Two years ago 14-year-old Kasha Slavner returned from her first visit to the United Nations as a youth delegate with a compelling vision: to use her love of film and photography to make a difference.
By: Nicola Brown, MPC 2014
Together with her mother Marla, Kasha launched The Global Sunrise Project, a documentary and multi-media journey to communicate the myriad faces of hope, triumph and resilience across the globe.
The pair have been travelling the world ever since, capturing the positive human spirit of individuals, communities and organizations through Kasha’s lens. Kasha’s latest trip began on her 16th birthday and took the pair to East Africa and Southeast Asia for six months. She is back at home now, editing the documentary with a team of volunteers including several Ryerson students. She is also composing a book of photography and has started a blog on responsible travel.
I interviewed Kasha and Marla to find out more.
What inspired you both to start the project?
Kasha: I was inspired by many of the people I met at the UN Commission on the Status of Women who were involved in NGOs in their communities. I wanted to learn more. My mom, who is also involved in social justice work, supported my idea that travel would be a great way to understand the world—there is only so much we can learn about another’s country by remaining in our own.
Marla: Even though she came up with the idea for the project when she was 14, I’ve seen the seeds of this grow from a very young age. At 8, Kasha started contributing proceeds through the sale of her homemade sugar scrub to causes she cared about. The pivotal point came when she bought her first camera to produce Kasha’s Cards of Kindness© which gave back to the community as well. It’s amazing to see how community has come together again to support The Global Sunrise Project. This was inspiration and confirmation in itself to keep moving forward.
What strategies and tools have you used to spread the word about the project?
Kasha: I started by letting friends and family know and setting up social media sites to gain followers in anticipation of the launch of a website and Indiegogo campaign in November 2013. I sent out emails to everyone we knew asking them to support the campaign. I shot and posted photo and video updates regularly for supporters.
I’ve done some public speaking engagements and written articles for publications like The Huffington Post, Matador Network, etc. Media has helped a lot to get the word out as well. We also joined Travel Massive which is a worldwide network of travel industry professionals. They have regular monthly meetups and have been really supportive of my project. The organization’s founder Ian Cumming has become one of my mentors.
Marla: We looked for different networks to leverage in the travel and film communities. We attended the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) while it was here in Toronto and received good feedback on Kasha’s idea. The next phase was recruiting volunteers and mentors to help lay down the goals and structure. It took about a year to build momentum but the real jump in support happened once we were on the road and people could see Kasha in action for themselves.
What has the response been like from individuals and organizations?
Kasha: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The success of the crowd funding campaigns helped me get on the road in the first place, and media exposure has brought a few angels to the project. Canon loaned me a 5D Mark III for 9 months to shoot with (that was hard to give back recently!) and many sponsors donated products in-kind. Along the way we were able to work with inspiring grassroots organizations which I am hoping to support through the sale of my photography.
Over the past few months I’ve been working with eight students, five from Ryerson, in the post-production process. They’ve come to the table with great ideas and helpful skills. It’s been so powerful producing this documentary with girls so close to my own age. We’re hoping to have the film ready by September in time for the UN Assembly opening. I’d like to organize an event in New York to screen the film and an event here in Toronto during TIFF.
Marla: It’s heart-opening to see how Kasha’s initial dream has become a reality and how it keeps expanding. I like to think of it as the reward for being courageous enough to pursue a dream. We’ve learned there is a need out there for this type of story to be told to orient the public’s mindset toward solutions to social justice problems.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Kasha: We faced a few financial challenges, so we had to run a second Indiegogo campaign and another on Trevolta.com. I found that the culture shock of coming home was much greater than entering a new country for the first time. I didn’t notice until I’d left the North American bubble that our attitudes here could use some serious rethinking. It’s such a hard concept to grasp, but the world is really small and interconnected, everything eventually affects everyone and people need to wake up now.
Marla: For me the biggest challenge has been monitoring how much Kasha has on her plate and ensuring she has balance in her life. Because she started when she was 14 she has maintained a full schedule since, putting in endless hours toward the project and honing her craft, all while attending school. It’s truly admirable. (Certainly one way to keep your teenager out of trouble!)
We travelled frugally on an extremely limited budget. There were a few hungry days but it all worked out in the end. The biggest challenge in East Africa for such a socially-oriented project was slow or no internet. There was also a bit of stress ensuring the equipment and footage was always safe and backups were working—an exacerbated challenge given the spotty internet service.
What is the goal of the project? What do you hope to achieve?
Kasha: I hope that through my visual storytelling people will be inspired to challenge the perception of the world that the media spoon-feeds us, and to take action in little or large ways for positive change. I also want to convey the fact that change is attainable for anyone, no matter where you’ve come from or what you’ve been through, because I’ve witnessed the way people made it happen and how resilient and hopeful they are.
Marla: We hope that the project makes people realize that we’re all in this together. The tagline speaks to who the audience is: “caring, creative, connected, catalysts.” It’s fuel for people who care to connect to inspiring stories and find creative ways to take action.
Why do you think traversing borders is so important for communicating a message?
Kasha: Being able to directly compare and contrast the lives we live all over the world makes the message real. Until we see and feel these contrasts firsthand we can only assume we know what they are, and often, we don’t.
Marla: It’s like that saying: walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is a powerful catalyst for change. I knew getting an education on the road would help Kasha build emotional intelligence and incorporate it into her activism. Travel is the best investment in education there is as far as I’m concerned.
Can you describe one or two of the most rewarding experiences from your journey thus far?
Kasha: One of the most rewarding experiences was connecting with and learning from people. I especially enjoyed talking to inspiring, trailblazing youth from around the world, because I believe we are the generation who have the potential to change the world’s current state. I met people who refuse to accept the inadequate status quo and are doing what they can to change things. I also enjoyed being able to get even closer to my mom and share great experiences we can look back on together.
Marla: One moment in particular really stands out to me. In the course of one day in November 2013, the website went live at 10 am, the Indiegogo campaign at 2 pm, and later that evening Kasha (then 15) leapt on stage, despite her fear (then) of public speaking, to pitch a panel of film industry professionals the idea for her documentary. Seeing her come out with second prize and panel support was a day I will never forget.
According to veteran Canadian Director Gail Harvey: “I’ve seen a lot of film pitches over the course of my career, but it’s not often I get the privilege of hearing one as remarkable by a 15 year old with the vision and courage to venture out into the world to make a documentary on what global citizenship looks like through the eyes of a teenager.”
For more information on The Global Sunrise Project and documentary film The Sunrise Storyteller©, check out theglobalsunriseproject.com. You can contact Kasha and Marla at firstname.lastname@example.org