Fellow introduction

Meet Rich

We are all scholars. This is what I tell the students, families, and educators whom I’ve served as a scholar myself. We all have knowledge of value to share with one another, and we all have the capacity both to learn and to teach. It is only by engaging each other as scholars – to learn as we teach, and to teach as we learn – that we can begin to access the innumerable learning networks that surround us. I believe that there is never a time nor a place that we are not learning, and as such I’ve always been in “school,” and I’ve always been a scholar.

My first teacher was my mother. Not because her profession deemed her so – as she has always been a teacher, and a great one at that – but rather because of her approach to how she raised me. The places she brought me and the experiences to which she exposed me were all focused on my development as a learner. Whether it was reading to me every day, or her encouragement of my love for Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, or our frequent trips to parks and the local library, I learned from an early age that learning was not a compartmentalized practice within this act called “living,” but rather the essential element of life itself.

For as long as I can remember, stories have been my favorite form of learning. As a child, some of my most cherished memories are of my mother and father and teachers reading stories to me, and the best gifts I received were the books that transported me to far-away lands and introduced me to amazing characters and cultures. As an adult, I regularly immerse myself in all manner of storytelling, from novels to short stories to to documentary films to op-eds to interviews to simple stories told by elders at the kitchen table or over an evening fire.

I first joined TMS not as a Teaching Fellow, but as an ally who shared a vision for developing transformative models for community-based education. Having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Zambia and as a community school director in West Philadelphia, I was immediately drawn to the work of The Modern Story and the stories of its students when I first met Remy and Piya in 2013. As I got to know TMS’ founders and as I gradually educated myself about digital storytelling, I couldn’t resist my growing desire to play a role in helping The Modern Story grow and evolve so that it can serve children like my scholars at Wilson Community School in West Philly, and my families in Katukutu village in Central Province, Zambia.

So, having spent the past year and a half working on various strategic planning projects, I now face my most challenging TMS role yet – to do the work that is most important and serve as a TMS Teaching Fellow. Over the course of the month of July, I have the great responsibility and incredible opportunity to work with TMS scholars in the Computer Clubhouse at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club. We will be learning about digital storytelling, watching and discussing the digital stories of TMS scholars from Hyderabad, India and other communities around the world, and creating our own personal digital stories. With that in mind, I am proud to share the first digital story I’ve ever made. I’d like to dedicate it to my family, my friends, my teachers, and my scholars. In so many ways, there are all but one in the same. Because we are all scholars, and I am because we are.


Meet Rachel

34 hours. That’s how long I’ll have between leaving my home in California and arriving in Hyderabad for the incredible journey that will be my first six months out of college. Between reading books from the list of selections we were given to educate us on India, tearing through Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed again to remind myself what good teaching looks like, and listening to the 16-hour playlist I’ve carefully curated for the long trip, I can only imagine that the rest of the travel time will be spent trying to contain my excitement (or sleeping, but excitedly).

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an interest in social justice. So when I decided to study filmmaking, it felt only natural for me to explore how the two could be used alongside each other. But the mainstay of social justice filmmaking, the depressing documentary, left a lot to be desired. After working with a nonprofit that seeks sustainable solutions to poverty over the periodic dispensing of charity and an organization that provides participants with the technical training and tools to tell their own stories through film, my curiosity about what those depressing documentaries would look like if their subjects were the ones producing them intensified. I was drawn to The Modern Story because they were asking the same questions I was. What would it look like if we helped empower those most often spoken for or never spoken about to speak for themselves? What would we see in those stories that challenged the script so often dispensed? These are exactly the questions I hope to see answered during my time in India. And these are the questions that will carry me through my 34-hour journey when the revolutionary words of Paolo Freire and the soothing sounds of Sufjan Stevens aren’t enough.

Meet Dara

Last summer I heard the story of Cho, a Tibetan refugee, who walked by nightfall for two months to India from a Chinese-occupied Tibet. I was studying abroad in northern India and this service project, a simple language and culture exchange, was meant to serve as an integration method to help prepare us for living in a nearby village. However, for me, hearing his story had a profound impact. Cho told me: “Please tell others my story. I want others to know”. I remember wishing that I had the tools and the proper platforms to get his story out into the world, and not just my small connections to it.

Before I met Cho I understood how important personal storytelling and digital media could be in personal development. While living in New York City I volunteered to teach digital photography to inner-city junior high students. The transformation that occurred was stunning to watch – my students became more confident, it gave them a changed perspective on their world, and it excited them to learn more. It created passion. After meeting Cho I decided that I wanted to do more service for youth, and to help them find their voice in our ever-changing world.

This passion for service also propelled my interest in global education. Following university I moved to Kumasi, Ghana to work for an American NGO where I ran peer mentoring programs in rural villages. I spent seven months there working within the school systems, learning Twi, traveling West Africa, and hearing people’s stories. It was during this time that I learned about The Modern Story Fellowship, and knew that this would be the perfect next step for me to explore additional educational systems, listen to more people’s stories, and to also return to a country that I love.

