Preserving memories of a culture in an era of rising tides
The Republic of Kiribati is a tiny island nation in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. It’s noteworthy for its incredible beauty – aquamarine lagoons, towering palm trees and thatched-roofed houses – and for the fact that within decades it may disappear underwater, wiped out by rising sea levels.
For Kiribati locals, the endpoint will be eventual displacement, as well as the prospective loss of their history and culture as they disperse. That’s where Hearts Above the Sea (HATS), a charity focused on climate change impacts in the South Pacific, turned to UTS Master of Design for help.
As part of a master’s studio subject called Service Innovation and Change, three groups of UTS students worked on a live brief to design a cultural exchange between students in Australia and Kiribati.
“Hearts Above the Sea was formed about 12 months ago with the aims of providing projects and solutions to low-lying nations in the South Pacific affected by climate change,” says HATS founder Teue Collier.
The UTS students were asked to create a proposal for a cultural exchange that could be embedded in school curricula in both Australia and Kiribati. The exchange would foster cultural understanding between students in the two countries, produce an online platform through which the history and traditions of the Kiribati people could be preserved, and lead to new opportunities for corporate sponsorship to support the HATS mission.
An early iteration of the cultural exchange was piloted by the HATS team in collaboration with two primary schools in each country; the ultimate aim, reflected in the UTS design brief, is to scale the exchange to include approximately 80,000 students by 2020.
“It was really inspiring,” says Kate West, a student in the Service Innovation and Change studio who worked on the HATS brief.
“I was proud to be involved in the project, because it was a great opportunity for us to contribute to a real-world problem.”
West and her team developed a proposal for a legacy time capsule, in which students would design their own capsules from recycled materials and fill them with personal items and mementos that reflected both their individual lives and their experience of climate change. The capsules, which would eventually become a virtual cultural catalogue created using an offline app, would then be exchanged between the two countries and buried on an agreed day.
The second part of the proposal was called Legacy Lab, in which each school in the HATS cultural exchange would partner with a local research group to deliver a citizen science project.
The role that UTS are playing for us is a really important one. The tools and the expertise and the sophistication and the ideas that the UTS design group are bringing to us would be worth years of work of us trying to do this ourselves
“It’s a participatory approach to climate change and communication, and it’s a good way to prepare and empower young people for future events,” West says.
For Collier and the HATS team, the input from UTS students brought a wealth of new insights that will guide the company’s program development going forward, including a proposal for an online volunteer hub that HATS will start developing in the near future.
“There were three presentations from the UTS cohort, and I thought that from each of the presentations there was at least one thing that we would take forward and implement,” Collier says.
While the proposals themselves exceeded expectations, Collier was also struck by the importance of design as a tool for social justice.
“The role that UTS are playing for us is a really important one. We’re a small start-up charity organisation. The tools and the expertise and the sophistication and the ideas that the UTS design group are bringing to us would be worth years of work of us trying to do this ourselves,” Collier says.
“The fact that they’re helping organisations like ours and helping with solutions to real humanitarian-based problems in the world, I think it’s amazing.”
Learn more about the UTS Master of Design.