ‘Safescaping’ initiative, an effort to engage young female leaders to actively help determine what constitutes a “safe community” in answer to gender based violence and to help identify local paradigms that constitute various threats to girls’ safety.

Girls Who Participate in Safescaping Programing

As in many communities, the men here didn’t view themselves as the perpetrators of violence.  We’ve noticed time and time again that violence is so normal in these communities that it seems simply the way of life, the culture.  The community was reluctant to make changes fearing the admission that violence was a real problem.  Like so many issues, admitting there is a problem is the first step toward fixing it.  Ángel del Valle, the Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator for Abriendo Oportunidades, explained how the community underwent 40+ hours of training and development to expose the common, everyday violence that women endure.  During the training, a powerful activity helped bring these issues to light and sparked an incredible change in the community.  First, the men and women were divided into two separate groups and given a tree.  Then, each group was asked to identify the “roots of violence.”  After completing their trees, the men and women came together and shared their differing perspectives.  The men saw violence (the little they perceived), as stemming from financial burdens and alcohol abuse.  The women, on the other hand, stood up for the first time, and declared that the females of the community worked twice as hard as the men and simply were not appreciated.  In response, a community leader, a man, rose and admitted that he had never realized that the women worked so hard.  Each day he returned home expecting dinner after a long day’s labor in the fields.  Yet, never before had he realized that the women were also working all day in and around the house, tending to the children and, even though they too were tired after a long day, they continued working to serve their husbands.
It was a breakthrough.

So simple, but so real.

All of this occurred a year ago.  Already, there has been a transformation and the community was proud to share their progress born of this understanding with our team. So, on this day, the community had prepared a series of reenactments to illustrate the violence that commonly occurred in the household and how the community had learned to tackle these tough issues.  How incredibly generous of this community to allow foreigners to see such a raw, open and rare view of itself.

Community Leaders in Traditional Dress for Reenactment

Violence against women is still a continuous battle here. Ángel thinks that domestic abuse still continues but an evolution, a revolution is beginning.  It’s not enough, he says, to simply create ‘noise among the girls’, but community focus and mobilization must occur for enduring change to take place.  This has been a community problem.   It takes a village to change the culture.

As we pulled away in the van, the men and women stood side-by-side thanking us earnestly for our visit.  It was then I realized that the men and women standing together was a symbol of their newfound sense of equality.  I waved goodbye to the little girl with bright brown eyes and thought that she now has a support group that many before her did not, the seed for a promising future.  A future taken for granted now in so many places far from here.  There’s hope for her.

Indigenous young women as change agents against violence in Guatemala

The high prevalence of gender-based violence in Guatemala leaves Mayan women and girls living in poor and isolated communities particularly exposed to risk. In a powerful approach to empower indigenous young women as agents of change in their communities, Population Council Guatemala, with support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, is pairing them with mentors from local organizations, to engage them in a range of prevention activities.

Among other things, the girls undertake GPS-based community mapping, plotting every household, building and route to produce maps that show where girls and women feel safe or at risk. The maps are making young women and their safety concerns visible for the first time, catalyzing community-wide discussion about violence against women and girls and ways the community could come together to prevent it. In addition, Population Council is training a cadre of girl leaders in participatory video to highlight issues of gender and violence in their communities.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, administered by UN Women, is a leading source of support for efforts to end violence against women and girls across the world. You can join this vital work by donating to the UN Trust Fund and by taking action at Say No – UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships, Stirring The Fire.

Editor’s Note: Stirring the Fire comes to you from Guatemala where our team is producing a documentary about how Population Council Guatemala is preventing violence against Mayan women.  STF team member Kara Marnell reports from the field below.

During a powerful and eye-opening week of travel, interviews and filming in Guatemala, we have had the privilege to get to know several female leaders in various communities who are working hard to educate and change the lives of other females.  One group, in particular, is doing so creatively through the use of film.  This group, comprised of twelve girls between the ages of 15-23, has been learning about filming, editing, and using visual techniques to create and screen films that engage communities and urge discourse on the issues that affect females.  This ‘participatory film program’ is run by Insight Share, an organization with stations all over the globe.  Insight Share also collaborates with other groups, such as Abriendo Oportunidades, using this participatory video as a tool to teach young adults new skills in order to build self-confidence and educate women on the ways to stand up for themselves and to open doors of opportunity that might never have considered.

