Eli LaBan, KLN '17, has been named a Princeton in Africa Fellow for 2018. LaBan will be in Rwanda for a 12-month fellowship where he will work with the grassroots NGO Gardens For Health.
After graduation, LaBan traveled to Cuba to work on a documentary about that country's Hip Hop scene before earning a fellowship in Nicaragua where he spent six months creating a series of short videos designed to promote and preserve the disappearing Rama language. The series won a College Emmy. When he returned from Nicaragua, LaBan was anxious to keep the momentum going and continue his international work.
He applied to the competitive Princeton in Africa program, which matches its fellows with organizations in African countries for service partnerships. Princeton selected LaBan as a digital communications fellow and paired him with Gardens For Health, which fights malnutrition with agriculture programs.
LaBan will be supporting Gardens For Health by creating visual communications and supporting the organization's social media presence. It's a perfect fit for LaBan, whose passion for international video production started during a Klein study abroad program in South Africa.
"After I did that, [I] thought 'this is the most incredible thing ever, I want to find ways to keep doing things like this as much as possible!" he said.
LaBan credits his mentor, Dr. Kristine Weatherston with encouraging him to take on his first international project, which he admits was "ambitious for my experience level."
Weatherston believes that LaBan's ability to engage deeply with other cultures makes him well suited to the work. "He's like a cultural chameleon," she said. "He's able to enter into new cultural spaces and fluidly adapt to their ways of life by learning languages and customs, eating their food, living in their spaces and being a citizen of wherever he goes."
LaBan was nominated for both a Regional College Emmy and an EPPY award for the documentary that he produced in South Africa about the connections between music and the quality of life. Returning to Philadelphia, he edited a series of videos for NBC 10 about addiction in Philadelphia which won a Mid-Atlantic Emmy. But LaBan wanted to find more opportunities to work abroad.
"What excites me about traveling around and doing these international projects is finding the common threads between cultures that are so far away and in such a different context," he said. "I'm sure that I'm going to find some surprising parallels in Rwanda."
Working with Garden For Health will allow LaBan to learn about and to showcase traditional farming methods. "I'm really interested in seeing some of the parallels between how the traditional agricultural methods can lead to more sustainable development," he said. He's also hoping to learn the local language, Kinyarwanda and do more work related to language and culture.
"This is the beginning of a lifetime of global advocacy and documentary media production work that Eli is embarking on," said Weatherston. "It's just the start of his career as a global citizen in media."