STATEMENT OF GRANT PURPOSE My name, Sweden, The Human Journey Using libraries, schools, and environmental concerns to build unity amidst migration The world is currently witnessing a large wave of migration, a situation that has increased friction and suspicions within societies and between nations. Of all western nations, Sweden has received amongst the highest number of new arrivals per capita. I propose to study the role of environmental media projects in harmonizing new community diversity. At six locations in Sweden, I will recruit, in partnership with local schools and libraries, about 50 children of all ethnic and social backgrounds. The children will work together as a team to animate a story related to environmental issues, and then present the final animated film to parents and community members during a viewing party. As I complete these projects, I will gather surveys and feedback from all participants, as well as data on library demographics and accessibility. Based on what I learn, I will tell a story of to what extent working together on a common project can build social cohesion in spite of differences or uncertainty. This storytelling project involves two major global issues, migration and environmental challenges. I will explore whether working together to address the latter can be a springboard to allay suspicions of the former. I have been developing this idea for years, and am uniquely qualified to carry out its every aspect. First, over the last 11 years I have consistently undertaken volunteer or professional work in schools and libraries. I am adept at partnering with teachers and librarians, working with children, and soliciting feedback from children and other community members. Second, I have extensive experience in writing children’s stories, blogs, and essays, often illustrated with photographs. Third, I am currently working towards a doctorate in water resources, plus I have previous degrees and work experience in environmental science. I grasp the complexities of environmental threats, but can also write simply about them so any audience can understand, and have honed expert data analysis and mapping skills. Fourth, I have been creating animated films for nearly six years; I have produced over 25 films, and completed six films with children and young adults. Finally, I speak Swedish and can converse with people of all ages. Here I describe the framework for my storytelling, every step of which I have performed in previous projects while digging into my own shoestring student budget for time and money. I begin by writing a children’s story and finding a library or school to work with. Each child involved picks a page of the story for their own, and I guide them in illustrating, narrating, and animating the story, the final animation of which is placed on YouTube (See Digital Portfolio for more details on these steps). The story is not preachy or didactic; instead, it has a child as the central character who goes on vacation, or to the beach, and in the process encounters a new friend or endangered wildlife facing pollution, deforestation, or similar threats. The story ends with the child engaging in a civic action to try fixing the problem. Once I’ve rendered all the work into a single film, the parents and community members are invited for a viewing party. If we’re lucky (and have money), there’s food! My storytelling will be built around to what extent these projects build teamwork and cohesion among children arriving from different human journeys. I will survey how the children feel to be united in addressing environmental challenges facing us all, rather than focused on the often unrelenting spotlight of what divides us. I will collect feedback from community members attending the viewing parties, and opinions from partnering librarians and teachers on the success of these projects in building social cohesion. I will record my own observations via notes, film snippets, and photography at all stages of the project, from children working to viewing parties.
Additionally, I will seek out attendance statistics from the libraries which I will analyze to see which populations are benefitting from the library services, and I will complete a spatial analysis of the location of libraries and which neighborhoods and populations those libraries serve. My contributions to the National Geographic blog will include: reflective pieces that summarize interviews, observations, and written feedback; the animated environmental films and other stories or ads the children produce; maps and graphs of library statistics and demographics; and photos and film snippets of the work. As an additional innovation to storytelling, I will create little animated self-replicas of the kids, and use those characters to produce animated testimonials representative of the children’s feedback. These testimonials can be added directly to the end of their animated film. That way, we can appendage the children’s own story of the teamwork and community they experienced directly onto their film. My proposed timeline, to be completed between September 2018 and May 2019, will create a story arc around Sweden’s geographical, political, and cultural diversity, with six weeks per location. I will begin at Sweden’s southern tip and integrate the project across Malmö (city and entry point for migrants), Lund (a historic college town), and Dalby (a village). After this, I will spend six weeks each in Jönköping and Linköping, two cities in central Sweden where I will again mix urban and neighboring small town libraries and continue to ensure children of all backgrounds are represented. Then, I will travel to Trollhättan, a small western city and site of a hate attack on a school a few years ago. The purpose of this location is obviously not to stir up wounds, but to see how the experiences here shape how children respond to the project. The next stop is Luleå, a city far to the north, inhabited by Finnish-speaking minorities, Sami, and other indigenous people. I will explore how the presence of indigenous ethnic diversity affects the response to the animation. In each location, I will attempt include different age groups: