Friday, February 5, 2010

An alternative to inactivity

Today's conversation was filled with sunlight. Not merely due to the inherently innovative and original project led by our guest, but due to Gaja herself. Her energy, clarity, the sparkle in her eyes and her complete dedication to what she believes in - the Good, the Beneficial and the Secret of Life. She has opened a door to the world of thoughts and beliefs of youth to me, one that cannot be seen on the streets. It demonstrates their uncompromising values, broad thinking and the fresh views that they nurture in their minds and hearts, and then made visible from their actions. This is her story.

VB: Who is Gaja?
GNR: She is a person striving to constantly justify her own existence. A secondary school student. A teenager.

VB: What has so far been the most important element in the shaping of your personality? What has awoken the inner path you talk about?
GNR: I was lately, and most significantly defined by a period of time thatI spent with a friend with whom I wrote a short book for children with leukaemia. An important part of me matured with the book, for we were both drawing from our own deep experiences and explored life through this project.

Foto: Gaja Naja Rojec

VB: Why did you feel it was important for you to write a book?
GNR: We wanted to show that ultimately it is each person's inner strength that makes it possible for someone to survive and get well. Also, that this is just another in the series of experiences that enrich you and help you grow. We tried to say that a serious illness is a critical test for a person and everyone close to them. Our book is an ode to life. It is not only appropriate for children, it is for everyone. We wanted to show that this is only one of the life's challenges that make you stronger. Such an experience makes you aware of the importance of doing only those things that you truly want to do, and which you truly believe in. That all you seek is ultimately within you.

VB: How do you see yourself now?
GNR: I am currently in a very interesting phase. I have a lot going on - in my head, creatively, in my life . (A/N: This statement was accompanied by hearty laughter.)

VB: What is going on with your generation? Is it really so disoriented?
GNR: The youth may still have motivation, enthusiasm and moral values, however, it is true that many of my generation are in a certain state of apathy, which is a reflection of society and the way of living . but I wouldn't say it's as tragic as adults sometimes see it. Our group proves quite the opposite with our MakFest project. I too am sometimes disappointed with my peers, but then I meet individuals who have already achieved a lot at my age and I regain my positive views. Through the organisation of MakFest we constantly prove that sometimes all we need is just a bit of encouragement.

VB: MakFest?
GNR: It's a cultural festival for charity. But it's not just a festival - it's a project aimed at proving to the youth what we are capable of organising ourselves and the people that we are able to involve and activate.

MakFest – an excellent example of social innovation; the project initiated by Gaja Naja Rojec and organised by a group of enthusiastic secondary school students from the Poljane Grammar School is slowly growing into one of the largest secondary school cultural movements.

VB: Why this particular content? Where does MakFest originate from?
GNR: It originates from the fact that our school, the Poljane Grammar School, the most humanistic of all secondary schools, has not yet organised and implemented a charity event. Initially, my friends and I were thinking of creating a charity week with an innovative twist to it. We wanted to make it dynamic. So, we were looking for ways of including our students' involvement in various cultural activities and give them an opportunity to present themselves. A festival seemed like the most appropriate form.

VB: And that shaped the content?
GNR: Yes. We thought it would be great that simultaneously, with the raising of funds for the Ljubljana Red Cross scholarship fund for disadvantaged students from single-parent families, we would provide an opportunity for gaining experience and references by participating in a festival together with established artists and performers. The core of the project is: activity of youth, for youth.
The team that works with Gaja Naja on the MakFest – a project everyone involved can be proud of: Eva Margon, Anja Koren, Anja Kapus, Alja Debeljak, Marja Javornik, Ana Kerin, Ana Potočnik and Darja Demšar.

