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Back From The Field: The 2019-2020 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellows Share Their Transformative Stories

In partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the National Geographic Society encouraged the Fellows to use storytelling tools including blogs, photography, video, and social media to provide a window into the world’s many cultures and show how truly interconnected we all are.

The 2019-2020 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellows traveled far and wide to engage in storytelling projects on globally relevant issues. In partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the National Geographic Society encouraged the Fellows to use storytelling tools including blogs, photography, video, and social media to provide a window into the world’s many cultures and show how truly interconnected we all are. Although their programs abroad were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each Fellow was greatly influenced by the communities they were immersed in. They’re now more committed than ever to educating audiences about the pressing issues facing our planet.

Through a myriad of storytelling techniques, each Fellow has helped increase our understanding of various cultures. By sharing these unique stories of global issues surrounding communities, we can work collectively to promote cultural exchange virtually and create a healthier world. Follow @insidenatgeo on Instagram to see more photos from each of our Fellows.

Learn more about their journeys below:

Image of Melanie Kirby in a hat that was gifted by an olive grower in an apiary he hosts in Adamuz (bee hives in the background in an oak orchard). Photo courtesy of Melanie Kirby.

 

Melanie M. Kirby

Interdisciplinary environmentalist, writer, self-proclaimed ‘Nectar Nomad’

Spain

Melanie Kirby traveled to Spain to examine Iberian honey bee mating behavior, interview Spanish beekeepers, and explore the connection between clay and apiculture (beekeeping). She discovered her love for beekeeping 23 years ago as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and developed an insatiable curiosity about beekeeping traditions and innovations in other cultures and countries. As part of her Fellowship, she studied the ways in which beekeepers adapt to challenges from loss of habitat (development), market concerns, and environmental issues — including shifting climate, pesticide use, imported pests and pathogens. “The story I want to share with the world revolves around amplifying the concerns of those who help pollinate food and forage from farms to forest lands. They experience many challenges that are not always immediately apparent,” said Melanie.

Along her journey, she attended honey and beekeeping expos and met Andalusian beekeepers and farmers. They taught her that Spanish beekeepers prefer their endemic honey bee strain, Apis mellifera iberiensis, rather than imported strains from other neighboring countries. Whereas in North America, honey bee strains are not considered endemic — though there are fossil records of cousins to honey bees found in Nevada. Melanie aims to raise awareness of the varying crises facing global beekeeping communities. She firmly believes that protecting the planet’s 20,000 bee species will in turn benefit our communities and provide nutritious food for all. 

Farmers and beekeepers are not wealthy people, in fact, they are only paid cents to every dollar. But the services they provide, and the hardships they endure, are worthy of notice and need support to increase awareness and reverence for our food systems and cuisines. Melanie Kirby, 2019-2020 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow

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Photo courtesy of Emi Koch.

 

Emi Koch

Social ecologist, multimedia storyteller

Vietnam 

Emi Koch traveled to Vietnam to analyze how fish scarcity, population growth, pollution, and extreme weather impacts Vietnamese fishing communities. She visited Vietnam’s Bai Xep Whale Temple, collaborated with biologists to measure bones in an effort to identify species, and learned about their sacred marine strategies. “The goal of my research is to provide audiovisual tools, co-create a platform, and bridge a digital divide for local residents from marginalized fishing villages to share their own histories, experiences, and ideas with the world,” Emi explained. “I became a better listener and advocate for human-ocean health.” 

Emi co-developed strategies to prevent the loss of fish utilizing the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication or SSF Guidelines. She identified eight prominent themes that underscore the importance of fish: food, livelihoods, gender relations, social capital, cultural heritage, ecology, emotional welfare, and human security. Through her participatory photography workshops, known as Photo Voice, she amplifies community members’ voices through the power of storytelling and dives deeper into the eight themes of fisheries. 

The field is always someone’s home. The local residents — whether a pod of dolphins or a community of fishing families — they are the experts and the original storytellers. As a researcher, you are the gregarious and gracious guest. From that humble perspective, treading lightly, you can learn more about a place than you ever imagined.Emi Koch, 2019-2020 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow

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(From left to right) Funso Aiyejina, Shivanee Ramlochan, Alyea Pierce, and Roderick “Chuck” Gordon. First Citizens National Poetry Slam Judges Preliminaries. Photo by 2 Cents Movement.

 

Alyea Pierce

Author, performance poet

Trinidad and Tobago

Alyea Pierce embarked on an in-depth study of Traditional Mas, short for masquerade, during her Fellowship in Trinidad and Tobago. She explored the history of oral storytelling traditions and how Carnival plays an important role in the country’s culture. Her love of poetry inspired her to focus on the use of poetics and drama in Carnival characters. Now more than ever, women are redefining Traditional Mas through the use of folklore, literature and politics. “Although there are traditions in Traditional Mas, some of those traditions have evolved with time,” said Alyea. “Whether it be the creativity displayed by younger generations entering the field, folx who have played a character for 20 years desiring to reimagine history and themselves, or even a woman playing a male-dominated character who would like to challenge the standards of the original era; at the end of the day, the story must be told.”

By interacting with scholar-artists and entering their ritual spaces, Alyea discovered the people behind the masks and paint. Carnival is theater, and each of these characters represent the country’s historical, social, cultural, and political contexts to reflect on past events. They find freedom in movement and communicate their history through art. Alyea’s journey was an enlightening one that changed her as a storyteller.

I value every single moment and day within the world. I value art being a way of life. Networking in Trinidad and Tobago is remembering that we are one. It was a privilege to break bread with these brilliant and creative masqueraders, calypsonians, scholar-artists, and educators who are masters of their craft.Alyea Pierce, 2019-2020 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow

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Photo by Dhawa Gyanjen Tsumba.

 

Madison Wrobley

Anthropologist, writer

Nepal

Madison Wrobley documented the reality of water scarcity among marginalized communities in Kathmandu, Nepal. From her conversations with local people throughout Kathmandu, she learned the well water in Kathmandu is contaminated and despite filtration efforts, is unsafe to cook with or drink. 

Over 1.2 billion people live in water scarce regions, and this is increasingly becoming a global crisis. On average, people in Kathmandu Valley use less than 50 liters of water everyday compared to America’s 350 liter average daily water consumption per person. “The story I want to share is that water insecurity impacts all facets of life, sometimes in ways that are overt and sometimes more subtly, from health and politics to education and interpersonal relationships,” said Madison. During her time in Nepal, Madison conducted over 90 interviews with scientists, government officials, and NGOs to discuss the importance of climate patterns, groundwater recharge, and pipeline capacity. 

This data does not tell the whole story and it doesn’t fully show us how to create initiatives that work for communities. When we add the human perspective to the technical, we can create solutions that are better for people and better for the planet, because really, those are the same.Madison Wrobley, 2019-2020 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow

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Melanie, Emi, Alyea, and Madison each possess different expertise and skills which allowed them to make diverse contributions abroad and at home. The Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship allowed them to do fieldwork that not only challenged themselves, but also our own perspectives on the significance of beekeeping, the impact of fish scarcity on coastal communities, the power of spoken word through Traditional Mas, and the effects of water scarcity on vulnerable populations.

About The Fulbright Program 

Led by the United States government in partnership with more than 160 countries worldwide, the Fulbright Program offers international educational and cultural exchange programs for passionate and accomplished students, scholars, artists, teachers, and professionals of all backgrounds to study, teach, or pursue important research and professional projects. In 2021, Fulbright will celebrate its 75th anniversary with global and local activities and share stories focused on the positive impact of the Program’s 400,000 alumni.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.