Donna DeGennaro - Unlocking Silent Histories

Unlocking Silent Histories – Ta’nma qta’nma tzyun tib’ tkyuq’il k’e nin tnam

Date grant awarded: March 2019

Ta’nma qta’nma tzyun tib’ tkyuq’il k’e nin tnam addresses the complex and interrelated disparities among education, technology, and leadership access in Indigenous communities. Our program builds educationally confident and technologically savvy visionaries who foster project sustainability and impact. Through investment in youth voice and Indigenous film we explore innovative ways to engage young people in developing culturally and socially just learning opportunities that derive from their real world community connections, uncover how youth and their audiences reconnect with valuable traditional knowledge and ancestral social and environmental stewardship, foster adolescent leaders who peacefully and constructively foster social change and take action against current local and global threats and violations, and generate ways to work alongside local policy makers and development practitioners to inform locally generated models for NGOs who do this work.

Our distinctive focus on learning to critically read and create media is especially vital to populations who continue to experience marginalization, stereotyping, and discrimination. It allows participants to be aware of erroneous representations, and to re-represent their worlds. Youth voices and Indigenous films become a way to encourage linguistic and cultural preservation and to share unique Indigenous-led solutions to issues impacting the health and wealth of our humanity.

We, Donna DeGennaro and Irasema López – co-directors of USH/DSE – share a passion for working side-by-side with Indigenous youth. When afforded the chance to approach learning openly and creativity, First Nations youth passionately embrace and lead their inquiry, and authoritatively use media to counter deficit perspectives held about them and their communities. Inspired by their spirit, we dedicate our careers to collaboratively discovering socially just and culturally connected educational forms that are informed by Indigenous voices. Our work is important because it seeks to shift normative thinking and practices, and to raise consciousness about potentially harmful Western influence in international development initiatives.

What we most want you to know about this project is that Unlocking Silent Histories/Descubriendo Historias Escondidas offers opportunities for Indigenous youth, who often do not have doors open to them. What is more, USH firmly stands by providing opportunities, first and foremost, to Indigenous youth. While USH seeks to cultivate local capacity, training Indigenous leaders education and technology tools that allow us to teach more Indigenous youth, their strategy sets them apart from other organizations. Our Guatemala team can set our sights on sustainability as well as new learning. With USH; we also strengthen our procedures for managing and administering resources, placing the responsibility of the search for institutional growth in our hands. It empowers our participants to be entrepreneurial leaders who are capable and competitive in the different job opportunities of a technological world.

With our first TPP seed grant, we provided Indigenous youth with leadership stipends, collaborating with them to identify a Teacher|Leader|Learner model. We published this prototype in 2017, illuminating how it reflects our organizational culture. In 2018 we launched USH v2.0. The revised mission and approach more effectively guide our goal of transitioning program ownership to the youth and the community, a step essential for success. We hired an Indigenous coordinator and three mentors, who piloted the curriculum and leadership toolkit implementation, also part of the 2018 relaunch. With this toolkit, the team created a funding plan to support local sustainability. The team keep the priorities of the project and the “business”, illustrating the foundations of our next stage. They have set the steps that enable USH to enter and exit communities, preparing local leadership to adopt the program, and independently take proprietorship of it within one year.

Our impact is only as significant as the number of beneficiaries we touch. Using the lean canvas plan, we were focused on “getting it right” in Guatemala. We refined our prototype preparing it for digitization. In keeping with our aim of having an Indigenous youth-driven organization, we will partner with a young programming team consisting of Native youth from North American and Guatemala to build a technology platform. This platform will house our curriculum and leadership toolkit and will serve as a repository for youth-produced films, so that Indigenous youth around the world can find solidarity over their shared history. Young programmers will work with us to find matching donors and investors, permitting us to reach more Indigenous youth worldwide. We will dedicate remaining funds to workshop materials necessary for maintaining or initiating our exemplars.

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