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Video Visionary Award – Humanitarian Recipient: Change Rocks Foundation

by Joni Blecher on March 1, 2013

RealPlayer Video Visionary Change RocksWe’re pleased to announce our next recipient of the RealPlayer Video Visionary Award – Humanitarian, which recognizes non-profit organizations that use video in innovative and creative ways to help share their message, is the Change Rocks Foundation. The organization produces music-based empowerment initiatives for vulnerable youth from Africa to the Americas.

The Change Rocks Foundation has worked with over 10,000 youth in Malawi, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Dominican Republic, U.S. Virgin Islands, and across the United States. Artist Yewande Austin travels to these locations and creates music programs for the children in those areas that help them have hope, build self-confidence, and become leaders. The foundation is currently developing partnerships in Nigeria, Kenya, Gambia, Zimbabwe, and will be returning to Namibia and Botswana to expand its programs with the U. S. State Department. You can get a better idea of what the Change Rocks Foundation does by watching the video below.


We caught up with Yewande Austin, founder of the Change Rocks Foundation, to learn more about the organization and how the use of video helps spread its message. What follows is our interview with the Video Visionary Award – Humanitarian recipient:

RealPlayer (RP): Can you tell us a little bit more about the Change Rocks Foundation?

Yewande Austin (YA): Our programs use music as a tool to teach youth critical life skills – education, leadership, health awareness, conflict resolution, and financial independence. With limited access to education and vocational skills, millions of children are forced into unspeakable acts such as prostitution, manual labor or early marriage to survive. Families that live in rural areas often see greater value in marrying their daughters off to men in exchange for dowries, (money, land, livestock) than educating her. A boy’s worth is often measured by his ability to make financial contributions to the family through manual labor, not pursuing the lofty idea of a degree. While this is culturally acceptable behavior, we know that these choices can further damage vulnerable children and the communities where they live.

Because music is a central part of most indigenous cultures, this creative approach allows us to address key socio-economic issues without creating social conflict. Basic music lessons (singing, dancing, and acting) are combined with personal development workshops (leadership, communication, team building, human rights, and health awareness) and sustainable workshops (entrepreneurship, craft production, cultural preservation). At the end of each program, participants star in our original social justice musical, “Amazing Grace.” This holistic approach celebrates the natural talent of our youth, while empowering them with viable skills to change the outcome of their future.

RP: How do the music videos come about?

YA: I started videotaping our initiatives because I wanted to capture the incredible transformations that I witnessed in our participants. Most of us only see these horrific images of children in the developing world on television, but rarely do we ever see the joy and hope that exists. I wanted to share these special moments with the world. Often the biggest hurdle in our programs is convincing a child that they are worth more than the tattered clothes on their backs.

Many of the children we work with have emotional scars that run as deep as those that are physical. By using creative expression and “play” as our core methodology, I’ve watched children that once saw themselves as victims start to walk taller, smile bigger, and become leaders in the classroom. Some of the most amazing transformations I’ve witnessed were verbally or even physically violent children that became rock stars!  I knew that viewers would be inspired by their courage to overcome such huge obstacles. When you change a child’s perception of themselves, a whole new world of possibilities becomes a reality.

RP: How long has the Change Rocks Foundation been creating videos?

YA: I began creating videos during my very first trip to Africa in 2006. I was headlining the Malawi Lake of Stars Festival and began teaching orphans music in the local villages of Chintheche. My first set of experiences in Africa were so new and exciting that I wanted to capture EVERYTHING using my first camcorder – the children, the birds, the trees, the mud thatched houses….even a rock! After filming a few initiatives, I upgraded to a HD camera, and learned to narrow the focus on my work with the children and local people whose voices I thought the world needed to hear.

RP: There is a rawness to the Change Rocks Foundation videos, can you tell us the effect you’re trying to achieve by doing that?

YA: While I’ve been fortunate to receive some government grants to subsidize my expenses, most of my initiatives have been self-funded. Funding the programs has always been the top priority so I had to come up with some creative ways to capture our work on film. Sometimes that meant that I would literally hold the camera in one hand while directing the children with the other one. Other times I would set up the camera on a tri-pod or even ask one of the counselors or a local villager to hold the camera during one of my classes.

RP: How are you using video to spread the word of the Change Rocks Foundation?

YA: Video plays such an important part in spreading the word about our work. Let’s face it – the media often only has a few minutes to tell a story so it would be virtually impossible for them to capture everything that we see. By using video, we’re able to document our stories from the time we first meet participants and begin teaching classes to witnessing the transformation that viewers see at the end of our program. Shooting videos also gives me the power to tell the entire story – not the one that make people comfortable, but the raw, sometimes painful and often inspiring moments. Ultimately, I hope these videos will inspire others to make a difference by seeing the work I started with just a very simple dream that I could change the world.

RP: Can you tell us about the video team?

YA: Until now, the video “team” has been me! But I’m really excited about shooting my first professional documentary, Amazing Grace: Freedom’s Song,” with The Horne Brothers. Later this spring, we’re going to Nigeria (the origin of my Yoruba birth name which means “reincarnation of mother”) to film the production of my next empowerment initiative and social justice musical, “Amazing Grace.” We’ll also take a closer look at a growing trend among Nigerian youth that are using music to confront ethnic and political conflict. My hope is to bring youth together from warring tribes to celebrate their differences while building a united front for Nigeria.

I recently launched a fundraising campaign to support the first phase of the documentary. Our goal is to raise $55,000 to film the production of our empowerment initiative for AIDS orphans; conflict resolution workshops for college students; our original social justice musical “Amazing Grace” and stream a live concert for youth across Nigeria. We will raise additional funds to edit and distribute the documentary, and host a documentary/live concert tour at colleges across America.

RP: Where can people learn more about the organization?

YA: They can visit our website or check out videos on our YouTube channel.

Click here for instructions on how to nominate a non-profit organization to receive a Video Visionary – Humanitarian award.

What do you think of the Change Rocks Foundation? Has music changed your view of the world? Let us know in the comments below.

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