I think that global education is an ongoing dialogue; it bridges cultural and religious gaps to achieve learning and understanding. I love teaching because I love being a part of that dialogue, and because I never want to stop learning about the world. I am so excited to be a part of The Modern Story, and for this new adventure!

Meet Nandini

When my sister and I were growing up in Bahrain, my father made up bedtime stories for us using characters from comics he read as a child in India. For the longest time, I believed that Chamataka the Jackal was entirely his own invention. Now I see how those stories let him keep alive something from his past, while connecting us to something we had never truly known. By linking generations and places, stories – both real and fictional – become central to the migration experience.

My parents also took many photos and videos over the years, zealously documenting our life in a new country that became home. Looking back, it’s no wonder I was drawn to visual media. I was already a voracious reader and video and photography opened up the world even further. One of the most fulfilling educational experiences I had in high school was working with friends to make a short documentary about local reactions to the imminent invasion of Iraq. In addition to digital skills and new perspectives on our teachers, classmates, and each other, the project let us take action in our community and speak back, in our own small way, to events that left us feeling powerless.

In my experience as an advocate, I learned more lessons about the power of storytelling. It was a critical tool, whether working with families who were fighting to save their homes after being targeted for predatory loans, or organizing with immigrant students for access to higher education and their families’ safety. Telling your story can provide an invitation, a catharsis, or a catalyst. It can bring people together and expose obscured truths. When we share the experiences that give meaning to our lives and define the changes we want, it creates space and strength for others to do the same.

The first stories that we learn might be about wily animals and their forest adventures, but we collect stories throughout our lives. Considering this abundance of narratives, we might wonder about the significance of our own. In those moments, I believe, it helps to remember how storytelling can transform us, and how the personal can be political. I can’t wait to embark on this journey with the TMS fellowship and collaborate with the young people, educators, and community organizations of Hyderabad.


A Hello from Emily

My name is Emily Kwong and I am thrilled to be a 2012 fellow with The Modern Story (TMS). In a world saturated by policies and percentages, The Modern Story valorizes the human voice—the human story—and empowers it to speak loudly and largely. Through student-created photo essays and micro-documentaries, it puts the powers of representation directly in the hands of a young person. It’s a toolbox that behaves like a megaphone, giving them the digital equipment and soft knowledge to share their words, thoughts, and feelings with each other, with their community, with the world. Go watch one of TMS’s 100+ videos on Vimeo. Try the news bulletin about child trafficking, the report about traffic congestion, or the spoken word proclaiming, “I am from the moon, from dilkush and butterscotch ice cream.” See what I mean?

In this way, TMS never purports to “give youth a voice,” but to turn up the volume of their voice. It was this singular, but crucial distinction that attracted me to The Modern Story in the first place. Now, writing this on the plane from London to Mumbai, there aren’t enough adjectives to convey the admiration I have for The Modern Story, the surplus of feeling I feel to be a part of this organization, and my excitement to work with the 2012 TMS class, all 8th and 9th grade students at government schools in Hyderabad, India.

I graduated a little less than a month ago with a B.A. degree and more questions than answers. Through my interdisciplinary curriculum in Anthropology and Human Rights, I become interested in ethnographic writing and the dissemination of personal narrative as rallying point for social change. Those four years were rich in exploration, with forays into print journalism, radio work, oral history and digital heritage work, youth media, and creative, project-based learning as a method of education. I researched digital heritage while studying abroad in South Africa, taught briefly at a youth media academy in inner city Hartford, CT, and interned at an education non-profit that explored global themes through art and media projects.

Were I to draw a Venn diagram with that generous, idealistic faith of a post-grad, these many interests and experiences share in common a desire to lend credence to small yet significant personal stories, undocumented in popular telling, but deserving of being heard. It comes from the value my family has always placed upon listening wholeheartedly to others. The more I learned about The Modern Story, the more its ideology corresponded with these deeply-rooted personal values, strumming the chords of my own belief that people needed stories to survive. It is an ancient phenomenon, an impulse that has sprung up spontaneously in all cultures across time and space. Only the need to nourish, rest, and breathe can claim the same level of vitality. Scientific research is beginning to support what advertisers, authors, and Aristotle have long known. Readers of fiction are revealed to be far more empathetic and socially aware than non-readers. Hooked up to an MRI and shown images of human faces, their hippocampus (that part of the brain dedicated to emotional response) lights up like a firefly. The more I come to understand the science and artistry of storytelling, the more I appreciate its power. For better or for worse, dramatic social change can be affected by one well-told story.

With any hope, we at The Modern Story can inform, inspire, and entertain you with compelling digital stories 100% created, produced, and edited by our students. Keep checking in for profiles of students, their fantastic multimedia work, lessons about teaching, and stories about storytelling. For now, thank you for reading and leave a comment. What’s your favorite story to tell? To hear? To read?

Meet Emily from The Modern Story on Vimeo.