MY CHACHA IS GAY: A Crowdfunding Case Study

Eiynah / Via nicemangos.blogspot.ca

Eiynah / Via nicemangos.blogspot.ca

My Chacha is Gay: “a children’s book tackling the subject of homophobia in a Pakistani context.”

Eiynah, a Pakistani/Canadian blogger and artist who covers issues on sexuality in Pakistan, wrote and illustrated an educational children’s story last February about a Pakistani boy, Ahmed, whose uncle is gay. What started as a simple blog post soon caught a wave of controversy and fervent support (over 10,000 hits in the first 48 hours), spurring Eiynah to publish the book with the help of a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Despite the push from her followers and political enthusiasts, the attention her story had already sparked wasn’t the only element leading to her success – her campaign was also very well planned and executed.

Eiynah’s crowdfunding approach was simple and effective. She focused her efforts on raising awareness through social media using her blog and Twitter account: @NiceMangos, and also created a separate account for the book: @GayChacha. Providing desirable yet manageable rewards – from shout-outs to personalized illustrations and dedicated book donations – her choices were appropriately geared towards her target audience of parents, teachers, and activists. Meanwhile, the campaign’s page demonstrated all the attributes of success, including a clear definition of what the money is for, what contributors and the public can expect to receive, a contingency plan of what happens if the project receives more or less funding than the initial goal, as well as the social and political impact of the venture. It’s the kind of small, passion project type campaign that is characteristic of Indiegogo, generating a strong pull to action within the reader rather than a blatant financial request.

Eiynah / Via nicemangos.blogspot.ca

Eiynah / Via nicemangos.blogspot.ca

While any campaign can incorporate these essential logistical details, some fail at grabbing the emotional strings of the reader enough to solicit a contribution. Eiynah, however, does the important work of filling in the blanks with the political climate and examples for why it is so necessary to educate and spread the word on LGBTQ ally culture. Embracing the slogan, “Love belongs to everyone,” Eiynah focuses on what her book can do for everyone – not just children – and how sharing the message can potentially lead to lasting changes in Pakistan (where homosexual activity is illegal) and around the world. With this information, the contributor knows that their help will make a difference where it counts – even if they simply share the link and voice their concerns on social media (see “Other Ways You Can Help”).

In an interview with Lipi Mehta from The Reader, Eiynah noted that there have been numerous challenges in her efforts to get the book distributed commercially in Pakistan, however there has been positive feedback from those who have accessed it online and through her donations. The good news is, the book has gathered international attention and is now available in 8 languages (including Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, and Russian). It was even approved by the Toronto District School Board and read during “Pink Day” assemblies at various schools in the GTA in April 2014 (The Day of Pink is an international anti-bullying initiative seeking to eradicate discrimination, homophobia, transphobia and transmisogyny across the world).

Eiynah / Via nicemangos.blogspot.ca

Eiynah / Via nicemangos.blogspot.ca

Eiynah also took the important step of providing updates as the project progressed, including international news coverage, fresh translations, and photos from events such as Pink Day, as well as updates on potential distributers in Toronto and Pakistan. She also included a couple of gallery clips from some particularly harsh hate mail, fueling her argument for awareness and human rights advocacy. Times of India examines the impact of Pakistan’s first anti-homophobia children’s book:

Some called Eiynah an “enemy of god”, declared her worthy of death, and even called for the death of the chacha in the story, a fictional character. Religious Muslim groups in Canada published articles decrying the project and angry parents spoke out on a radio show, but Eiynah says that only served to accelerate the crowdfunding.

“(The reactions) only demonstrate exactly why we need such books, in specifically South Asian contexts,” [Eiynah] says. “It hits a nerve and brings the intolerance to the surface for everyone to see.”

Eiynah / Via nicemangos.blogspot.ca

Eiynah / Via nicemangos.blogspot.ca

My Chacha is Gay can be found locally in Toronto at Glad Day Book Shop. It can also be purchased internationally at www.mychachaisgay.com.

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Annedroids: A STEM Curriculum Exemplar

Sinking Ship’s award-winning Annedroids (airing on TVO and Amazon Prime) is a live action, sci-fi adventure show for the 6-9 audience. Featuring the misadventures of 11-year-old genius Anne, her neighbourhood friends Nick and Shania, and her junkyard-dwelling tribe of handmade androids, this show provides endless learning opportunities, fun plot lines and age-appropriate humour. Annedroids’ most obvious curriculum focus is on STEM learning – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – however the show also embodies social learning through cooperation, friendship, and empathy with aspirational role models. Best of all, Annedroids places a female protagonist in a STEM role, which is engaging for all kids and helps girls spawn an interest in these typically boy-skewed subjects.

