Meeting Youth Around the World
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By Karen Cirillo, Executive Producer, Children's Broadcasting Initiatives,UNICEF
I’ve been coordinating the global OneMinutesJr. initiative since 2007. The project is an arts-based video initiative that seeks to capture the voices and expressions of youth on issues and subjects important to them. These viewpoints are captured in one-minute videos that are then shared through a multitude of platforms.
In the past six years with the OneMinutesJr., I have met over 450 different youth around the world. There is no one “profile” for the young people that participate in UNICEF’s arts-based one-minute video project. But this uniqueness means that each workshop is a new experience, a chance to meet another diverse group of children.
Sometimes, there are youth that already have a strong interest and talent in moving images. In Cairo, Egypt in 2008, I met a young man named Karim Shaaban. He was 17, but already actively making art through graphic design and videos. He had a strong idea for his film and although he didn’t need much guidance from the video artists running the workshop, he still welcomed any advice he could get. The resulting film, Overload, a commentary on the presence of media and influence in our lives, was nominated for our annual OneMinutesJr. awards. Karim was invited to Amsterdam to participate in the awards festival and made such an impression that he was named an advisor/liason to the European Cultural Foundation.
I stayed in contact with Karim over the years, and during the first uprising in Cairo in 2011, I was able to connect with him on Facebook for updates on the political situation. He was taking amazing photographs of people and the demonstrations and producing inspiring videos.
Just as there are strong, confident individuals like Karim, there are also young people who are very quiet and aren’t quite sure of their place yet in the world. In Amman, Jordan in 2007 we worked with a young woman named Najla. She was only 12 and stayed a lot to herself. It was not easy to get her to open up, although she did have a very unique and creative idea for her video, in which expresses feeling shy and the freedom of expression through the metaphor of being enclosed in a space and then releasing herself. On the first day, she barely spoke, except to share her video idea. But over the next five days, she slowly drew out of herself and started to laugh and play and be more vocal.
The process of the foreign, adult artists giving Najla attention and validation and calling her to participate had given her confidence. At the final screening, her parents told us “You don’t understand. She’s very quiet, even with us. But she has been so excited about the experience that she would tell us all about it over dinner. We can’t believe the transformation she has gone through over this week.”
In 2011, we conducted a workshop in Lucknow, India with a group of young women who were part of the Prerna Study Center. It’s a program that allows girls who have to work or don’t have the resources to go to regular school to attend a special school program. These young women were an inspiration to meet. They understood the value of education and worked very hard to achieve good scores and to make opportunities for themselves after school. But what was most inspiring was their personalities and energy. In a culture where girl children are not as prized and have to fight for their place in society, these young women were outgoing and positive and had beautiful spirits and great senses of humour. I was humbled by their strength of character. And their videos of course reflected their desire to stand up to society.
This year, I was fortunate to facilitate two workshops with children with disabilities in Viet Nam and Mexico . The workshops had the theme “It’s About Ability!” and the young people who participated definitely proved that phrase. On the first day of the workshop, the participants introduce themselves to each other and you note the various disabilities each one carries – one is hearing-impaired, another in a wheelchair, another has cerebral palsy, etc… At the end of the workshop, I usually take portraits of all the youth and this time, I was really struck by the images. In reviewing the pictures, I noticed the visual signs of disabilities and was almost surprised. I had gotten to know these youth well enough to see their talents and their personalities that I had stopped noticing the visual cues of a disability.
Over these six years, I have brought the OneMinutesJr. to so many young people, and am glad to have been able to share that experience with them. But through them I have learned about so many cultures, traditions and lifestyles. I have seen their worlds through their eyes and have seen them opening up themselves to share it. I can’t wait to see who I get to meet next.