Soledad Muñiz, the associate country coordinator for Insight Share, explained how she has witnessed an incredible, gratifying transformation in these young women.  At one time hesitant to gather testimony on film, the girls now bravely take on the city, approaching strangers, seeking their opinions on various issues as if they are seasoned reporters.  Opportunities for woman are so woefully lacking in Guatemala that the participants view this program as a unique and exciting way to develop new skills and insights beyond any of their peers.   The girls also find power in their team.  They spend a month in training together, away from their families.  In fact, for some, it is the first time ever away from their families and that leads to ‘group trust’ and builds individual confidence, says Muniz.  These girls truly embrace all the program has to offer while still continuing their regular schooling, family responsibilities and their positions as girl leaders in their communities.

Hermelinda Teleguario, a 21 year old Guatemalan woman, faced our cameras to discuss the pressures that face teenage girls in her country, especially family pressures to marry at a young age, indeed, as early as 14 years old.   While Hermelinda is grateful to have a boyfriend that respects her and a family that allows her the freedom to marry whom and when she pleases, many other Guatemalan girls are not so lucky.   Some girls, even some of Hermelinda’s friends, find themselves married very young.  They soon have children and responsibilities they are not prepared to manage, neither emotionally mature or financially secure to assume.  By then it’s too late.   Still other girls see marriage as the only option to escape family situations and there is no escape at all.

Up Next: Alejandra Maria Colom is the program coordinator for the Population Council’s Guatemala office, overseeing “Abriendo Oportunidades” and maternal health projects.

Stirring the Fire has the opportunity to meet with Ms. Colom on Monday to discuss the issues that Guatemalan women face as well as the steps taken to combat the brutality endured by Guatemalan women and girls.

As we prepare for our interview with Ms. Colom, we would like to reach out to our followers. Do you have any questions you would like Stirring the Fire to ask about the social issues here in Guatemala?

Indigenous young women as change agents against violence in Guatemala

The high prevalence of gender-based violence in Guatemala leaves Mayan women and girls living in poor and isolated communities particularly exposed to risk. In a powerful approach to empower indigenous young women as agents of change in their communities, Population Council Guatemala, with support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, is pairing them with mentors from local organizations, to engage them in a range of prevention activities.

Among other things, the girls undertake GPS-based community mapping, plotting every household, building and route to produce maps that show where girls and women feel safe or at risk. The maps are making young women and their safety concerns visible for the first time, catalyzing community-wide discussion about violence against women and girls and ways the community could come together to prevent it. In addition, Population Council is training a cadre of girl leaders in participatory video to highlight issues of gender and violence in their communities.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, administered by UN Women, is a leading source of support for efforts to end violence against women and girls across the world. You can join this vital work by donating to the UN Trust Fund and by taking action at Say No – UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships, Stirring The Fire.

Editor’s Note: Stirring the Fire comes to you from Guatemala where our team is producing a documentary about how Population Council Guatemala is preventing violence against Mayan women.  STF team member Kara Marnell reports from the field below.

Maria is full of grace.

At 24 years old, she might have been ‘ordinary’ except for the lifetime of suffering she has already endured and overcome at her young age.

Maria Chicoj’s mother died when she was the tender age of 12, leaving Maria, seven sons, another daughter, and a husband who struggled to support his family and turned to alcohol for comfort. The alcohol fueled domestic violence and Maria was his regular victim.  But she was never defeated.

Today, Maria is an advocate for women and adolescents as a Social Change Agent with DEMI (The Defense of Indigenous Women) in Quetzaltenango.  Self-assured and not much taller than most of her students, Maria scans her classroom, making eye contact with each one of her young female students as she discusses the stages of womanhood.   She wasn’t always this confident.  After her mother passed away, Maria dropped out of school and became the substitute mother for her seven brothers and younger sister, a nearly impossible job for a young girl but nonetheless an expected role.  After more than a decade of brutal beatings by her father, she made a decision to finally stand up for herself and create a different life, one of strength and dignity.

Hearing that DEMI was interviewing for an internship program, Maria found an excuse to leave the house and attend the interview.  She did so with considerable risk.  In fact, DEMI is an organization that is not supported by the Guatemala government and is otherwise not very welcome.  In fact, it’s routinely protested by men in Guatemala.  A day later after the interview, Maria was awarded the internship position.  It was the first time in her memory that she felt valued.

That was only a year ago.

What a difference a year makes in the life of one person determined to make changes.

Maria’s story is not an isolated one.  In Guatemala, women are among the most marginalized.  This human rights crisis is surging in Guatemala, a nation with a grim history of violence and decades of civil war, as abuse against women has reached a record high.  According to the UN, nearly 45% of Guatemalan women have suffered some form of violence in their lifetime and cases of rape and even murder is widespread.  While a corrupt patriarchal society rooted in inequality may have tolerated such injustice, global initiatives are dedicated to combating the brutality faced by these women and young girls.

