Unlocking Silent Histories

Youth generous donations make it possible for us to continue inspiring Indigenous youth to create documentary films that capture and illuminate their cultures, languages, and customs. All donations directly support program activities. We use funds to buy computers, cameras, and sound equipment and stipends, travel, and workshop expenses?.


Unlocking Silent Histories opens spaces for indigenous youth to critically analyze how they are represented in the media and to creatively express their worlds from their perspectives, in the form of documentary films. It also contributes to the promotion of cultural understanding by connecting youth across generational and geographical boundaries.



Our learning designs emerge from the local context, honoring languages, traditions, and cultures as well as in our belief in youth-directed learning, participatory research, and community-centered video ethnography:

  • Local knowledge and voice are foundational to authentic learning
  • Community connected themes encourage critical and creative expression
  • Youth have the capacity to direct their own learning and author their own stories


Video becomes a powerful tool to position youth as researchers of their own communities, which provides us a unique lens for viewing the world. Our methodology centers on how video captures:

  • The agency of youth as they shape their own social environment
  • The language, traditions, customs, and cultural knowledge of indigenous youth and families
  • The use of analytical tools to assist in dissecting social, cultural, and political realities



First, youth engage in critical analysis and discussion of how their cultures and histories are represented in the media and how these depictions shape their present lives.


Next, we engage youth in digital storytelling, drawing on their own and other local voices. Youth create their own media projects as well as write, film, and edit their productions.


Finally, we aspire to promote cultural understanding by having youth engage in peer-to-peer and cross-generational learning and by presenting their films to their communities and other youth.


Unlocking Silent Histories (USH) began to emerge as an organization in 2012 in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala. It was then that our Founder, Donna DeGennaro, left her academic job to follow her passion of working side-by-side with youth to develop youth-centered learning environments that leverage local voice through media technologies. In the highland region of Lake Guatemala, Unlocking Silent Histories commenced with four enthusiastic and eager youth. Carmen, Emilio, Catalina and Fabiola began contributing their knowledge and ideas to the emerging pedagogy of using video to investigate their communities. Dedicated to learning new technologies and teaching us about their worlds, these youth took to the streets to interview their peers and elders, capture everyday life, and construct stories through their own eyes.

Learning with these inspirational youth, Unlocking Silent Histories’ learning approach become more solidified and was next implemented in San Juan la Laguna. In this community, eight more students selected themes related to their cultures and communities that they wanted to share with the world. After one year, 10 burgeoning filmmakers created nine films.

In order to develop internal sustainability, USH then identified three Program Leaders, who began interning to prepare for taking on the responsibility of teaching new groups of students Santa Clara, Chuacruz, and an additional group in San Juan and more recently in Santiago Atitlán, Quiejel, and Patanatic. Additionally, our Leaders accepted administrative responsibilities and continued to contribute their ideas shaping the vision and processes of our media enabled pedagogy. It is through youth vision and direction along with strong local partnerships that we will expand our reach to work with indigenous communities within and beyond Guatemala.

Stay tuned!