I enjoyed a remarkable digital story experience that was recommended to me this week called Awra Amba: Rethink a Beautiful World. It’s a 360º interactive documentary about a village in Ethiopia that has gained worldwide recognition for creating a community based on true equality with the goal of solving socio-economic problems.
I love the story of how all this began. When the community’s founder, Zumra Nuru, was a little boy, he wanted to go to school. Like so many young boys in Ethiopia, his parents sent him to farm and herd animals instead. Young Zumra began dreaming about what a perfect society looked like; one where there were no arranged marriages, child brides, or poverty. A place where the old people were cared for, health care available, gender equality existed, and where children could go to school until they were 18-yrs-old and beyond if they wanted to. Zumra never did go to school, but he set about making his dreams a reality, and it’s amazing what he accomplished as a social scientist without education and outside influence. His plan was to begin with a small group of people with hopes that his ideas would catch hold and work their way out into the surrounding villages.
“I wanted to live in a place where women and men live as equals and where all of our children can go to school. I didn’t want religion and tradition to dictate every aspect of our lives. So I decided to create a place where everyone is respected equally, and works collectively, so we can stand a chance of coming out of poverty.”
Tuesday is Charity Day, where the village works to provide for those in need.
Starting with only 19 members, Nuru and his little band of like-minded neighbors set out to do just that: create a thriving utopian world. Except it wasn’t an easy task when the people surrounding them didn’t agree; they even thought Nuru and his group were mentally ill. They ended up being ostracized, threatened, having their lands stolen, and eventually driven to the infertile and malaria stricken south.
Starving and with little possessions, they began to slowly build an economic base through a weaving industry in their little village called Awra Amba (which means “Top of the Hill” in Amharic). They refused food aid from the outside world, regarding it a “poison” to their self-sufficiency. And instead of taking free weaving machines, they built their own to get their business up and running. Their unique attitudes toward gender, religion (personal and separate from the govt.), education, health, elder care, adult literacy, libraries, and preschools were established in the community and eventually they were able to share their resources with thousands of other people in the region.
Today, Awra Amba is a thriving democracy and a hugely successful commercial and social enterprise. Those who used to mock and threaten them now live in peace with the 500 strong community, trading with them and receiving the benefits of their health and educational services. Is it perfect? No, and they would be the first to say so. But most would say Awra Amba is a positive example of change and development in a region generally filled with social injustice, illiteracy and poverty.
A thriving weaving industry.
When developing this project, the creators realized it couldn’t be told in a linear film format, but that the Awra Amba lifestyle was so multi-faceted that the best way to understand it was to visit them. Their stated goal was “to build a space where people can experience their fascinating stories and draw inspiration and concrete solutions to make change in their own community.” Based on this, I will use the following traits from Ohler’s storytelling rubric to establish if they were effective in reaching this goal.
This was a great experience and one I will be sharing with other teachers. Not only is it a good digital storytelling example, but the producers, Write This Down Filmmakers, specifically geared it for classroom use to spark discussion. They point out that on their education page you can find out more about how teachers and schools can use the documentary in teaching. There are also many resources available online, including films they have produced, news reports and academic research.