small children, teenagers, and young adults, further allowing me to probe contrasts in my storytelling. The final six weeks will be spent in the capital city Stockholm, known as the “Venice of the North” and witness to some recent tension-raising terrorist attacks. Instead of writing the story for this final animation myself, I will solicit the kids I meet in the previous areas for ideas, characters, dialogue, and resolution, in bits and pieces from each place, so that the story will be a true country-wide endeavor! It will allow many people in Sweden to share their own story of how they envision building community as diversity increases. Based on prior experience, including a pilot project I completed in Stockholm in 2016, it takes about four weeks to guide and instruct 40 children in making an animated film. I will devote the remaining two weeks in each location to guiding the kids in writing their own script, then helping them animate that. We may not have time to animate an entire second story, but they can create imaginative animated ads related to aspects of environmental science or ideas about community building they wish to promote. These capstone projects will allow the kids to use their animation skills more independently, and to tell their own story. Sweden is ideal for carrying out this project as it has a long history of helping people in need. This tradition stretches back to when Sweden sheltered nearly the entirety of Denmark’s Jewish population during World War II. Sweden excels as a country where people still trust each other, still help each other, and aren’t deterred by the lurking fear that: if I help that person, they might hurt me in return. However, suspicion is fragmenting societies world-wide, so I want to apply my extensive skillset to see whether we can develop projects in community centers that build cohesion amongst differing human journeys. Sweden also has a strong awareness of human impacts on the environment. Likely, the children will be receptive to the themes in the animated
stories, and it will be invaluable for them to experience an innovative way to pool their voices and make a statement, even though they are “just kids” that no one really listens to. This project provides benefits for everyone. The children will practice reading skills, advanced computer skills, and even math skills (by deciding how to pace the actions of their scene on a timeline). They will explore potential careers woven into our discussions. The librarians and teachers will learn new technologies that they can pursue as future projects. The entire community is invited to the viewing party, and once the films are uploaded online, they are available to anyone with Internet. Since the children are engaging so deeply with the subject – thinking, illustrating, narrating, animating – they are getting important messages inscribed in their minds. Children have few opportunities to combine reading, imagination, computer, and math skills so intensely, while seeing first-hand the fruits of teamwork. All kids have watched Disney films and other cartoons, and think animation is really cool. Using this hook, I am able to impart much more – a vision of cooperation and harmony that they can nourish and build on as they grow up. These films focus on environmental issues specifically because these are challenges we all face, and around which the children can unite despite their differences. The American characteristics of innovation, sharing, and vision-building in this project will draw in American blog readers. I could not have thought of this project had I grown up elsewhere. Here, we are taught that possibilities are limitless, that we should let nothing obstruct our dreams, that we should lose no chance to apply one’s ingenuity, creativity, and skills towards making the world a kinder, more trusting place. The thousands of hours of free animation video tutorials I studied were mostly created by American animators. My earliest inspiration for learning animation was watching the American classic, Bambi, as a child. American blog readers will gain an active vision of ways we can use schools and libraries to build social cohesion, and they will surely enjoy reading about and seeing kids engaged in advanced technological, but no less art-filled, endeavors. National Geographic mentorship will help me expand my repertoire of digital storytelling which will further my career in science communication. I want to learn how to combine photography, film snippets, maps, and text into the interactive web stories I enjoy on news websites where different media are packaged into several sections that the audience slides or clicks through. The mixture of visuals and audios immerses the audience into the story. My plan for partnering with libraries and schools revolves around carefully researching the library websites of the target areas, then emailing them. These libraries are then sometimes able to link me to neighborhood classrooms. I have already emailed several dozen libraries; I refer them to my 2016 Stockholm partners ([Librarian] of [Neighborhood] Library is my affiliate for this grant) for an example of the project in action. Eight libraries have confirmed they will host me, and five have expressed interest (one replied after the affiliation letter was finalized): five places in Malmö and Lund; two places near Linköping; two places in Jönköping; one place in Trollhättan; and three places in Stockholm. I believe many more places will respond if the project is funded and if I contact libraries a few months in advance (versus one or two years). Every moment in my life has been leading to this project: a culmination of all the skills I’ve learned, a tying together of all I care deeply about, and creating something of it that can be shared with many. It is a brand-new way of linking major global issues with education and community. This Fellowship will be a springboard for me and others to approach challenges in creative ways, and it falls perfectly in step with the vision of the Fulbright Program and National Geographic. It is the essence of using education, science, and storytelling to change the world for the better.