The challenge to replace stories of abuse and oppression, such as Maria’s with respect and safety and confidence is daunting. But, positive change is possible one person, one household at a time through efforts to raise awareness about the issues women face and, in doing so, inspire others to join in the global movement to end gender inequality.

With a smile in her eyes, Maria moves through her community with credibility as a veteran of domestic abuse with a determination and a powerful message for girls.  Like a warrior, Maria is trying to move mountains.  In addition to her internship with DEMI, empowering young girls, Maria still cares for her family, her father, and also continues with her schooling with the hope of becoming a lawyer and perhaps a more formal, legal voice for Guatemalan women.  She reveals no signs of fear, defeat or even fatigue but, instead, exhibits passion and energy to make a difference in the lives of young women in her community, her country.

Today, Maria smiles broadly even around the father who beat her repeatedly.  And, sober now, he accepts his daughter’s role with some pride as he listens to her message and visits the shelter where she fled to escape his demons.  He is a regular subject in her narrative as the thief who helped steal her childhood.

Maria forgives but cannot forget, should not forget.  She cannot let others forget an all too common story confronting woman and girls in Guatemala.

Her experience is part of who she is and what she stand for today.  To offer it to others is a gift.

Indigenous young women as change agents against violence in Guatemala

The high prevalence of gender-based violence in Guatemala leaves Mayan women and girls living in poor and isolated communities particularly exposed to risk. In a powerful approach to empower indigenous young women as agents of change in their communities, Population Council Guatemala, with support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, is pairing them with mentors from local organizations, to engage them in a range of prevention activities.

Among other things, the girls undertake GPS-based community mapping, plotting every household, building and route to produce maps that show where girls and women feel safe or at risk. The maps are making young women and their safety concerns visible for the first time, catalyzing community-wide discussion about violence against women and girls and ways the community could come together to prevent it. In addition, Population Council is training a cadre of girl leaders in participatory video to highlight issues of gender and violence in their communities.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, administered by UN Women, is a leading source of support for efforts to end violence against women and girls across the world. You can join this vital work by donating to the UN Trust Fund and by taking action at Say No – UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships, Stirring The Fire.

Editor’s Note: Stirring the Fire comes to you from Guatemala where our team is producing a documentary about how Population Council Guatemala is preventing violence against Mayan women.  STF team member Kara Marnell reports from the field below.

Irma Catú is a Population Council Guatemala Social Change Agent

Capaz—Spanish for capable.  This word was repeated numerous times while we met with several young, dynamic women who work at Population Council here.  They were speaking, of course, of their capability and the capability of all women to develop independence, to find a voice and express their opinions, to be treated with respect and to have an expectation to a set of rights, including a right to protect their health, including their reproductive health.  These women are the leaders of a movement struggling for the future of the indigenous women in Guatemala.

The Population Council, an international organization, was established in 1952 and started working in Guatemala in 1985 with a focus on improving reproductive health of the Mayan population.  Since then, as it has globally, the Council has evolved its mission to seek out the most marginalized and vulnerable and empowering women in a multitude of ways toward gender equity.  For example, Population Council Guatemala has developed a mentorship program, connecting young girls to role models and mentors, thus engaging females in a social support network and providing examples of alternative life paths in order to break this cycle of poverty and violence.

The women we are interviewing are these mentors, the women who other Guatemalan girls would admire and emulate.  These women spoke eloquently of their leadership roles in their various communities as well as the professional development skills they themselves have acquired through the Council’s funding, support which has allowed them to continue their education.

In addition to its mentorship program, the Population Council also helps develop and leverage the creative skills of its staff to bring attention to its missions through a participatory filming program.  This program has deployed 12 girls as leaders, trained to employ video to create awareness, highlight issues, and engage and educate parents, elders and other community members.

Three Guatemalan females, students of Population Council’s participatory film program, create a short segment practicing their production skills.

Finally, we were told of the Council’s creative efforts to develop community intelligence to protect girls with the advent of another project called  ‘Violence Mapping’.  Females in the program are armed with GPS devices to collect data on the households in their communities.  Maps generated from this data identify both safe and danger zones with a goal of creating future safe public shelters for girls in these communities.

This was an enlightening day, a positive day to see the work that is being done by women for women here.  These brave women son muy capaz and real change is possible.

