Creating new super heroes for children in the Global South
We all know how much children love comic books and superheroes, right? So much that some humans who started reading comic books as children never stopped reading, to the extent that they still get their fix of new comic up to this day.
So much that comic books sold into way over a billion dollars in North America last year, and super hero movies are making a killing at the theatres.
Comic books convince us that we are invincible and inspire us to do world beating stuff that we hope get real someday. And now with Ariel & Friends – a new children’s picture book series about WeRobotics’ Flying Labs Network – the reality of beating the world is closer than you might think.
The stories told in the Ariel & Friends picture book series are based on real-life super hero stories of local folks trying to do good in their communities, through the Flying Labs network, a WeRobotics project which seeks to inspire locally-led drone and robotics-based solutions to problems in the global south communities, which include climate change, healthcare delivery and environmental conservation.
You might imagine it as something a friendly neighbourhood Spider Man would do.
Only that in these stories, instead of Spider Man, you will read about heroines like Claudia, a local young girl from the indigenous community of Bocas del Toro in Panama, who is passionate about protecting her beautiful island.
After a dangerous storm strikes one night, a determined Claudia – who appears in the first book of the series, Ariel & Friends in the Magic of the Mangroves – embarks on a journey to find better ways of protecting her island home. On this journey she befriends Ariel, a flying robot, and together they discover the magic of mangroves.
“This is the story of a young leader in the making who inspires her friends to help protect the environment around her,” says Kickstarter, a crowd funding facility with helps artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers, and other creators find the resources and support they need to make their ideas a reality.
“Children will learn how Claudia and friends end up protecting their precious island using a real-world solution. They will also understand why technology is only part of the solution, and why Claudia is now no longer afraid of stormy nights.”
And the books having female lead characters is deliberate too.
As explained by Kickstart; “In her brilliant TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie clearly communicates the danger of the single story told through a single lens. The plurality of perspectives is more important than ever, and it begins with children as they start to learn about the world around them and begin to understand the power of diversity.
“If you search for the words “drone pilot” online today, you’ll be flooded with images of men, particularly white men. When some of these Western drone pilots parachute into countries across the “Global South” to lead “social good” projects, local children there marvel at the flying robots. But they rarely see drone experts that look like them.
“And so the danger of the single story is woven with the harmful stereotype that the real experts are foreigners, typically white and typically male. This does not inspire children from local communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America to consider that they themselves can become drone experts. That they too can learn how to use emerging technologies and apply them to tackle problems in their own countries.
So how do we empower the next generation of changemakers, drone pilots, engineers and social entrepreneurs in local communities?
“Well, one simple way is to start early by showing them role models who actually look like them, who speak like them, who dress like them and who have faced the same challenges as them. One simple way is to introduce them to people behind Flying Labs and to share the projects they work on in the real-world. We want to show children in Africa, Asia and Latin America real role models who have a wealth of local knowledge and who are tech savvy and experts in leading their own projects to solve their own problems.”
Written by the experts leading these solutions in their communities (the Magic of Mangroves was written by Dania and Mitzi from Panama Flying Labs, has Panamanian editors Annabel and Martin, with Mexican illustrator Fernando also joining), the series has two other books in the works – Ariel & Friends in the Flying Hospital (based on the drone-based healthcare escapades of Nepal Flying Labs) and Ariel & Friends in the Big Birdie Count, whose real-life story from Senegal Flying Labs we covered here.
“Ariel & Friends inspires young children, particularly girls, to become accomplished scientists, engineers, geographers and more. It does this through strong female characters who are working in these fields and are either leading or a part of drone projects which are solving these real-world problems.”
The series is designed for kids between the aged between two and eight years old, because children at this age are still considered too young to grasp the concept of flying robots or drones and their applications in humanitarian efforts. However, at this age, the kids are said to be perfectly ripe to gain inspiration and curiosity by exploring how flying robots are being used for humanitarian good in the world; learn about diversity and the importance of representation through the characters from all over the globe; and learn the importance of teamwork and determination; be encouraged to find creative means of solving problems.
Having now raised more money than the initial goal of $3,262, it seems that plans are on course to have the book shipping to readers come January next year.
“We want to show these role models and give a voice to their stories through our book series, where we emphasize the following key points:
- Importance of local expertise and local leadership in social good projects – the stories place local communities and their expert local knowledge at the centre.
- Inclusion, diversity and equal opportunity – these are fundamental threads that weave throughout each story in the series as each story begins with local communities and a real-world problem. The characters come from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds and contribute in their own meaningful ways in the book series.
- Importance of collaboration – through actively partnering with their local Flying Labs, the book series shows that no one person or organization has all the answers, but that by working together through local leadership, we can have more positive and sustainable social impact.”