Tracking climate change lands McClanahan in Mongolia

Matthew Anderson
Western Today editor

Three years ago, Lauren McClanahan gave a trio of high schoolers in the tiny fishing village of Kwigillingok, Alaska, a voice.

Growing up on the coast of the Bering Sea, the kids have been staring into the warm, frightening face of climate change for years. The permafrost is melting and an uneven mist is present much of the year. Invasive species have begun to appear, and once-migratory birds have refused to leave.

McClanahan, an associate professor of secondary education in Western Washington University’s Woodring College of Education, is a strong believer in the power of the first-person narrative, so she asked the kids to take photos of their surroundings and then to speak in a video about the importance of the images they produced.

The result was astounding, McClanahan says.

“They really got into this, and they thought we should be showing it to anyone who would listen,” she says. “They have so much to say, but they really don’t have an outlet for their voices to be heard.”

The project got McClanahan, a former middle-school teacher, excited.

“I began to think, where can I go next?”

In the past couple of years she’s been to Sri Lanka and Mongolia, in each place helping the youth there tell their stories.

A series of photos McClanahan took on her Mongolia trip will be on display from Nov. 13 to 27 in the Wilson Library Skybridge. An opening ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13.

As she did with the Alaska project, McClanahan sent ahead of herself a few disposable cameras and questions she wanted the kids to answer. Questions like “What’s worth preserving in your town and in your culture? What would be the worst thing that would happen if this village disappears?”

All proceeds from the show will go to the Blue Sky Education Project, which provides scholarships to nomadic Mongolian children so they may attend public school.

Watch the video McClanahan made with students from Kwigillingok, Alaska.

Thursday, November 10, 2011 - 8:00am