Indigenous young women as change agents against violence in Guatemala

The high prevalence of gender-based violence in Guatemala leaves Mayan women and girls living in poor and isolated communities particularly exposed to risk. In a powerful approach to empower indigenous young women as agents of change in their communities, Population Council Guatemala, with support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, is pairing them with mentors from local organizations, to engage them in a range of prevention activities.

Among other things, the girls undertake GPS-based community mapping, plotting every household, building and route to produce maps that show where girls and women feel safe or at risk. The maps are making young women and their safety concerns visible for the first time, catalyzing community-wide discussion about violence against women and girls and ways the community could come together to prevent it. In addition, Population Council is training a cadre of girl leaders in participatory video to highlight issues of gender and violence in their communities.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, administered by UN Women, is a leading source of support for efforts to end violence against women and girls across the world. You can join this vital work by donating to the UN Trust Fund and by taking action at Say No – UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships, Stirring The Fire.

Editor’s Note: Stirring the Fire comes to you from Guatemala where our team is producing a documentary about how Population Council Guatemala is preventing violence against Mayan women.  STF team member Kara Marnell reports from the field below.

Irma Catú is one of the Social Change Agents currently interning with the Defensoría de la Mujer Indígena (DEMI- Office for the Defense of Indigenous Women) in Quetzaltenango.

A tragic human rights crisis is unfolding in Guatemala, a country with a grim history of violence and decades of civil war, as abuse against women continues to grow at horrifying rates.  According to the United Nations, nearly 45% of Guatemalan women have suffered some form of violence in their lifetime and cases of rape, torture, and even murder of females are widespread. While a corrupt patriarchal society rooted in inequality may have tolerated and enabled such injustice, global advocates have moved to reveal the stories of these victims and to begin to combat the brutality endured by Guatemalan women and girls.

The challenge to replace stories of abuse and oppression with those of equality, respect and peace is nearly overwhelming, but change in Guatemala, as demonstrated in other countries, is never impossible but begins with revealing the bitter truth. Phil Borges, a renowned social documentary filmmaker and photographer, will lead this trip, along with a dedicated and talented team of researchers, to assist in the process of documenting, recording and filming the stories of these women. Rajesh, Mixtli, and I will assist with the filming, photography, and social media of this project with the goal to expose these tragedies and give voice to the marginalized and oppressed.

As we embark on this incredible journey, we are thrilled but can barely begin to understand how this experience will influence all of our lives but, more importantly, the hopeful impact it will have on those we meet. We are prepared to add a voice for the victims, who are mothers, daughters, sisters and nieces and to stand up, and influence discussion and debate and to help protect these women and girls who have been marginalized and their treatment ignored for far too long.  We expect to be a part of promising change in the lives of these women and the future of their daughters.

During our journey, we will update the Stirring the Fire blog with regularly reports about our interviews and our findings along the way.  Continue following this blog to learn, along with us, more about Population Council Guatemala’s programs serving our Guatemalan friends.

-Kara Marnell

Indigenous young women as change agents against violence in Guatemala

The high prevalence of gender-based violence in Guatemala leaves Mayan women and girls living in poor and isolated communities particularly exposed to risk. In a powerful approach to empower indigenous young women as agents of change in their communities, Population Council Guatemala, with support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, is pairing them with mentors from local organizations, to engage them in a range of prevention activities.

Among other things, the girls undertake GPS-based community mapping, plotting every household, building and route to produce maps that show where girls and women feel safe or at risk. The maps are making young women and their safety concerns visible for the first time, catalyzing community-wide discussion about violence against women and girls and ways the community could come together to prevent it. In addition, Population Council is training a cadre of girl leaders in participatory video to highlight issues of gender and violence in their communities.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, administered by UN Women, is a leading source of support for efforts to end violence against women and girls across the world. You can join this vital work by donating to the UN Trust Fund and by taking action at Say No – UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships.

Kevin Castner reflects on his travels to document the work of Foundation for Women (FFW) in Liberia with Phil Borges and WTYSL.

My final reflections?  This was an actual adventure for me, something I’ve never done and well outside my comfort zone.  I missed not being able to ‘move’, since we always had to be ferried by car due to the location of our hotel.  Normally, I learn an area through my feet, but I was told it was too dangerous, etc. and besides we were always busy.  Anyway, that is something I’ll change next time.

Kevin in West Point Curiosity of WTYSL

I’ve learned a lot.  About myself.  That I should be careful about judging or drawing conclusions using only my own previous experience as a guide.  I’ve seen that people, kids in particular, can be extremely happy in extremely reduced economic circumstances.  Should we tell them they shouldn’t be happy?

