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Students unite for documentary activism

In 1999, Courtney Spence was a sophomore in Duke University. After doing research and getting involved in a documentary media program at Duke, Courtney was particularly struck by social activism and implementing change through documentary media. In combining the two ideas, she founded Students of the World. The organization, based in Austin, Texas, sends university students around the world to document the work of nonprofit groups and global initiatives making change in developing countries.

Through the online media outlet See Change, students immerse themselves in a community for one month and produce documentary-style media for partnering organizations. This past summer, students from Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Carolina, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Michigan and Brown University kept blogs, shot photos and edited video from countries in Asia, South America and Africa.

Ten years into this endeavor, Courtney and Students of the World are working to make their projects more collaborative between the university students and the communities they document. The organization mostly works in Southeast Asia, Africa and South America, and Courtney would like to expand to the Middle East.

Courtney shared with me a little about how Students of the World has progressed.

Q: What is your mission at Students of the World?

A: The idea came out of wanting to find a new way for young people to engage in the world in meaningful ways, particularly with a focus on developing countries. The goal of Students of the World is to do what students do already and that’s to go out and to learn and to transcribe that learning into something with more impact, more meaning. The way we translate what we learn in the field is through multimedia, which consequently nonprofit organizations are in great need of. We empower young people to partner with innovative problem-solvers around the world to produce and leverage documentary-style media — films, photography, audio documentary pieces, and magazine and journal articles. Then they return to campus and do advocacy events in the community for that organization as well.

Young student in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo | Verneva Ziga, Columbia University


Finding Freedom

This photo essay was submitted by Brennan O'Connor / NOMAD Photos.

Brennan O'Connor is the Southeast Asian adviser for The Peoples of the World and president of NOMAD Photos agency, a Canadian cooperative of photojournalists dedicated to using the economic efficiencies and social power of a collective to highlight under-reported social, political, health and environmental issues worldwide.

In 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began resettling thousands of Burmese ethnic minorities from Thai refugee camps to locations across the world. The UN referred to it in a report as "the world's largest resettlement operation." By the time it's completed in 2010, over 30 thousand people will be resettled across the world.