My unforgettable experience at the Global Festival of Action

This story is Sharon Kalima’s, the Make Art for Sustainable Action Programme Officer, reflection of her time in Bonn, Germany at the Global Festival of Action, which she attended as a finalist for the SDG Action Award.

One of the most exciting things that has ever happened in my professional career was when I heard that Make Art Stop AIDS (MASA): Youth was a finalist for the UN SDG Action awards. I knew that the project was important, as there are so many sexual and reproductive health issues among Malawian youth. I was so stunned when I saw the official email from the SDG Action Award committee notifying us that we were one of the three finalists in the Creative category.

Fast forward to the April 30th: I was a plane, finally going to Bonn, Germany for the Global Festival of Action. I was extremely nervous thinking about the three presentations I would have to make in front of more than 1,500 people.

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The first day of the festival was a busy day for all the delegates. When we arrived at the conference centre, I was shocked by how packed the hall was. There were people from all walks of life; I was told there were people from over 140 countries. Marina Ponti, the director for UN SDG Action Campaign, gave a great opening speech and commended everyone for the amazing job that we are doing working towards achieving the 2030 goals.

Afterwards, we broke out into smaller sessions, with multiple things all happening at once. They were all so exciting, and I really wanted to attend them all. Funny and a little overambitious right? I did manage to attend five or six sessions by the end of the day. One of my favourite sessions from the day was one titled “Soccer Before Marriage: Using Positive Deviance Stories for Social Change” facilitated by PCI Media. We learnt how to use different models of positive deviance to develop tools for creating inspirational and shareable content to promote the SDGs. We also learnt how community influencers, especially men, advance Bangladesh’s ending child marriage campaign to challenge harmful cultural practices.

My first presentation was in the SDG Studio, and livestreamed by UNTV, where all Creative category finalists shared three factors of success from our projects. I really resonated with my fellow finalist Ricky Kej, from India, who strongly believes in the power of arts and teaches young children about the SDGs using songs.

We then moved into a “Meet the Finalists” session where we introduced our projects to the festival goers in brief. Time was really flying and I was trying to meet everyone who was on my must meet list between the sessions.

The spoken word piece Sharon performed at the Global Festival of Action

Finally, the awards ceremony was underway. After a couple of the categories were presented, I was called up on stage to perform the spoken word piece. I remember I looked up to see everyone was quiet and all eyes on me. I’m not used to being the centre of attention, so I really felt the pressure, but pushed through and began. Before I knew it, I had finished performing and everyone was on their feet giving me a stand ovation. That was when I realized how powerful the piece is. I swear I saw some people shedding tears in the audience.

The time to announce Creative category winner finally arrived. They called the finalists in the Creative category to the stage, and my heart started beating fast. I don’t remember what happened in the moments before they announced MASA as the winner, but I remember freezing a bit before I stepped forward to receive the award. I was so excited, I actually forgot that I had to make an acceptance speech. As soon as I received the award and went back to my seat, my phone started blowing up with congratulatory messages from my colleagues, friends, and family in Malawi. The night ended with an after party, where we celebrated our win! So many people walked up to me and told me how the poetry piece was beautiful and touching at the same time.

(Photo: Filippo Fortis)

(Photo: Filippo Fortis)

The third day, I fully felt all the attention on us as the winner. People wanted to know about our project in detail, including why we use the participatory approach and what we will do next after winning the award. Back in the SDG Studio, we spoke about what the award means to us and what we were planning to do.

Sharon presenting in the SDG Studio about what’s next.

Sharon presenting in the SDG Studio about what’s next.

We also had a deep-dive session in the Innovation Room, detailing our projects and highlighting the challenges that we face. In the preparation for the festival, Laura had asked all the finalists to prepare PowerPoint presentations to aid in the delivery of the session, but I did not send or prepare any. I wanted to give people a true picture of our methodology and show what a typical MASA workshop looks like. Minutes before we were called up on stage to present, a volunteer walked up to me looking a bit concerned, and told me that they couldn’t find my presentation. I calmly informed her I didn’t have one and that I was just going to do something different. I started by asking for three volunteers who quickly came on stage. I instructed them to create an image using their bodies about sexual harassment and I then asked the audience to explain what they saw in the image and what was wrong. Through the process, I explained that this is one of the ways we engage audiences to reflect and brainstorm how they can contribute to behaviour change. This session was a highlight of the festival for me, as I had people complimenting my presentation and the fact that I had done something totally different.

All of the SDG Action Award Winners (Photo: Filippo Fortis )

All of the SDG Action Award Winners (Photo: Filippo Fortis)

On the final day of the festival, I attended a few deep-dive sessions for the other award categories. It was truly inspiring to see and hear how other people were using different techniques to help achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We closed the festival, then I said goodbyes to my new friends and network. I will forever remember this trip and I am looking forward to keeping in touch with the people I met, and using this network to continue our work towards achieving the 2030 Goals.


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