I’ve thought a lot about Mama Liberia and her recent history.  I’ve jogged along her ocean beaches, seen her war-ravaged coastline, climbed through the guts of her former #1 hotel.  I’ve see her lush tropical beauty and I’ve read about her abundant natural resources, to which the cure/curse of oil may soon be added.  And my thought was and still is….how could you screw this up?  You had so much and it took such a short time to ruin it, to ruin your country and its progress and your children’s future.  HOW COULD YOU SCREW THIS UP?

Ducor Hotel, once one of few 5-Star hotel's in Africa, since the war has been extensively damaged.

But I’ve also thought about the ‘developed’ world I came from; the United States of America.  Liberians could ask us the same question writ larger.  About our carbon footprint polluting the world.  Our utterly wasteful habits it would be so easy to change.  Our obesity.  Our over leveraged financial system and white collar criminals.  What about Europe’s wars and financial crisis?  The Mid-East.  The kleptocrats running Russia?  The list is endless and includes every nation and region on earth.

The shell of the Ducor Intercontinental Hotel from West Point

What I take from these reflections is that homo sapiens, here in Liberia or anywhere else, have a lot to answer for regarding its stewardship of our planet.  We should do better.  And, if Liberia is also a testing ground for empowering women through microcredit and education and changing gender roles then I’ll all for it.  The male of the species has had over 5,000 years to prove they don’t deserve to be running things.  Let’s give the women a shot!

Kevin Leaving Women's Summit with Hawa, Behsheba and Theresa

Phil is now off to document another NGO in Liberia.  Check back soon to learn about the next project and keep a look out at www.stirringthefire.org for media from Phil once he is home!

Posted by & filed under Field Apprenticeships.

Phil is in Liberia documenting the work of Foundation for Women (FFW), an organization that strives to continually support and encourage impoverished women, both globally and locally, by funding and creating microcredit programs. A longtime supporter of Phil and his work, Kevin Castner is traveling with him and reporting back to us from the field.

Curiosity of WTYSL

All the work of editing the 1 1/2 terabytes of images and video that Phil and Alicia, Sebastian and Philippa (of What Took You So Long) had taken was finally sculpted into a 24 minute film called ‘I Challenge Life’.  Sadly, the weather Gods and scheduling miscommunications prevented us from an outdoor premiere of our movie.  This morning we got permission from a local church and showed the film indoors. Unfortunately, of our girls, only Martha, Hawa and Asalyne were still local and available.  They were joined by the staff of Foundation For Women and 50-100 people from the local community.  I’m proud of the film and it conveys the messages we wanted: concentrate on your education, never give up on your dreams, and don’t compromise your long term future by taking short cuts.  The film gets a nice round of applause.

The Church Where 'I Challenge Life' Premiered

This last day of our trip is a time for sad good-byes and reflections.  I actually didn’t get a chance to say so long to Phil, succumbing to a bad cold and sore throat after his herculean labors.  One minute he was next to me, the next gone, on the way to the airport to pick up his next assistant.  They’ll stay in Monrovia for two more nights then take a UN helicopter east to rural Grand Gedeh.  I’ll probably see him next in Seattle in the USA.

'I Challenge Life' Showing!

The ‘What Took You So Long’ tribe have insinuated themselves into my heart and I’ll miss them all.  Even Alicia, who suffers from the same chronic disease that afflicts Phil.   As hammers see everything as nails, photographers see everything as images and videos that must be shot and reshot, that require different lenses, different light, etc.  If they weren’t so passionate (and the end results so compelling) they wouldn’t have any friends (or assistants!).  As it is, they are quite lovable, charming and fun to hang out with.  If they had as much fun with me as I have had with them, then we all had a good time.

I also said good-bye to Moses, our 13 year old camera assistant.  As a going away present I gave him a deck of cards and showed him a few ways to shuffle a deck.  A half hour later, while we were setting up for the film, I found him in the back of the church playing a game with Asalyne.  I asked him what it was called and he flashed a wide grin and said, “AK-47”.  How fitting.

Asalyne Browne and Moses Playing AK-47

I said good-bye to the folks at FFW, especially Emily Peal.  My opinion after three weeks is that Emily always had a big heart, but somehow since she came back to Liberia it has just continued to grow and grow.  I think she is one of the most wonderful, understated individuals I have ever met.

We dropped off Deborah at her terminal and then our constant guardian angel, Arthur Tamba, on loan to FFW from the Liberian Vice President’s security detail, gave me my last friendly good-bye.

We have a bonus post from Kevin for you next.  Check back to read his personal reflections about this experience.