Our Story

Rakonto was conceived first at the Graduate School of Education at Stanford. There, Dr. Paul Kim has been conducting research deploying mobile learning technologies in developing communities. As an undergraduate, Rakonto’s founder, Sawyer Altman began working with Paul, helping him realize a side interest – collecting the stories of children in these communities.

Drawing on the latest design practices, Sawyer produced an original storytelling workshop, which he first deployed this workshop in rural communities in South Africa, and soon after in India. During these trips, he received a boot camp in local culture. He enjoyed the exceptional generosity of his hosts, and witnessed the outstanding ambition and imagination of the local students. Best of all, the students were inspired by the workshops. They took immense pride in their accomplishments and dove deep into this new world of story. Many expressed to Sawyer a profound sense of self-discovery.

He also, noticed, however, unmet potential. For every student in school that was thriving, there were still a handful of children either out of school laboring, or idling the time in the streets. When inquiring further, he would hear of the forces that plague developing rural communities like these, keeping children out of school and without hope. He learned, moreover, about the rigid pedagogical practices most students in schools in developing underwent to which his workshops could respond.

He realized: to really tap the power of storytelling to aid the development goals of many communities, the fledgling project had to become its own living, breathing thing. Schools anywhere, he believed, many of whose resources are short, should be able to invite a workshop without needing to provide funds themselves. In doing so, the workshops could reach a much wider body of learners. Further, the cultural exchange component could be expanded. There was a large body of young learners out there who we know would love to read the stories, but who the project had not been able to reach. Quickly, the two fused together. Telling these untold stories by bringing them into the homes of families with children, as well as libraries and bookstores, could eventually form a global community of curious young learners, and could begin a cycle in which the act of exchange itself could fuel this community.

Rakonto is the product of this attempt to turn the dream of cultural exchange into a robust and independent project, to inspire learners all over the world, and to sweep a pedagogical revolution across the developing world.

We are young and still learning as we go, and can use your help making this vision a reality. If you work with or know a school or community that might like to host a workshop, please let us know here! You can also sponsor future stories and the workshops that help produce them here, or continue on to the next section to learn more about getting involved!