According to The Ontario Curriculum (page 3), “the three major goals of the science and technology program at the elementary level” are as follows:

  1. to relate science and technology to society and the environment

  2. to develop the skills, strategies, and habits of mind required for scientific inquiry and technological problem solving

  3. to understand the basic concepts of science and technology

These fundamental concepts involved in building a solid foundation of STEM learning can all be observed in Annedroids. Through various situational conflicts the kids must resolve problems using scientific theory, technological problem solving, and engineering, all the while broadening their technological literacy and understanding of the interrelations and risks associated with science and technology. Each episode follows a basic schema, in which the team tackles a real-life challenge using scientific and technological solutions, often facing additional complications that cause them to revise their approach in order to reach a resolution. Using Season 1, Episode 3: “Reduce, Reuse, Robocycle” as an example, I will outline how Annedroids exhibits each of the skill sets associated with the Curriculum’s goals.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN RELATION TO SOCIETY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Firstly, “Reduce, Reuse, Robocycle” demonstrates a practical application of science and technology to solve a social challenge. Nick wants to hang out with his friends but must finish his chore of mowing the lawn, so the kids decide to build a lawn-mowing robot out of spare junkyard materials. This episode also has an underlying environmental focus as Anne and Nick’s Mom show their excitement towards the environmentally sustainable approach of reusing other people’s waste.

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TVO Kids. Annedriods. Season 1: Episode 3: “Reduce, Reuse, Robocycle.” http://www.tvokids.com/shows/annedroids

SKILLS, STRATEGIES, AND HABITS OF MIND – CRITICAL THINKING

The Ontario Curriculum uses descriptive statements called “Skill Continua” (page 12) to map out student development and assist teachers in assessing their needs. “In general terms, the skills involved in scientific inquiry and technological problem solving are the following: initiating and planning, […] performing and recording, […] analysing and interpreting, [… and] communicating.”

Likewise, “Reduce, Reuse, Robocycle” incorporates each of these skills to resolve the kids’ engineering challenge. After learning about Anne’s CLEANOBOT, the kids initiate a plan to build a lawn-mowing robot for Nick. They perform a search through the junkyard for engineering materials, such as a bike and some wheels. Then Anne designs a potential prototype and they video record her solution using her android, EYES. During the recording, Shania helps to communicate Anne’s academic wording with a fun (though somewhat oversimplified) explanation of their procedures. Once their prototype is assembled, they successfully test it out in the junkyard and conclude that it is ready for Nick’s lawn.

Unfortunately, the team quickly realizes that they hadn’t accounted for inconsistencies in the grass that could set the mower off-course, and sure enough, it plows right through Nick’s Mom’s marigolds. Their critical analysis determines that the problem is maintaining the direction of the mower – but how? Hearing a train go by as they reflect on their failure, Nick and Anne quickly interpret the solution together – TRACKS! Using garden hose to create a path on the lawn, the kids adjust for their next test by setting a track for the mower that effectively avoids the garden patch. They even had time to make some replacement flower art out of recycled parts from the junkyard! Nick’s Mom is thrilled with their successful findings, and impressed by their resourcefulness.

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TVO Kids. Annedriods. Season 1: Episode 3: “Reduce, Reuse, Robocycle.” http://www.tvokids.com/shows/annedroids

BASIC CONCEPTS

In this specific episode, Anne uses experimental and didactic methods to explain basic concepts to Nick, Shania, and the android PAL, such as “What’s the difference between a robot and an android?” and “What is engineering?” For example, when PAL asks why Nick’s Mom called them a robot and the others confirm they aren’t sure of the difference, Anne explains using a basic wrench-toss experiment. The android HAND is able to catch the wrench and toss it back, while the CLEANOBOT robot can’t even catch it. Anne explains that “Androids are programmed to think for themselves and make their own decisions; robots are usually programmed just to do one task.”

TVO Kids. Annedriods. Season 1: Episode 3: “Reduce, Reuse, Robocycle.” http://www.tvokids.com/shows/annedroids

TVO Kids. Annedriods. Season 1: Episode 3: “Reduce, Reuse, Robocycle.” http://www.tvokids.com/shows/annedroids

In conclusion, the Ontario Curriculum describes Technology (page 4) as “a way of knowing”:

a process of exploration and experimentation […] that uses concepts and skills from other disciplines (including science) and the application of this knowledge to meet an identified need or to solve a specific problem using materials, energy, and tools (including computers). Technological methods consist of inventing or modifying devices, structures, systems, and/or processes.

