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International Day of the Girl 2018: In Conversation with Gen Z filmmaker, Kasha Sequoia Slavner

“When young women have one person to believe in us and support our dreams, it gives us the permission to believe in ourselves, continue to strive towards our goals, and work towards a more equal future.“—Kasha Sequoia Slavner

The international Day of the Girl was proposed as a resolution by Rona Ambrose, Canada’s Minister for the Status of Women in February 2011 at the 55th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. On December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly voted to pass the resolution adopting 11 October 2012 as the inaugural "International Day of the Girl Child". Each year, the day's main purpose is to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.

To mark the day, I had a chance to chat with Kasha Sequoia Slavner about what it means to be #GenUnlimited. Kasha is a 20 year-old, multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker and founder of the Global Sunrise Project with over a decade of experience in social justice advocacy. She was only 16 years old when she set out across the world for six months to make her film, The Sunrise Storyteller, and completed it upon returning to high school. The Sunrise Storyteller is the young filmmaker’s first feature-length documentary, which she directed, filmed, scripted and edited.

At 17, Kasha created a 32-piece photography exhibition called Travels into the Heart, showcasing stories of hope, resilience and empowered leadership from communities around the world. The photographs serve as a call to action promoting global citizenship and responsible travel. In 2015, she completed her second large-scale exhibit about Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality, entitled Picture 16. At 17, Kasha published her first book of photography Reflections of the Sunrise Storyteller – A Journey into the Heart as a Global Citizen.

Also a frequent public speaker, she has been commissioned by the National Geographic Learning, is a contributor to Thrive Global, The Huffington Post, Good Magazine, Matador Network, and appeared in several podcasts.

I sat down with Kasha to reflect on her transition from girlhood to young adulthood.

Christine Dikongué: What was your inspiration behind your documentary The Sunrise Storyteller?

Kasha Sequoia Slavner: I started taking an interest in social justice at a very young age. I was always very passionate about making the world a better place. When I was 14, I noticed the mainstream media presented world issues in a very negative, over-dramatized fashion, and it made me feel very overwhelmed as a young social justice activist. I didn’t feel confident that my actions had much of an impact. That same year, I was invited as a youth delegate to attend my first UN Commission on the Status of Women, a gender equality conference where thousands of activists gathered at the New York City UN Headquarters every year. It was there I listened to the incredible stories of people from every continent making change in their communities. Their innovative spirit, dedication, and passion really inspired me. I wanted to share their stories so others could be inspired to make change too. decided to use my passion for film and photography to make a documentary about resilient role models in the global community, making a difference despite any obstacles they faced.

CD: What was your main challenges in launching your first project at 15 now that you are in transition into the young adulthood? Did you feel like you had enough support and mentors to pursue your dreams?

KS: When I was 15, I had a crazy dream, I’d share this dream with anyone who’d listen. One of the challenges was getting anyone to take me seriously. I’d pitch my project, and the feedback would be something along the lines of. “that’s cute” “good luck” or “get back in touch with us in a couple of years”. I couldn’t wait though, this was an urgent matter to me. I was young and I decided to make a documentary, but the catch was that I had no formal film-making training, I didn’t know anything about editing, public speaking or business. I had a dream, but was missing the skills to execute it. Being a self-directed learner, google became my best friend, and I studied all I could. But this wasn’t enough. I realized I needed the help of people who had much more experience than I, and this is when I started looking for mentors. My greatest mentor was my mom, who took on this project with me. She helped me learn all about marketing, sponsorship and fundraising and I found a mentor who could teach me about video editing. This is what really allowed for me to pursue my dream. I think having intergenerational support is really important for us as young women to be able to pursue our dreams and break down barriers to success.

CD: What is the mission behind your content creation hub: The Global Sunrise Project?

KS: The Global Sunrise Project is a media hub for social good. We have three pillars, Media, Education, and Impact. Media is the content itself, which seeks to empower people by sharing positive stories of people making a difference, and creating sustainable change. This counteracts the bad news narrative, that keeps us from taking action. Educational resources (like workshops, panels, events) drive the conversation further and allow the inspiration our audiences take from the content, to be turned into action. Impact is our final pillar, it is the social enterprise aspect of our project in which 5-20% of the sales from content and our online shop “Shop-for-a-Cause” are donated to grassroots organizations and the actions taken by individuals motivated by the content created.

CD: Share a story about a lesson you learned from travelling across communities behind your lenses.

KS: As a young girl travelling internationally for the first time, I was able to learn firsthand about the challenges other young women are facing in their communities. I learned from 17 year old Michaela, about the high rates of teenage pregnancy that lead to girls to drop out of school. I learned from 18 year old Nap Dow, how education is virtually inaccessible to refugees in Thailand. Despite it all, these young women were pursuing their dreams of higher education, and becoming leaders in their community. They were able to do so because they had at least one person to believe in them, and I believe that’s also the importance of mentorship.

CD: What's next for you?

KS: Currently, I’m developing a workshop specifically for high school students to help them explore their passions, discover what issues they want to make an impact on, and help them develop a plan for action. In terms of what’s on the horizon, I dream to continue making films using The Global Sunrise Project’s three-pillar model. Media, Education, Impact. I want to share world issues in a way that presents creative and sustainable solutions and inspires people to take action.

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