In September 2014 I was sitting around a table in a boardroom, high up in a skyscraper in the Tribeca district in NYC. The office belonged to Tribeca Film Institute, who give out grants to aspiring new media filmmakers and artists. Around the table with me were social impact consultants, a director of a media representation NGO, a youth engagement expert and interactive film experts and my life partner Serdar Ferit. We had gathered there to discuss the social impact opportunities for The Awra Amba Experience, an interactive 360° documentary Serdar and I had been working on in collaboration with the Ethiopian village community of Awra Amba.

Ever since we started working on The Awra Amba Experience, we had been toying with many different ideas on how it could be used to benefit others and how it could potentially change the world, even a little bit. The Awra Amba community itself was already changing lots of people’s worlds every day, simply by existing and inspiring fellow Ethiopians that there was another way to live, and that there can be a way out of poverty. Awra Amba’s way of life is underpinned by equality for all, and especially changing the old-fashioned traditions of gender roles at work and at home.


But since we had chosen to make a film, or in fact an explorative web environment, we had the responsibility to make it count for the people who were going to watch it. Why were we so keen to tell this story? Sitting there on the 27th floor in NYC that day, this question was circling around my head.


The discussion around the table began by sharing opinions about the way we had decided to tell the story through a 360° environment, then moving on to who we might influence with the story. A series of both virtual and physical skills-share events were discussed, as well as creating a toolkit for Awra Amba’s way of life that others could use to replicate their way of life. At the end we talked about education, someone even suggested creating educational curriculum resources. That day, we left inspired and empowered to take the project to the next level. We still didn’t know for sure what the outreach project was going to look like, but we sure had the drive to take it further.  


Even though we never ended up getting a grant from Tribeca Film Institute, a year later we found ourselves in a school classroom in England. Maybe because neither of us had been working in the K12 education field, or because our memories of school were so distant already, it wasn’t easy for us to imagine how the project could be used in schools. A defining moment came when Serdar’s dad, a retired primary school teacher of 40 years experience, looked at our project and said, ‘You need to take this into schools! The kids would love it!’ He went on to introduce us to a few key educators in the UK, and when we saw the responses from the kids and the teachers we realised that we were in the right place.


Lyfta was born out of these experiences and our joint desire to change the world. Our vision has since crystallized and our mission is solid. Technological development will only increase and the use of technology in schools is inevitable. Change in society will influence change in schools, be it sooner or later. At Lyfta, we believe that it’s important to use technology in a positive and constructive way to inspire and empower children to gain the skills needed in future workplaces. Our vision is also that Lyfta will contribute to raising a new generation of globally aware, empathetic change-makers.


Many teachers are with us on this journey. They have seen the potential of Lyfta and are excited about it. Without teachers’ continued support and engagement, doing anything in schools would be very difficult. So we thank you all (you know who you are!) for your belief and enthusiasm!


The village of Awra Amba, their values and beliefs have strongly influenced Lyfta’s approach and our mission in the world. It has also influenced the making of two other immersive storyworlds, which are available to schools on Lyfta’s platform. Soon, the platform will be populated with stories from all around the world. Inspiring, emotional, uplifting, philosophical, surprising, meaningful stories of human beings who have done something amazing in our world. Perhaps they had to overcome a big challenge or tragedy, but have somehow found a way to take charge of their own lives, or a solution to a problem. This year we have some exciting stories in the pipeline and, in future, we hope to work with many talented filmmakers around the world to create beautiful Lyfta Storyworlds together with us.


The artwork depicts a man and a woman who are from the Awra Amba community, illustrated by our in-house artist Mirella Baas. You can download them here and here to start a conversation about gender equality, or whether you think film can be a tool for change. We would also love to hear about those discussions and your opinions on these topics. You can share them on our Facebook or Twitter.


Paulina Tervo

Lyfta Admin