Empowering Children Through the Animated Schoolhouse
Aside from producing films that have made a significant impact in exposing the social injustices and educational inequalities in many communities around the world, Alec has also made educational films in cartoon form that have helped encourage kids to love studying.
Alec is well-known throughout the world for founding Alec’s Animated Schoolhouse, a foundation that produces educational videos to empower young children to pursue big dreams in life. Through this organization, Alec was able to create a video science curriculum that has greatly affected the lives of the children in Ghana.
His first video has been well-received, earning praises not just from the teachers but from the students themselves. Alec says about the videos he makes:
“I’m giving them the ability to help themselves. The goal of these schools is to create science education, and science is necessary to the forward movement of society.”
Worldwise Comics, Maker of Inspirational and Eye-Opening Films
Alec is also the chief executive officer of Worldwise Comics, a company that aims to help elementary school children by producing global educational comic books that tackle significant social issues, such as bullying, peer pressure, diversity, and the importance of education.
Alec’s philanthropic endeavors are not just in the area of making inspirational and eye-opening films, educational cartoons and comics, but he also actively engages in bringing material support to the families in Ghana. Alec is also popular for being the founder of the charitable foundation named Giving from the Ground Up.
His three-pronged approach in teaching illiterate children (by giving them the fundamental needs of a learning friendly atmosphere, such as clean drinking water, hygiene, and utilizing film as the method of teaching) has become successful in reaching out to thousands of illiterate children in the country.
Giving from the Ground Up
Through Alec’s work with Giving from the Ground Up, more than 240,000 medical, hygiene, and school supplies have been shipped over to Ghana and was given to over 120,000 illiterate children and their families. Alec is a ‘hands-on’ guy. He gets actively involved in many of his projects, joining the volunteers in personally delivering the supplies to the needy children.
Alec’s passion and dedication in helping illiterate children comes from understanding just how important their role is to the future of a nation. Alec firmly believes that if the children’s desire for education is developed early in their life, they would grow up to be productive members of society. Alec writes about this in his blog:
“There are no heroics involved in making creative, consistent social change. It is my belief that to create a more peaceful, humane society, we must first have an educated and intellectually hungry society—and we begin by empowering children.”
One of the things that motivated Alec in creating the educational videos for the children in Ghana was realizing that every individual child has his own learning process. There are children that learn easily through printed material and simple explanation, but there are some who learn best by taking on a topic part-by-part. Being a student himself, Alec understands how children like this have it, and as such does his best in order ensure that no student is left behind.
Alec explained this concept in a blog he wrote many years later:
“We tend to think that one size fits all in our educational process. However, for each student who learns something the traditional way, there are those who learn it differently. We, as educational innovators and 'serial deconstructors,' need to provide tools to help kids BECOME. Teach them the parts... they'll create the whole. I find that if we put the printed word in front of children who do not have strong language skills, they may have a hard time with it, but film and cartoons break down or deconstruct the concept and teach without us really feeling the medicine go down. The stars of the Animated Schoolhouse are funny, loveable creatures that are accessible to every child.”
Alec’s Great Potential Showing Early
Alec Urbach’s amazing life story began when he was born in 1994 in New York City. A very talented and gifted child, Alec was a prodigy—he was able to learn and master multiple skills at the same pace as adults, even as young as two or three years old. His parents saw this amazing potential that Alec innately had, and helped him develop his abilities by always encouraging and motivating him to never be satisfied in life—to always keep on rising higher, because Alec’s parents believed that their son was meant to do great things in life.
Alec’s prodigious talents and skills manifested early on. When he was only four years old, Alec already played the cello so well that he was accepted by the Manhattan School of Music after several members of school’s ‘upper’ men witnessed Alec’s cello performance. The following year, Alec was given the privilege of playing at Carnegie Hall at the age of five years old, including him among the few young people who have showcased their talents in this renowned theater.
Alec was not just a prodigy when it came to extracurricular activities; he was a very bright and gifted student, having the ability to learn at a quick pace. He was often praised by his teachers for his intellect and ability to quickly understand difficult concepts.
It was in these early years of education that Alec started to develop an understanding of how different students have differing levels of understanding and coping with their lessons. Although he did not yet fully grasp the idea, Alec, over the years, began to see how a lot of students seemed to fail in studying because the methods of teaching applied by their instructors do not meet their learning capacities. Alex described this in an interview made with him many years later:
“We understood this need to see things through cartoons, animal drawings, comics and comic videos when we were in nursery and kindergarten—so did our teachers and administrators. We didn't just hear about numbers, or see numbers on a textbook page or write numbers, we colored them, cut them out, built them, sang about them. Then it ends. But there are children who continue to learn best through parts: the visual, the auditory, the tactile... they need those other tools in order to get that equation; grasp the moral; infer from an experiment.”
In spite of this observation, Alec’s desire to do something about this reality would not be evident until he reached his high school years.
Alec became interested in filmmaking when he was in his fifth grade. He started studying about the concepts of filmmaking, and started making short videos, which greatly impressed not just his peers, but also his teachers. Even at a young age, Alec already had this kind of imagination that was able to project hidden images between the clips and scenarios on screen. Susan Prager, Alec’s teacher in English literature, said of him many years later:
“Alec is the kind of student who has a powerful talent—the capability to produce film and media that give voice to social injustices and educational inequities in ways that transcend the written word, political diplomacy or the bureaucracy of large philanthropic organizations.”
