April's Featured Alumna: Summer Spell (Global Studies, '21)

Summer Spell, (Global Studies ’21), took on a considerable academic load at APU, majoring in global studies and Honors humanities and minoring in art, but her study in each area has paid off, having funneled her into her current passion project: filmmaking.

“Filmmaking is not my career,” said Spell, “but after graduation I found myself in a unique position of knowing people who have an important story to share, while also having connections to people who most need to hear that story—a story related to things I had studied on a topic I’m passionate about.” Since graduation, Spell has been focusing on developing, funding, and sharing the film she directed, Jajas for Justice: Stories of Climate Change.

Spell’s forthcoming film focuses on jajas, or “elders/grandparents,” in Uganda who are also farmers. As climate change worsens, jajas have shared their stories with Spell on how their livelihoods have changed due to the increasing frequency of floods, droughts, and irregular seasons. “The jajas featured in this film live a lifestyle with very little environmental impact,” Spell notes on the film’s website, “yet they are among the most vulnerable to climate change.” Spell explained that the documentary follows five families with elderly Ugandan farmers over one harvest cycle. “We see them face the effects of climate change in real time—harsh storms, sudden dry spells, and attacks from pests. Meanwhile, the elders explain how things were not always this way, and that they have seen climate change unfold in their lifetimes.”

“Since climate change is rapidly growing worse and the elders in this film age every year, their story is time-sensitive,” said Spell. “That’s why, as soon as I finished school, I started rallying the people and resources necessary to get the elders’ stories out into the world.”

But how did Spell connect with these Ugandan elders? It was through APU’s involvement with the Uganda Studies Program. “It was during that semester that I was able to first meet the elders featured in the documentary, and it was during that same semester that I was able to build relationships with the people in Uganda who have made this film possible, including the host of the project, Reach One Touch One Ministries, our amazing Ugandan cinematographer, and several fellow study-away students who are contributing to the project.”

Spell also participated in APU’s L.A. Term as one of her study-away experiences, and has noted the great impact it and the Uganda Studies Program have had on her life: “If it weren’t for my study-away experiences…I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

For those still studying at APU, Spell offers this word of advice: “If you want to make a difference in the world, try to find the intersection between these four things: your practical skills and knowledge, your communities with whom you have connections, the global issues you’re passionate about, and the activities that bring you lasting joy.”

For Spell, those four things are storytelling, climate change, traveling abroad, and meeting these particular jajas and bringing their stories to audiences of middle-class white Americans. “I think finding the intersection of those areas and planting myself there has allowed me to do work that is both effective and fulfilling,” said Spell.

If you would like to support the Jajas for Justice documentary project, consider donating, signing up for the film’s newsletter for updates, and downloading and sharing their fundraising letter from their site.

Summer Spell, outside, smiling, with arms crossed.
Summer Spell, Global Studies, '21

Note: This information is current for the 2023-24 academic year; however, all stated academic information is subject to change. Please refer to the current Academic Catalog for more information.