VB:What range of cultural events will take place?
GNR: There will be concerts, theatre, a photography exhibition, a literary marathon, a marathon of friendly matches of ŠILA and IMPRO teams (T/N: improv theatre competitions), short-film screenings, and an auction of students' photos and of a series of original ceramic works by three young female artists studying at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (Ana Kerin, Anja Radović and Polona Černe). Additionally, appearences at the festival have already been confirmed by Ego Malfunction, Kontrabant, Ultra, Katalena, Janez Lapajne with his feature film Kratki stiki, Teater Pozitiv with their theatre performance Strup, Dejmo stisnt teater with the Čefurji raus! theatre performance, Nejc Gazvoda, Katja Plut, Rada Kikelj and a short film by Igor Šterk.

VB: The Festival will be going on for a week?
GNR: Six days to be exact - from April 12th to April 17th 2010.

VB: How many events?
GNR: Sixteen events in six days.

VB: How many performers?
GNR: Over 150.

VB: Wow! This is a huge project. Where does a sixteen year old gain experience to organise such an event?
GNR: Nowhere. We are doing it to gain experience. Many people with notable experience are helping us with advice, for which we are extremely grateful. But it's also true that we have only recently become aware of the scale of the project.
There is still time to join the group of sponsors and donators. CALL 031 747 223 or attend the auction of students’ photos and of original ceramics works by three young female artists.
VB: What are the main challenges?
GNR: Coordinating such a mass of people. Since the entire project is funded by donations, sponsorships and voluntary work, the entire amount of money collected from tickets and the auction will go directly to the scholarship fund. Acquiring funds from sponsors is a great challenge for we need a large amount of finance,due to our policy.,and concepts. Although we constantly stress that each component is equally important; that we are stronger together; and that everyone is welcome to become a part of the MakFest; (as it is based on people and their energy), acquiring funding is the most difficult area. Nevertheless, if we manage to get an interview, people usually do not deny us their support.

VB: What are their expectations?
GNR: Actually, I feel we surprise everyone, and eliminate all preconceptions once we show them how much we have already achieved. I feel we are constantly breaking down stereotypes of what is impossible and possible - just look at all we've already achieved! Once we get to a meeting people are infected by our energy and enthusiasm.

VB: How are your peers responding to the project?
GNR: They are mostly very enthusiastic when we tell them about the project. I think everyone is still slightly uncertain for none of us completely comprehends the scale of the project, and because MakFest is still relatively unknown. Once they get to know us a bit, they are - just as all the adults - surprised by what we have already achieved and how we manage to do it with all the school work.

Foto: Gaja Naja Rojec

VB: You are becoming role models of some sort?
GNR: Our goal is by no means to take a position of superiority, rather, that every one is welcome to join us; that everyone can take part; and that we can succeed if we want to, and have the will to do so. We have ambassadors (presenting the project, seeking talent.) at every secondary school and anyone can join us through them. The word is getting around and we are slowly attracting new volunteers. We are counting on the actual effects of the project to be more palpable after the first festival and definitely in the years to come. We are all anticipating our first experience with the festival and the knowledge we gain will help us plan for the future. It's quite impossible to assess the response at this stage and we are aware we need to do a lot of work on promotion.

VB: What could be the broader effect of this project?
GNR: I imagine that the project could expand or even become an independent project that would involve all secondary schools (we are currently operating from our school for we are a group without ties to any other organisation and cannot function in any other way). It might become an independent festival - a movement. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to everyone - but especially to ourselves - that we are not in a state of apathy and that we are capable of seeing it through. This is a very good project for demonstrating an alternative to inactivity, and inertia. We want to demonstrate that people are essentially good, and can work together to achieve what we really want to. We don't merely talk about it - we constantly prove it.

Violeta Bulc

Here, we have demonstrated, a true example of social innovation for us. But that is not the point. I hope these written words can portray the energy, vision, and vitality that is required to transform an idea into manifestation - to something true, good and beautiful. I hope the vibration will spread. Forward this story to your children, friends and people who are afraid or concerned for the future. Youth is demonstrating, once again that they can see further, that they believe in and are creating a world in their own image. Don't stop!