Giving From the Ground Up Helps Ghanaians
Sometime in 2009, Alec had a chance meeting with the director of International Help of Missionaries and a few clergy members from the different villages in Ghana when he attended a benefit concert for international healthcare at the Lincoln Center. He learned from them how difficult life was in the country, and how poor the state of education and healthcare was. Seeing the video footages of the dire state of the children in the country made affected Alec so gravely that on the same day, he decided to do something about it.
It was not a simple and easy decision. When Alec went through his plan of using his talents for the benefit of those children he saw in Ghana, a lot of negative and discouraging thoughts came to him. At first, the seemingly overwhelming situation caused Alec to think twice about his decision, but then he remembered: evil triumphs because good people do nothing.
Alec described this experience in a blog he wrote many years later:
“At first I thought, 'there is no way I can fix this. There's just too much suffering; too much disease; too much illiteracy.' I wasn't sure how my talents or skills could benefit the lives of millions of disenfranchised kids. After all, I was here in America, safe and healthy. All I had was my passion and my ideals. Then a light went on. I remembered a quote by Elie Wiesel: 'Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.' I wouldn't be silent. I would use my voice as a storyteller and filmmaker. I would create a paradigm shift in developing nation education" through film.”
Armed with this new conviction, Alec fully decided that he was going to use his talents to help others. With the help of his parents, Alec established the organization “Giving from the Ground Up” that year. Alec aimed on resolving the two biggest problems that the children in Ghana faced: a lack of healthcare and education.
Acknowledging the potential of utilizing media, Alec began to design and create films that made people aware of the situation in Ghana. Through these films, Alec was able to make his community aware of the harsh and difficult life that the children in Ghana were experiencing; prompting many people to help. Soon enough, Alec began receiving donations to help the children in Ghana, which he used to send healthcare and hygiene supplies to the country.
Afterwards, Alec began to make short educational videos that were not only informative, but also encouraging and fun to watch. Alec’s first educational video which was intended as a science curriculum and approved by the government of Ghana was released in 2011, and was greatly received by the students and teachers of a local science elementary school, so much so that he even received letters of appreciation for it. In one letter, a student named Angela wrote to Alec:
“Dear Alec, I like science now with your fun videos. Please also send more toothbrushes and toothpaste. We like the cherry mouthwash, too. Maybe I will grow up to be a nurse and help my village… Thank you so much, my friend (Angela, Akim New Tafo).”
It was not long afterwards that Alec’s work began to reach national attention. Through his short films, the public was made increasingly aware of the difficulty of living in Ghana, and as more and more people saw the films, even more became willing to help. Through these observations, Alec realized just how powerful of an effect a film had compared to other forms of media. He discussed this in an interview with him years later:
“The key to success, as I see it, is to spread relevancy throughout society, and what makes us relevant is having the education to innovate and inspire new generations. Few forms of media spread relevancy and education more enjoyably than film. Film presents a narrative and unfolds a story that can inspire—and we are all hardwired to love a good story.”
Alec’s success in his philanthropic endeavors in Ghana became widely known in the country, and soon enough he started receiving invitations to speak at various events. Since 2009, Alec has become a frequent visitor of TEDx, a speaking conference that invites various extraordinary teenagers such as him to share their experiences and advice on how to help make the world a better place to live.
Giving From the Ground Up Beyond Africa
Since its inception, Giving from the Ground Up has grown to become one of the largest organizations in Ghana that promote healthcare and education for children. Throughout the years, through the help of the people supporting the organization who were inspired greatly by Alec’s films, Giving from the Ground Up expanded to reach beyond the borders of Ghana, into its neighboring nations such as Togo and Botswana. Currently, it has expanded beyond Africa and reached Central and South America, where it is now experiencing explosive growth.
Receiving the Prudential Spirit of Community and the President’s Volunteer Service Award
Alec has received numerous awards and recognitions for his philanthropic efforts and endeavors. Alec is a recipient of the Prudential Spirit of Community Award and the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which simply goes to show just how much of an inspiration and influence he has been through his foundation.
More recently, Alec was included in the list of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential People in the World by Youth Service America in recognition of the extraordinary changes that he has brought to the people of Ghana through his films.
Alec Urbach Keeps Inspiring
Currently, Alec is one of the best students in Roslyn High School. He is at his final year in the school, and is expecting to graduate from his studies, which include Political Science, History, Public Policy, and Entrepreneurship.
Alec’s story is a powerful inspiration that encourages us just how potent a believing mind can accomplish. There is no limit to what we can use to fight the injustices and negative issues plaguing society, and Alec’s filmmaking is an obvious testament to that.
“Those of us working as filmmakers and storytellers can engage in a meaningful way as citizens of the world by creating new avenues for education in developing nations. Imagine if we all connected to produce new and exciting weapons against illiteracy for the children of our world; imagine how different their journey could be. Imagine how different ours could be.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Giving from the Ground Up
- Alec’s Animated Schoolhouse
Awards and Achievements
- 2011: Received the Very Best in Youth Award from the Nestle Foundation
- 2012: Received the National Caring Award
- 2012: Received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award
- 2012: Received the President’s Volunteer Service Award
- 2012: Received the Young Adult Caring Award
- 2012: Included in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America