SANTA CRUZ -- UC Santa Cruz undergraduate Amanda Hill was set to hop on a plane to Rwanda on Tuesday. The 26-year-old sociology student is taking part in a project to turn girls in rural villages into amateur videographers.
With a grant from UC Santa Cruz's Global Information Internship Program, Hill will spend six weeks showing adolescent girls how to use iPhones to record and edit videos about their lives. She hopes the project will empower them to raise the issues they care about most.
"What excites me about it is giving the girls a platform to narrate their own stories, and to not have their stories told by others," said Hill.
As part of her degree in global information and social enterprise studies, Hill took a course that requires a project using technology to address social justice. She connected with the Firelight Foundation, a Santa Cruz nonprofit that works to improve the lives of children affected by HIV, AIDS and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. The foundation accepts proposals from grass-roots groups and provides grants to support community-run projects.
When she arrives in the northwestern city of Gisenyi, Hill will be working alongside a Firelight Foundation representative to train six girls from ages 13 to 19, selected by a Rwandan community organization. Then she will split her time between Gisenyi and Nyamagabe, in the south, answering questions that the girls may have as they compose their first videos.
"I'm just kind of there to help facilitate in the sharing of these stories," she said. "My hope is that they just get to be creative, and that this is going be an empowering experience for them."
Once the videos take shape, Hill will help organize two film festivals to present them to the public. The host community organization has HD cameras with built-in projectors to help give the girls a wider audience.
The digital storytelling won't stop after six weeks. The girls will keep their new iPhones, and will upload their videos with the file hosting service Dropbox. Starting in March, the Firelight Foundation plans to publish some of this footage on its website, http://www.firelightfoundation.org.
Hill, who will graduate this June, has spent time in Africa but has never visited Rwanda before. Said she was "more excited than nervous" as she packed for her flight. "It's something that I didn't imagine happening, and it's just all coming together in a really amazing way."