Students Making Movies to Change the World

Only rarely does an electric light pierce the blackness of the pre-dawn hours in the slums of León, Nicaragua. No tourist there can tell you that, even though the slums sit just a 10 minutes' walk from the city center -- the homes made of torn tarps and cobbled-together wooden frames are a world away the comfort of home. The slum dwellers cross from their dirt and dust roads onto the cobblestone streets of León proper every morning to sell goods along the streets to sustain their meager living. Every day they return home to prepare for the same thing the next day, a continuous, barely noticed cycle.

Last August, one group of tourists -- a student film crew with Actuality Media -- left the familiar comfort of the cobblestone streets to go to those slums in León. They went to tell the story of people working for a better life, and to create a short documentary about Techo, a changemaker organization that is there helping people. You can watch their film, Un Techo Para Meyling, online now, and at festivals soon. In a bid to improve their distribution ability, Actuality Media recently entered the GOOD+Marriott Maker Challenge to "Live, Work, and Create in L.A." -- as a finalist, they may win the chance to work with the Good Magazine staff for a week of brainstorming, presentations and work sessions to up their strategies.

There are changemakers around the globe who are having a huge impact on society every day. They work to solve social or environmental problems in new ways and almost no one knows about their successes. What's more, similar problems exist around the world. The solutions changemakers come up with are often exactly what people in another part of the world need to know about.

The method of Techo for helping communities overcome poverty has proven so successful that they have now expanded to 16 countries. Not every changemaker can grow so big, but their stories can help and inspire others. If the ideas of even one great changemaker were better known, or more widely implemented, the world would be a better place.

This was the inspiration for us to found Actuality Media -- a service-learning documentary production organization that takes students and young filmmakers to developing communities around the globe to create positive media.

In just two years we have traversed the world to find stories that matter.

In Guatemala one crew made Why We Hike to tell the story of a volunteer-led trekking group called Quetzaltrekkers that gives all of its profits over to fund Escuela de la Calle, a school for street kids in Quetztaltenango, the second biggest city in the country. The organization also runs an orphanage for abandoned children.

On another outreach one crew left the busy streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand, to reach the remote mountain villages where motorbikes and satellite dishes pushing up through thatch roofs are common purchases with the funds made from selling children. Their award-winning film, Our Daughters For Sale tells the story of Children's Organization of Southeast Asia -- a group trying the innovative approach of educating young girls so they can not only escape the horrible fate of child sex trafficking, but so they can teach the villagers that their children have far more worth than material possessions.

The Talamanca region of Costa Rica is a land of pristine beauty, and the locals want to keep it that way though the national government would rather open the land to big oil companies for harvest. Rather than just say "No," farmers and local leaders have banded together to form CoopeTalamancaSos, a biodiesel cooperative working to grow an alternative form of energy, adding fuel to their fight to save their lands. In the short documentary CoopeTal you'll see their charismatic leader, Don Cata, and discover the native, oil-producing jatropha plant.

Impoverished, abandoned children are not just found in Guatemala. Child sex trafficking is not endemic to Thailand. Biodiesel is a growing idea with cultures around the world. We want these stories spread to everyone who can gain knowledge and inspiration from them. That is why the completed films are immediately released online under Creative Commons, so anyone can download them. They are also sent to festivals to seek greater acclaim. We also post them far and wide across the internet so people around the world can find them.

You can find all of our films at Later this year we'll be adding films from Guatemala, Kenya and Turkey.