In this sense, Annedroids is inherently a technology-based kids’ show, and yet one that succeeds at being as engaging as it is educational. Less than 10 minutes into the first episode, I was thrilled to see a well scripted and seamlessly flowing piece of children’s content that really grabbed my attention. With top-notch visual effects and excellent direction, it is one I would recommend to everyone from parents and teachers to the curiously young-at-heart.

Cultivating Consent: Sex Ed in the 21st Century

A Swedish public service broadcaster, SVT, recently caused quite a kerfuffle with a catchy animated video of dancing and singing genitalia. According to Radio Sweden, although the one-minute video from educational program Bacillakuten was made in response to questions children had sent in regarding genitals, it raised concerns over whether it is a public broadcaster’s place to introduce children to sexual information. Critics also accused the clip of gender stereotyping, however SVT denied that they would ever support a transphobic tune. Overall, the video was a hit, “racking up nearly 1.5 million views on YouTube and half a million views on Facebook in just over a week” and spawning discussions internationally.

Meanwhile, in Canada, there is a stir of controversy over Premier Kathleen Wynne’s proposed changes to Ontario’s sex ed curriculum that incorporate a consent-focused approach beginning at an early age. Countless research has gone into the revised curriculum that aims at increasing empathy and providing youth with the information they need to make informed decisions regarding intimate relationships, and yet these changes are misconstrued by right-wing religious groups as “introduc[ing] sexual consent to six year olds.”

On the contrary, Wynne explains that starting as early as Grade 1, kids will learn skills relating to empathy, such as how to actively listen and recognize facial expressions, setting the foundation “for that kind of interpersonal ability and intelligence.”

This curriculum is not about introducing too much too soon; it’s about creating the building blocks for healthy relationships by focusing more on understanding ourselves and one another, and communicating constructively about our sexuality and emotions. It’s also about understanding variances in family, sexual preference and gender identity, and nurturing the awareness in young minds that will be their vaccine against hate. Incorporating a “consent culture” into the classroom not only teaches the next generation essential communication skills that will aid them in their future relationships – it’s also a strong preventative action against sexual assault.

In an age where social media is the backdrop of teen drama; where tweens are sexting nude photos; and where online bullies are ‘slut shaming’ and posting compromising photos of their victims; we need a system in place that cultivates awareness, respect, and empathy, resulting in a safe environment where kids can freely speak up about issues surrounding sex and relationships.

When 13-year-old girls in Canada are petitioning for consent to be added to our educational mandate while children in Sweden are sending in questions about their private parts to public broadcasters, it’s clear that children seek out answers from whomever they believe will give them the information straight. Kids yearn for knowledge, and providing them with the primary tools for understanding themselves and others is not something to shy away from – it’s beneficial and necessary.

Ultimately, there are many sexual health resources for youth who choose to seek out information for themselves, however those kids are likely the ones who are conscious enough to make balanced decisions the majority of the time. It’s the kids who are denied a safe space to discuss issues relating to sexuality and relationships who are the most in need, and providing an updated curriculum with a broader scope of information and a positive approach to intimacy is essential. Chances are, the kids who can’t talk to their parents about sex also don’t have the best role models for healthy relationships, which is why learning these soft skills in school is so important. There are other programs out there that have been very successful – such as WiseGuyz, a sexual education class for boys in Calgary, and programs for at-risk youth offered through Planned Parenthood – but sadly they are few and far between. Kids want and need this information, and if they aren’t getting the full scope at school or at home, they’ll find it elsewhere.

The youngest generations are increasingly more tech-savvy than their predecessors, and despite many wonderful online resources for sexual health, including popular personalities like sex positive educator, speaker, and YouTube blogger Laci Green, providing accurate, age-appropriate and engaging information about sexuality should be a priority in the classroom and on screen. Finding answers shouldn’t be something that kids have to navigate alone, especially with so much misinformation out there.

It’s important for kids to have comfortable and secure access routes to the real, constructive information they need to make safe and informed decisions for themselves. The earlier children learn the fundamentals of empathy and consent, the stronger their foundation of knowledge when it comes to making the right emotional decisions in regards to relationships, sexuality, and respect for themselves and others. Understanding basic anatomy, stages of puberty/growth, and the risks associated with pregnancy and STDs is only the beginning. We need to set them up with the tools to succeed emotionally and interpersonally as well.

Demystifying sexuality is an imperative step in furthering human understanding of one another, and finding a place within the collective community – isn’t that, essentially, what every child needs most?