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Deblekha Guin has a hard time choosing her favourite project.
Ms. Guin is the executive director and founder of the Access to Media Education Society, a B.C. non-profit that engages youth – particularly marginalized youth – through digital media, including the student-led creation of videos.
Access to Media celebrated its 20th anniversary in September and its 40 programs have had more than 2,000 participants, with the content produced reaching tens of thousands more youth and educators.
Ms. Guin, when asked to pick her all-time favourite project, ultimately chooses one launched in 2002 as among her most treasured. The project, called Peer Perspectives, tackled issues such as discrimination and sexual identity and featured three documentaries made by youth.
"That really was a pivotal moment in bringing these stories that were created by youth into classroom settings and using them to prompt really important conversations. No one was doing that at that time," she said.
"…We'd have to get on the phone with [parent advisory council] representatives to convince them to let us do an anti-homophobia workshop in schools."
Access to Media, Ms. Guin said, was developed by a group from Galiano Island that wanted to make media creation and digital storytelling more accessible to youth.
"There was a group of us that all were from different marginalized communities that really felt like it would be nice to actually bring this program to people from communities that were either misrepresented or invisible in the mainstream media, and to be able to give them the tools to be able to take charge of their own stories," she said.
Ms. Guin said the society's next initiative, called DisPlaceMeant, will give indigenous and refugee youth an opportunity to tell their stories. The program will involve the creation of videos and is intended to prompt discussion about forced migration, as well as young people's ties to their ancestral homelands.
The society will be hosting a fundraiser on Galiano Island, at Bodega Ridge, on Jan. 21.
Helen Luu, a 14-year-old who recently completed an Access to Media program called #HerDigitalVisions, said she helped create three videos, including one on inspiring messages for girls.
"I really liked the fact that creating these projects brought us closer. Since making videos takes a while, we have to work together in order for this project to work," she said.
Karina Tseng, who is also 14 and was in the #HerDigitalVisions program with Ms. Luu, said she appreciated the program environment and working with the other girls.
"I could always be myself," she said.
She said the program taught her a number of important things, including the fact you can't be too careful with personal information on the Internet.
Kim Villagante, who has run workshops for an Access to Media program called HumanEYES at three Lower Mainland schools, said she is proud of what it has achieved.
"The opportunity to see a group of youth for six weeks and witness their growth while talking about ancestry and different stories of migration has been fulfilling for me as a facilitator," she said.
The HumanEYES program uses food to teach students about inclusion and diversity. Youth interview and cook with a family member or elder, learning more about their culture and, ultimately, the cultures of their classmates.
Ms. Guin said the HumanEYES program focused on food preparation – students made a cookbook – because it is a common experience that provides unique stories about a person's origins.
"It's a great way in. This program starts with just really, really simple interviews and stories and it becomes so much more," she said.
"It captures people's imagination. Some of the key questions were, 'What was your life like when you were my age? What's a food that reminds you of home?' And that's just a starting point."