Shannan Smith is a political activist, dancer, choreographer, on the staff of be.the.change.uganda and amazing author of her blog, Shannan On The Go! Love and Water sat down with her to talk about her current projects, which are truly heartwarming and inspiring.
Love and Water- Tell us about your blog, Shannan On The Go!
Shannan Smith- Shannan On The Go came out of a class I’m taking at the New School called New Media. We’ve been encouraged to do outside projects, such as sharing information through Google Groups, which is another cool thing. But I decided that based on my idea for my final project, which is based on i-reporting, I wanted to see if you could blog on the go. So I looked it up and Blogger actually allows you to “blog on the go.” So I named my page Shannan On The Go, and I take photos and videos and text them to my blog.
L&W- What are you studying at the New School?
SS- I’m studying International Affairs and I’ve just decided that my concentration will be Media and Culture. So I believe my focus within that will be Youth Media and the role that youth play in their own local politics.
L&W- You went to Guatemala this summer, right?
SS- Yes, we were working on a development project for the women there. We worked with them on a business development project. So basically it was a new group of women- the New School worked with another group two years ago- that we were introduced to by the mayor of the town. The women live in pueblos in a mountain with tin roofs and they weave, which is actually the trade that most of the women pick up. It’s passed down through Mayan culture. So the market is inundated with all of these weavings because everyone does it. So the women are interested in finding ways to not be poor anymore; we went there as consultants, basically. We looked at their products and tried to come up with a business model that made sense for them. I actually found a store when I got back to New York that works with indigenous groups and sells their products in the store. So They had an interview with the store owner and she decided to work with them and carry their products.
L&W- What’s the store called?
SS- Manos Preciosas, which means Precious Hands.
L&W- That’s great.
SS- It was, because we only worked with them for a month and I don’t think they thought we would be able to make as much headway as we did. They’re now registered with their government as an official co-op with a name and all the paperwork complete. They’re beautiful people, and I think with that they’re ready and willing and able to do something to improve their lives. They’re all mothers, they have children; it’s actually an all-women community because the men leave all day to work in the fields. We were an all-women group ourselves, so we were able to immediately gain their trust. It was eye-opening for me and I learned so much.
L&W- And you also are involved with be.the.change.uganda.
SS- I am.
L&W- Can you tell us a little about that?
SS- be.the.change is a non-profit organization started by Griffin Matthews who is an actor. He went to Uganda to help with another organization and he ended up meeting a group of children who were not being helped because the organization he was working for did not have the funds. So he asked about them and who they were, and it turned out they were orphans because their parents had died of HIV or thier families had been affected by HIV in some way. So they were each other’s caretakers. During that trip Griffin starting teaching school to them in their village. He just held class one day, and continued until he had to leave. Before he left he promised them he would be back to help them get what they needed to continue going to school and get the help they needed. So be.the.change is for that purpose: we raise funds for 11 students to go to school. We just have 11 right now.
L&W- And where do they go to school?
SS- Near where they live, but the schools there are private so they have to pay tuition and they’re mainly boarding schools, so they have to live there and be able to buy books and uniforms and room and board.
L&W- What is your role in the organization?
SS- I’m on the staff, and we throw a lot of events. Usually I’m consulting on thoses and helping hands-on with putting the events together. The last event we had was Witness Uganda, which is an original musical that Griffin wrote the book for and Matt Gold composed and I was one of the choreographers. So we put that on and that was our fundraiser. It was amazing.
L&W- I wish I could have been there.
SS- Me too! We raised a good amount of money, and each ticket was only $5.00.
L&W- Only $5.00! I love that!! So on that note, what do you think of the concept of Love and Water International, every drop counts?
SS- I love that concept! It’s so true, and so many people don’t realize how little it takes to make a big difference. I’m a student, I have loans and not a lot of money right now but I’m still able to support a child in Uganda and send him to school. The idea of artists submitting designs inspired by the mission of be.the.change and communities of people taking part in choosing and purchasing the shirts is really amazing. Everyone wins!
L&W- It must feel great to know you’re helping that one child in such a big way.
SS- I feel blessed- I am blessed, and I have to share that with someone. He is working toward a goal, his dream, I can help make his dream come true. It’s a great feeling.
Follow Shannan’s blog at http://shannanonthego.blogspot.com/ and tune in tomorrow for our interview with Griffin Matthews, founder of be.the.change…