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ENCHANTED ARTS FESTIVAL SERIES: On bringing more wonder into our world

An interview with Amy Shaffer on The Wonderment - Interview and research by Antonia Boorman, global citizen and cognitive neuroscience student at Minerva Schools at KGI.

We had the pleasure of meeting Amy who will be joining us this summer at the Enchanted Arts Festival to run a series of workshops for children and adults aimed at tapping into our inner child and unleashing our creative potential.

Q. To you, what is Wonder?

To me, wonder is the catalyst for transformative experience. It is is the interconnectivity of curiosity, imagination and awe. It’s about perspective, and more importantly the willingness to continually adapt that perspective. Wonder is a multidimensional invitation— a willingness to participate in the world in a transformative way; it’s about always questioning, learning, growing. For me, approaching the world that way, with wonder as my guide, has changed me as a person.

I’ve worked with a team of passionate, curious people to develop The Wonderment as a safe place where kids can connect with one another around the globe and drive their own social impact projects and ideas – no matter how big or small. I believe that we as adults can learn from children as they use their wonder as a catalyst to infuse change and positivity into everything they see around them. 

Q. What inspired you to create the Wonderment?

Ten years ago, I was pursuing a career in the tech industry and started to experience such anxiety and difficulty that it made me question why. I began to realize that I had lost my connection with something that was essential to me as a kid… my sense of wonder. I decided to pursue a different journey to re-discover that wonder and, along the way, I learned so much more.

Kids are great at tying their inner world of imagination and creativity to their outer world through their ideas and actions. We adults often don’t see or recognize this because it looks small or unimportant to us and, because of this, we don’t recognize how to support or nurture it— in our kids or in ourselves. We began developing The Wonderment because we realized that connecting ideas and actions from kids all over the world could show just what is possible when kids take action on the things they imagine in the world together. It’s about more than just the outer results of their action: it’s about the relationships they are able to develop with each other and the world through such experiences.

As our team worked on The Wonderment, we just kept asking ourselves: How we can connect kids to have experiences with one another?” We connected one group of kids to another group and then built tools to support those exchanges. I feel it will be a never-ending process; it will never be finished, understanding how we can better support kids to pursue their ideas and incite change. That’s another awesome thing about wonder, it leads you on serendipitous paths. My journey in creating Wonderment started from my own personal need to find that place again, and I’ve discovered it’s a never-ending journey.

Q. What do you envisage for the future of The Wonderment?

I dream of a world where we can organize ourselves cross-generationally in a community – where we continually learn how to recognize the intrinsic value of each member of that community. I think that the perspectives and new ways of thinking that kids bring to the world are what we need most now.

We shouldn’t dampen their curiosity and imagination, but instead, listen to them and learn from the value they provide through their mindset of constantly asking: “Why?” The future I dream of involves adults recognizing the new perspective of power that we can experience and access by listening to and encouraging children to infuse curiosity and creativity into daily life. We as adults have a role, as facilitators, as co-creators, and as promoters of children’s voices. We can’t create a better world for our kids— we have to create it with them! 

My goals are to keep following that process of encouragement and to keep building the tools to support the exchange of ideas that inspire social growth. The most valuable interactions we can have with one another are ones where we recognise one another and know how to work together regardless of our ages or backgrounds.

Q. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in developing The Wonderment?

One of the coolest things about this whole process is that it’s reframed my concept of “challenges.” I’ve grown as a person to see challenges as fuel—as an energy that helps you to solve problems or ask the right questions to solve them.

Challenge has enabled me to remove my own biases, even when I didn’t realise they existed! I’ve followed the strong lead of the inspiring kids I’ve met along the journey. This is why we wanted the Wonderment to be self-initiated by kids themselves. Over these past 5 years, we’ve been figuring out how to really listen to the kids and let them guide us.

As the Wonderment grows and scales, we are focusing on how to support kids to share and act on these ideas in their immediate community, using technology as a tool to connect their work rather than a solution in and of itself. Developing the understanding to authentically connect human interactions between kids and adults in over +30 countries around the world is an exciting and challenging puzzle.

The thing I’m most excited about is that I think we’ve finally developed a process that allows kids to act on their own ideas in their communities and invite adults to join them. The kids provide the ideas of how they want to make a difference in their community and we connect them with the resources and processes to make that change a reality and connect their ideas and work with a global community. 

Q. Can you share some projects that have inspired you?

One of my favourite projects we’ve ever been a part of was with a group of kids in Guatemala. They noticed that there were other children living around their community that didn’t have access to education because they lived in rural areas which were too far for them to commute to the local school. So the kids came up with an idea to bring the education to them. We helped them transform an old sheriff’s bus into a mobile library equipped with books and resources. Then, the kids themselves came up with plans and activities to share the joy of learning and reading and traveled with the bus each week to these areas to teach. Seeing kids teach each other in such creative ways has inspired me ever since

Another project I love is one we just connected with recently in Costa Rica. An awesome young surfer there noticed that the mangrove surrounding his beach was dying. He went through a year-long process trying to figure out what was happening, interviewing locals and experts alike and getting his friends and the community involved. He’s devoted so much time to understand how to prevent further damage to his local ecosystems’ sustainability. He’s now recruiting other friends and surfers to gather seeds, and they are all building a whole experience where they can nurture this mangrove back together. It’s one kid doing an action, who inspires many. I believe this project serves as a metaphor for others: One kid, one action, one seed at a time and it will have ripple effects throughout the entire community and the world.

It’s such a privilege to meet these kids, see their world and ideas, and help them get access to the tools they need, whether it’s through mentorship or micro-grants. Supporting them to make their ideas and dreams happen—and share their visions with the world— has been one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Q. In terms of what you want to bring to the festival, can you describe what you are planning?

I’m really excited to be able to invite conversations and experiences where people access and feel their own child-like curiosity. I’ll be sharing what I’ve seen and learned about how to reawaken and reconnect to this part of ourselves. This concept and process, which I’ve been calling the “youthful mind,” can help us bring new life and a sense of openness into everything from our work to our relationships, no matter how old we are.

When you recognize and experience the way this inner world connects you to your outer world, that’s when you realize the things that truly connect you to other people. When we recognize and work from this perspective of reweaving the fabric of human community, then we can better understand what tangible tools and insights will take this process forward.

When people walk away from these sessions, I want them to be able to connect to something that’s truly them—and how to connect it to the world beyond them.

Q. Why are you excited about the festival?

It’s going to be a fantastic gathering of curious, passionate people. I think the festival is creating a space to reimagine our sense of family, community and place – I think it’s the beginning of something that will reshape how we think about these things. When people come together with the intent to invite that kind of experience, I can’t help but feel that it will be powerful in ways that we cannot anticipate.

The festival is a place where we can find that connection to our inner child and to each other and explore our shared humanity. From attending, you’ll have a tangible idea of how you this creates change. You can start the movement wherever you are. 

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