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There's little to do in a refugee camp. So these teens picked up an unexpected hobby.

Too many of the 185,000 souls here have given up hope of rebuilding their lives. But these kids are just getting started.

The young boy cradles his head, emitting a low moan as blood drips through his fingers and soaks the soil beneath him.

His friend uneasily makes his way through the shrubs to examine the injury he has caused. Upon seeing the blood, he gasps theatrically and stumbles backwards. Frightened, he tucks a slingshot into his trousers and runs away.

“Cut!”


Throwing his arms in the air in exasperation, a lanky 20-year-old yells out and everything stops.

Fidele is directing this film, and he isn’t happy. He wants more emotion from his cast, more feeling.

Regan, the boy with the bleeding head, gets up from the floor and wipes some of the sticky red liquid from his cheek, a smile spreading across his face. The kid in the yellow T-shirt, Pasyan, saunters back into the shade beneath the trees. They watch as Fidele re-enacts the scene, crouching down, holding his head, moaning dramatically, showing them how it’s done.

All photos courtesy of Rachel Reed, used with permission.

All of the kids in the film’s cast and crew live in a remote refugee camp in Northern Kenya.

They are waiting, along with 185,000 others, to be resettled in the U.S., Australia, Canada, or Europe, or for peace and security to return to their respective counties so that they can go home.

The camp, a sprawling collection of tents and crumbling mud and corrugated iron huts, is not an easy place to live. There is little to do. In the morning, most kids cram into airless classrooms with up to 200 other children. After school, some help their families by going to fetch water or firewood.

Mostly, children idle away their time, hanging out in the narrow alleyways between huts, finding creative ways to play with whatever they get their hands on. Some have never known life outside the camp; many will wait years or even decades to be resettled.

In 2011, a 19-year-old Congolese refugee named Batakane Jean-Michel returned to the camp after studying at the East African Media Institute in Nairobi.

Jean-Michel was determined to put his new skills to use and provide something for the kids living in the camp.

“I moved back after realizing that a multitude of people like myself were anxious to learn,” says Jean-Michel. Using his pocket money, a small camcorder, and a laptop he was given as a gift, Jean-Michel started Season of the Time Media Productions (STMP), running yearlong courses for children who wanted to learn about film production.

Tucked behind a small Congolese café inside the camp, STMP’s office is a tiny, unassuming room. A piece of paper hanging on the outside wall reads: “Notice! Notice! Notice! STMP Studio. Kick out boredom, idleness, and cluelessness. Get busy and know more on what’s popping in the outside world.”

Inside, kids take turns using a computer with a broken screen, teaching themselves how to use programs like Photoshop and Fruity Loops, a music production program. The power cuts out frequently, but when it does, they just wait, knowing that sooner or later it will start up again. Then they go out around the camp and make their own films and music videos.

As STMP’s assistant cameraman, 15-year-old Kito is no stranger to the stop-and-start pace of film production.

He has been with STMP since 2013, when a friend connected him to Jean-Michel. Kito arrived in Kakuma five years ago, after his family fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“When I first arrived, I used to stay at home from morning until evening,” recalls Kito. “I was so bored.” But then Kito heard about STMP and started developing his skills as a camera operator.

In addition to making movies and music videos, Kito and the other children earn a little money by filming weddings, birthday parties, and other celebrations for camp residents who have no other way to immortalize previous memories. They charge around $10 an hour, and shoots can go on for about six or seven hours.

50% of the proceeds are put aside to fund STMP’s productions, while the remaining half is shared among the crew members.

“At the end, the amount of money we get is very small for the work we do. It is just pocket money to buy basic things,” says Fidele. “But we do it to help the communities.”

In December, children sign up for the yearlong course led by Fidele.

Three times a week, under the shade of acacia trees, the older kids — Fidele, Kito, and 17-year-old cameraman Olivier — take turns teaching film and music skills to younger children. For them, it's a way of giving back what they were taught by Jean-Michel, who, after eight years in the camp, resettled in Australia last year and now raises money for STMP from afar.

“He showed me that I can do whatever I want in my life,” explains Olivier, who says he always wanted to be a filmmaker. “Now I try to help some other kids so they can be even better than me.”

Throughout the year, the kids learn to use a computer, shoot and edit short movies, and produce music. At the end of the course, children pair off and produce their own movies, and the older kids name one as the best of the year.

Most of the children have never held a camera in their hand or used a computer before joining STMP, but many now dream of becoming editors, scriptwriters, and producers.

Back on set, Fidele and Paluku, a 14-year-old scriptwriter, carry a bag full of  old shirts, hats, and frilly dresses to use as costumes.

10-year-old Angelina gets out her tools — a little mirror, a powder and eye shadow palette, a stick of lipstick, and an eye pencil — as her fellow makeup artist Leticia preps beside her. Olivier and Kito check that batteries are charged and the camcorder is working. It stops a few times, but a little knock brings it back to life.

Followed by several curious children, STMP’s cast and crew of 10 walk through the narrow, dusty alleyways between huts and into a small wooded area. They set up their tripod, the actors change into costume, and Fidele gives last-minute advice.

Linelle, a 5-year-old actress and the youngest STMP member, guards the area around set, stopping curious children from getting too close and shouting at them when they got too loud.

There is no time for playing around. STMP is at work.

Check out STMP in action:

Meet the Teenagers Who Started a Film Production Studio From T...

NEW: “The power cuts out frequently, but when it does they sit and wait, knowing that sooner or later it will start up again. Then, they go out around the camp and make their own films and music videos.” Read the full story: http://narr.ly/2zHRijE

Posted by Narratively on Wednesday, November 15, 2017

This story was originally published on Narratively, a digital publication focused on ordinary people with extraordinary stories, and is reprinted here with permission. Visit Narratively for more stories about Game Changers, Super Subcultures, and Hidden History.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

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The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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