What is the Kids Save Ocean project?
Well, the spirit of all the connected projects under the Kids Save Ocean umbrella is very simply to give children a voice about our planet’s environment. To give them an opportunity to take a meaningful part in the narrative about our world and its future. Everything we’re doing emerges from that message and focal point.
How did it all begin?
In 2017 I had an art class with 12-year-olds. I’d been reading up on the growing tragedy of ocean pollution and proposed we build a huge whale out of trash to bring attention to the issue. The kids were amazing. They were so passionate, intense really, in wanting to do something about it. It was a bit of a leap of faith to try such a thing with such young kids. But they were lions. Superheroes. I’m serious. It took over 6 months to finish the humpback, which is a very long time if you’re 12, or any age for that matter. But a large core group stuck strong till the end. I’m still amazed. And just look at pictures of the whale to see what they created. It was the beginning of all this. And I’m not referring to the whale, but their spirit. It seeded everything that came after. Gave me strength to push forward. Stifled my doubts. Kids are remarkable if you only give them the opportunity.
Were all the kids convinced you could pull off building a giant whale?
No, some were quite skeptical. But art is a playful exploration of what’s possible and of how to find the path to transmit the feelings you have. And, like everything in life, it’s wrought with the unforgiving risk of failure. Art is an endless cliffhanger. And as long as you warn them that it can all end in magnificent disaster, they’re cool with it. Good practice for life.
And the children’s clean ocean summit at the UN in Vienna came next?
That’s right. We weren’t satisfied with the impact of our sculpture, so, with their input, I wrote a proposal to the United Nations in Vienna. And the UN was immediately positive and helpful. I met with UN Information Service Director Martin Nesirky, Irene Höglinger-Neiva and Maria Naderhirn, all of whom had excellent ideas and insight into how to go forward. A power idea trio. I’m extremely appreciative to them. The Summit was held June 22nd and was amazing - check out the information about it on our web site.
And the Fatechanger app?
Yeah, I had the app idea early on. I wanted to give kids a tool that would enable them to learn about ocean pollution and empower them to share their voice and influence the leaders in their country, and also track the results. I built the last part in there because as kids we wrote letter to try to protect the Amazon, and nothing ever happened, and that really pissed me off. It was as if we dropped our letters in a black hole. So the app plugs that hole. This is the time when I first came across VolunteerMatch, an amazing global volunteer platform. I established our organization, wrote up the gist of my app idea, and placed a request for volunteers. Four days later I got my first response. I couldn't believe it. Parth from India, great guy. He wrote something like: it’s fantastic. I’ll help you. I think I cried. And that began not only the app’s development, but also the windfall of goodness that streamed from across the world through VolunteerMatch. I’ve been approached by over 190 volunteers (2021 update: over 600 have approached us) wanting to help out with every aspect of the Kids Save Ocean project. It’s stunning. Unfathomable.
And what are the exhibitions all about?
When we were building the whale, I designed it to travel. I hoped and intended for it to swim beyond the boundaries of the school as an exhibit to educate the public about both the issue of ocean pollution and the kids’ project. The whale and photos of our face-painting event were the focal point of the UN Austria's World Environmental Day and World Oceans Day. The whale and display material is also scheduled to go in the Austria’s biggest aquarium, the Haus des Meeres, in 2020 after a new wing is built. They get over 600,000 visitors a year, so that’s fantastic. We’re naturally totally stoked, and grateful to the support of CEO Franz Six and Director Michael Mitic, and the help of the extraordinary Michael Artaker, who helped connect us. I’m still working to line up other exhibitions, and have my eye on the Vienna Technical Museum, where I can easily imagine an exhibit that combines the story of the whale project with that of the plastic itself, from it invention and chemistry through visions of how we must transform it in the future. The whale was built to swim.
And collaborating with talented artists is also one of the focal points?
We're developing vivid projects for youth, and I want everything to share the same design philosophy: edgy, surf culture-inspired, add a dose of rock and roll, and cut out all boring crap. As a teacher sometimes I hurt for the students. So many of the books and films and whatnot seem like they're designed by 80 year olds for the crowd at the retirement home. I plan on collaborating with great artists of every breed to build materials that, while still grounded in pedagogics, capture the imagination of kids, shocking, surprising, enchanting, real, well-grounded and vivid. David Carson, intuitive visionary graphic artist genius, has generously offered to create our graphics. Not a bad start. I plan on connecting with comedians, filmmakers, singers and writers interested in fulfilling the vision of giving kids a far more powerful voice in the world.
What is the Kids Save Ocean Report?
That's something in the sleeping seed stage at the moment. But the idea is that every year on World's Oceans Day children in every country will have a press conference to deliver the results of child-generated reports on the state of their respective country's approach to ocean protection. Is their country progressive, did it move forward or backward? Is their country on top or bottom of the list in terms of how they approach the issue? And all these reports would be given in the context of a common global metric: the ratio of plastic pollution to fish. Did the ratio increase or decrease? What's the trend? What does it mean for the ocean's ecosystems and organisms? What does it mean for humanity and for kids? How can progressive countries transfer knowledge to struggling countries? The research results would be based on good science, the conclusions based on the children's opinions. And the intensity based or reality. There's no time to waste. I'm sure the kids will agree.
You’re originally from California. How did you end up in Austria?
Believe me, only an extremely charming girl could have sirened me away from my ocean and buddies and surfing and Santa Cruz. And that’s exactly what happened. Be careful who you talk to when you walk out the door, you have no idea where you’ll end up.
What does the future hold?
We have founded an NGO and, with the FateChanger app and platform, intend to change the way kids participate in the world so they can have to a real voice about the environment. There exists a Model UN program that simulates the UN General Assembly, enabling students to learn how the UN works by stepping into the shoes of a UN ambassador to debate current issues, draft resolutions, negotiate, and navigate conference rules. It's an extraordinary program, but I strongly feel that kids deserve more than to pretend to have a voice in the global community. Kids who are educated about issues are far more intelligent and insightful and forward-looking than your average voter. I want to give children a regular formalized voice at the UN by not only providing vivid materials, again, no boring crap, cool materials to educate them about issues relevant to their lives, but also a mechanism to pool their opinions - one based on a sound statistical sampling regime so as to best reflect their feelings. I've consulted with some leading online opinion sampling experts; FateChanger is designed with such sampling in mind. In the future we'll build a program to identify, further train, and reward powerful, eloquent young speakers to represent them, perhaps by working with established debate clubs, or perhaps a talent show. This will create social media darlings, allowing their voices to be heard by the public and making them impossible to be ignored by politicians. The FateChanger platform will be scalable and easily incorporate other critical issues like child slavery, child obesity, sustainability and environmental inequity. I think school should get more real. And I hope to redefine the way kids participate in the global narrative of our world. They deserve to be included. And their inclusion would both empower them and make this planet a better place. Children should have their own seat at the UN table. A big adult-sized seat, now and forever.