(Video from closing ceremony, provided by Sealth teacher Noah Zeichner)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Get out to your communities and spread change,” exhorted a teenage speaker toward the end of the first-ever Washington State Global Issues Network Conference, held Friday and Saturday at Chief Sealth International High School.
That change could take many shapes, agreed participants – the conference’s “global villages” resulted in resolutions ranging from reducing use of plastic water bottles, to intervening when injustices are witnessed, to holding a Global Issues Network Conference at another school.
That last one, in fact, is the intention, Sealth teacher and conference co-organizer Noah Zeichner told us – that the conference, which he declared “a huge success,” will become an annual event, hosted at a different school each year, now that CSIHS has taken the lead and sparked the flame, drawing 200+ youth from not just elsewhere in Seattle, but some from out-of-state. “From the 6th grade teams from Denny International Middle School to the groups who traveled all the way from Texas, California, and Colorado, students brought so much positive energy for learning from each other and for tackling some very complex global problems. Our student leaders from Chief Sealth worked tirelessly to make the two days run smoothly. The conference couldn’t have ended in a more uplifting and energizing way as it did on Saturday night. I left more convinced then ever that youth are capable of doing amazing things and sometimes we adults just need to get out of the way.”
Conference co-coordinators were Sealth students Aisaya Corbray and Paloma Robertson.
While climate change was a central focus, the workshops and presentations that comprised the bulk of the two days spanned a wide variety of global and local issues, from immigration to pollution, racism to education funding.
After updates from Zeichner on Friday, we visited Sealth on Saturday, in time for the second-to-last keynote presentation; both days’ schedules were packed, with events 8 am-8 pm.
The keynoter we saw was West Seattle-based filmmaker Amy Benson, whose work we featured in 2012. Her first-ever feature-length film, now called “Drawing the Tiger,” was known at the time as “The Girl Who Knew Too Much.” Benson told WAGIN participants that she has been working on it for seven years, and will finally premiere it this year.
It is about a girl in Nepal – “a super sad story,” she warned, featuring suicide, which ended the so-promising life of that girl, Shanta, at just 16, after she left her rural home for the big city, given a chance at a sponsored education. Here’s the trailer featured on the project website:
“The story started to be about the power of girls’ education,” Benson said. But then it turned into something else entirely; before they could return to meet and talk with Shanta again, they learned she had committed suicide, the leading cause of death for girls and women 14 to 49 in Nepal.
The film is also the story of how Shanta’s family deals with her death, after they had had such hope her education might change their lives as well as hers. And it shows changes in the country, including the effects of globalization: One member of the family who makes money by handcrafting Buddhist statuettes has lost his job because the items are now all manufactured in China.
The film, she explained, “doesn’t have an ask,” adding that it’s “a complex story.” That led her to share some insights about the filmmaking process, saying that when you tell someone’s story, anyone’s story, your own story is in it, because it’s from your perspective. “I think humans are incredibly fascinating,” she said. “I believe that stories are what make us human … we all tell stories, all over the world. I believe that by telling stories and listening to stories, we understand one another better, and we can change the world with stories.” This is a great time for storytelling, she said, because it can be done so easily – even with your “fancy phone,” she said, holding up her own smartphone.
As enthralling as her presentation was the ensuing Q/A, with youth participants asking questions from the audience. She told them first that she is at the spot where she is so absorbed in the project, she doesn’t “see it how others see it.”
When will the film be out? she was asked first. Reply: Next month, with “its world premiere, in Canada.” And it will be shown in Seattle at some point afterward. Updates will be via the film’s Facebook page. Benson and her filmmaking partner, husband Scott Squire, also are hoping to show the film to Shanta’s family before it is shown to anyone else.
How did Shanta’s death affect you? she then was asked. She was “so sad, in a way I’ve never felt sad, like I wasn’t going to be happy again … I felt very confused, and I felt guilty …” But – “now that I’ve learned a lot about suicide,” she understands that is common.
How did you find out? she was asked. The person who runs the nonprofit that was helping Shanta called to tell her.
Another question: Did you speak Nepali? “My great advice for someone who wants to be a documentary filmmaker is that maybe your first film should be in a language you speak.” But – for her, it just didn’t work out that way.
What’s your next project after this? Her reply: It will explore the topic of love and marriage and “why marriage still exists” – something a little lighter about why people fall in love and stay in love.
P.S. Watch for Benson’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to help cover the costs of finishing the film – she said that they have color and sound left, and that will cost $32,000.
CONFERENCE’S ‘CARBON FOOTPRINT’
Following Benson onstage was a presentation created by Denny International Middle School students who had been calculating the conference’s “carbon footprint.”
(Photo courtesy Denny principal Jeff Clark)
That took into account what was eaten, what transportation modes were involved for participants to get there, how much energy was used to heat Chief Sealth IHS during the conference. It was a way to demonstrate that “you yourself can take action,” said a student.
The travel averaged 29.2 pounds of CO2 per person; the food, 20 pounds of CO2 per person; the building’s carbon footprint, 4.5 pounds of CO2 per person. That totaled 53 pounds per person for the conference – lower if people made choices with lower carbon footprints, such as bicycling or walking, which halved that total, or by eating less meat, which meant a lower “footprint” for food.
The conference’s overall impact, 16,583 pounds of CO2, could have been mitigated by “planting 193 urban trees,” one student explained. (They also shared overall information from 350.org.)
OTHER DENNY PARTICIPATION
Denny IMS principal Jeff Clark sent a congratulatory message today and shared it with us:
Denny International Middle School scholars did a fantastic job presenting and participating at the Global Issues Network Conference hosted by Chief Sealth International High School. This conference brought together over 170 scholars from as far away as Haiti to learn about global issues from each other and guest speakers. The participants committed to taking action to better our local community and world.
I am very proud of the five teams representing Denny — their presentations were informative, interactive, and compelling —congratulations to the Dolphin presenters! A huge thank you to the Denny staff who coached our scholars and contributed in so many ways to making this happen for them: Ms. Evans, Ms. Choi, Mr. B. Evans, Ms. Kelleher, Ms. Clausen, and Ms. Olsen! A special note of thanks and congratulations to Mr. Zeichner, the Sealth scholar Ambassadors, and Sealth staff for hosting such a successful and inspiring event on our campus!
Here are two of the photos Clark shared with the Denny community, showing their youth at work during the conference:
For all the students from all the schools that participated, it’s back to classes tomorrow, with a new view at how individual action can make a difference.
The WAGIN Conference, by the way, was a successor at Sealth this year to the major event that Zeichner and students have organized this time of year for the past four years, World Water Week. And in a full-circle moment, the student with whom he coordinated the first WWW at Sealth in 2011, Molly Freed, was part of the conference this year – coming home from college to be a keynoter.
P.S. See photos from the conference by browsing its Twitter feed at @wagin2015.
P.P.S. Just after we published this, we found out there’s already a Change.org petition launched regarding the plastic-water-bottle issue – check it out here.