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Humanity Through a Lens: The Sunrise Storyteller

Many teens dream about taking a year off from school to travel the world. What makes 19-year-old Kasha Sequoia Slavner stand out, however, is how she transformed this same dream into an international journey that sparked conversation throughout Canada and the United States.

 

She’s the Sunrise Storyteller, a young activist who traveled the world for six months with her mother at the age of 16 in order to document the stepping stones to peace in seven different countries.

 

Rather than returning with stories of relaxing on white-sand beaches, she reflects on her experiences interviewing change-makers in local African communities. Instead of capturing images of amusement parks and run-of-the-mill vacation activities, she discussed sex trafficking in Thailand. She’s the Sunrise Storyteller, a young activist who traveled the world for six months with her mother at the age of 16 in order to document the stepping stones to peace in seven different countries.

 

Kasha, aka, The Sunrise Storyteller, on location in Khayelitsha, one of the largest townships on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa

 

Kasha Sequoia Slavner has been a leader since a young age. When she was eight, she initiated a neighborhood social justice club and raised awareness and funds for local organizations. At the age of 14, she became a youth delegate of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. Slavner attended a United Nations conference on gender equality, and was inspired to take action.

 

 

“After the conference, I kind of came up with this idea to use my passion for visual storytelling to share the stories of the people that I had met at the UN. [They] were really fearless, passionate changemakers who were working on the ground in their own countries to make the world a better place.” When the idea was conceptualized, Slavner first envisioned a photography project, but was advised to create a documentary to portray stories of overcoming adversity in a more communicable manner.  “I had this epiphany moment that I had to use my talent to raise awareness for the issues that are happening around the world,” Slavner noted.

 

She sought to tell the stories of struggle and strife, and the incredible ways that global citizens overcame them. 

 

On site in South Africa with one of her interview subjects, overlooking the city from a nearby hill.

 

Though she had never previously worked in filmmaking, the 16-year-old decided to take a risk and use her camera to capture the emotions on screen. Without experience or a clear path after the first destination to South Africa, Slavner and her mother embarked on the journey of a lifetime on the teen’s sixteenth birthday. Of the process, Slavner reflected, “It was very organic. A lot of the people that we met in our first country, South Africa, knew people in the travel industry.” She did not create a strict itinerary, but focused more on allowing her journey to take its own shape. “It was really amazing how the community got together to help us find the story.”

 

The film poster for Kasha's groundbreaking new film about involvement in a globalized world debuting at film festivals across the nation. 

 

Slavner’s movie, “The Sunrise Storyteller” premiered in March 2017, and has appeared at many film festivals while touring throughout the United States and Canada. She sought to tell the stories of struggle and strife, and the incredible ways that global citizens overcame them. “I didn’t go into a country looking for a particular issue or story,” Slavner remarked. “It just so happened that each community we visited opened itself up to a new theme.”

 

"There was a big culture shock coming home. When you see people complaining about very little, first world problems... I felt really out of place. I see myself more as a global citizen now." 

 

 

A water irrigation system for a community garden attached to a local public school in Pumbala, a tireless community advocate for education, sustainable development, health and more.

 

While in South Africa, she explored the efforts that leaders were making to destroy the toxic stigma surrounding the HIV/AIDs epidemic. Though the issue of HIV and AIDs has diminished in the United States, it remains prevalent in South Africa. In her documentary, Slavner spoke with advocates that encourage South Africans to seek proper health treatment and examination. “Even though there are a lot of issues, there are people on the ground working on them,” she noted. Not only did Slavner learn about global issues not typically covered by the media in Canada and the United States, but she developed a stronger understanding of human resilience. “The one thing that I learned about resilience is that hope goes hand-in-hand with that,” Slavner voiced. “[The people I met] were working toward their goals because they saw hope. If they felt hopeless, then they wouldn’t be motivated to do anything.” Humanity offers every shade of emotion, every hue of response to situation. Slavner communicated the composition of mankind in her documentary, portraying the human ability to overcome resilience. Slavner observed, “The people that I met, especially the young women, were particularly inspiring to me.”

 

"There are so many things that connect us and make us simple. Even if people grow up in different parts of the world, we're all still human."

 

Students in a brick-and-mortar classroom at Gloryland Preparatory Public School in Arusha, Tanzania. 

 

The lessons she learned, and mindset that she cultivated, followed Slavner back to Canada. Upon arriving home, the Sunrise Storyteller’s journey helped her to think about the adversity they had gone through. The people she met were happy and motivated about their cause, just as passionate about social change she was. “There was a big culture shock coming home,” she noted. “When you see people complaining about very little things, first world problems… I felt really out of place. I see myself more as a global citizen now.”

 

"There are so many things that connect us and make us simple. Even if people grow up in different parts of the world, we're all still human."

 

She felt more in tune with the issues going on in the world, and realized the need for change and advocacy. “I think that travel is something that really opens up your mind to the rest of the world, and your heart to the rest of the world.” If you do have the privilege to travel, Slavner addressed, you should use it as a way to immerse yourself in diversity and experience other cultures. “We are all going through one human experience,” she stated.  “Even though it’s so diverse and varied, there are so many things that connect us and make us simple. Even if people grow up in different parts of the world, we’re all still human.” The journey brought forth the deepest struggles of humanity, and explored not only the ways that the strides can be made surrounding world peace and human rights, but the importance of portraying these issues in film and media. “The most important thing to me is youth, and taking charge of what we want our future to look like.” Slavner remarked. “I think that when our generation gets older, I believe that we’ll raise an even more socially conscious generation. It can only get better from here, but we can’t be indifferent… not caring enough to get involved. It really has to start with us.”

 

In her travels, Kasha made connections with people across the world, including this heartwarming moment in the heart of Africa. 

 

The reaction to her controversial decision to leave traditional schooling and educate herself on globally pressing issues was tremendous. “I’m very thankful that people have been very understanding and passionate about the work that we do,” Slavner said of the public’s enthusiastic response. Her next steps for the film include branching out to the educational market, where she hopes to show the documentary at universities and schools. She has also collaborated with National Geographic, and recently published her own photography exhibit, which displays photos from the trip that relate to the Sustainable Development Goal #16 surrounding peace. Her photos bring world issues such as gender equality and nonviolence back to peace in a visual representation. Slavner is also in the developmental stages of an online shop for the cause, with photography and merchandise for sale that will raise money for organizations that she is passionate about. She expressed her passion and affiliation with Canadian founded “Me to We” organization, noting, “Me to We is all about you helping other youth around the world. It’s what exposed me to so many other world issues and also taught me a lot about activism.”

 

"I think that every person's voice is different, and every person's voice matters. If you're passionate about something, don't be afraid to share it with people." 

 

 

As far as advice for others is concerned, Slavner has no shortage of inspirational guidance for those who long to join the Global Sunrise movement. “You don’t need money to just pick up a camera or film something in your local community,” she stated. “You can take pictures with your iPhone, you can take videos with your iPhone, you can write stories with a notepad.” Slavner’s own success was built from the ground up, and she suggested that any youth advocates interested in becoming an involved global citizen should voice their passions, which can create a community of people invested in a common project or worldly issue. “I think that every person’s voice is different, and every person’s voice matters,” the 19-year-old filmmaker voiced. “If you’re passionate about something, don’t be afraid to share it with people.”

 

Photos courtesy of Kasha Sequioa Slavner, the Sunrise Storyteller. Follow her @GlobalSunrisers on Twitter and Instagram, "The Sunrise Storyteller" on Facebook, and visit their websites at theglobalsunriseproject.com and thesunrisestoryteller.com. 

 

 

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