‘Comic Books for Cameroon’ and 4 Other Very Real Federal Government Grants

Young Tunisians look through copies of comic books and graphic novels during the opening of the second edition of Comic Con Tunisia on July 7, 2017, in the town of Le Kram, north of Tunis. / AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID (Photo credit should read FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images)
FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images

The federal government is currently offering public money for the production of comic books to “promote a culture of peace” in Cameroon and boosting the movie industries of Central Asia, among other bizarre pursuits.

The federal government lists grant rewards available to anyone who applies and receives a grant at Grants.gov. A mobile app for searching current and forecasted grants is also available. The full list is not divided by topic — taxpayers’ dollars can be had for a variety of pursuits, from traditional academic pursuits like algebra and archaeology to filmmaking, public health awareness, and the development of “civil society” in totalitarian states.

All grant entries list total available funding, the award ceiling and floor, affiliated federal agencies or departments, eligibility criteria, and a description of the grant’s objectives.

During a time of crisis, one could expect the postponement or cancellation of some of the less urgent grant solicitations — particularly given that the federal government is currently scrambling to keep small businesses afloat and, in many cases, failing to get help to those hardest hit by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. If these currently available grants are any indication, however, frugality at the federal level is largely nonexistent.

$35,000 for Comic Books and Sports in Cameroon

Divided between two grants, the first is valued at $15,000 and titled, “Faces of Peace — Using Comic Books to Promote a Culture of Peace in Cameroon.” Its description reads:

This funding opportunity is to implement a week-long Department of State’s Arts Envoy Program with an American Comic Book Author on the theme “Faces of Peace — Using Comic Books to Promote a Culture of Peace in Cameroon.” The objective of the program is to engage Cameroonian comic book authors, graphic novelists, teachers, and other members of the book industry, on using comic books in particular and other art forms in general, to shape the social narrative, identify and address drivers of instability and extremism, and support the emergence of a social discourse marked by ponderation, amiability, and respect for different or dissent voices. The program will also build the capacity of authors and publishers to use comic books to enhance economic development and increase youth employment.

The second grant aimed at Cameroon is valued at $20,000 and is titled, “Promoting Excellence and Resilience through Sports: A Sports Envoy Project for Cameroon.” It is described as “an open competition for organizations to submit applications to implement a week-long Sports Envoy program featuring two American athletes, such as the Harlem Globe Trotters, on the theme ‘Promoting Excellence and Resilience through Sports.’”

The grant’s recipient will be selected for a one-week visit to Cameroon to “highlight the role of sports in developing teamwork spirit and fostering respect for ‘fair play’ and diversity. One of the events will be in a refugee village in the east region of Cameroon and will seek to enhance the sense of belonging and sustain hope for a brighter future within this vulnerable group. … the overarching message: sports as an instrument of peace, solidarity and empathy, social inclusion, and justice.”

The Crisis Group describes two ongoing conflicts in Cameroon. One is between the government and separatists from the English-speaking minority, which has killed over 3,000 people and displaced 600,000. The other is a renewed Boko Haram insurgency, a war which has killed 2,000 Cameroonians and displaced 250,000. Cameroon is home to Africa’s longest-serving “president,” Paul Biya, who has ruled the country for 44 years.

$3.7 Million to Develop Critical Thinking, Legal Reasoning, and Anticorruption Efforts in Moldova

A grant offering $1.2 million for Moldovan law faculties and students is titled, “Advancing Legal Reasoning and Writing in Moldova.” Its goals are listed as “support[ing] development of Moldovan law faculties and students at public and private universities in the areas of critical thinking, and legal reasoning, research and writing” and “strengthen[ing] current law faculty instruction in legal ethics and anticorruption.”

An additional $1.5 million aimed at Moldova is offered through a granted titled, “Supporting Criminal Justice Reform and Strengthening Anticorruption Efforts in Moldova.”

Moldova is a former Soviet state in Eastern Europe, considered one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

$460,000 to Make Movies and Digital Content for Ukraine

A total of $460,000 in funding is available via four grants regarding Ukraine. One of the grants, “Showcasing U.S. Diversity and Values and Addressing Social Issues in Ukraine through American Independent Film,” offers $100,000 to “develop a program that addresses social issues in Ukraine and showcases U.S. diversity and values through independent film.”

An additional $150,000 is available via a grant titled, “Crowdsourcing the Story of Ukrainian Democracy: Participatory History through Digital Storytelling.” The funds are slated to produce “innovative content” — defined as “a podcast, series of online videos, series of TV or radio spots, or the equivalent” — addressing “the intersection of public history and digital media” which highlights “Ukrainians’ personal stories of the country’s recent history.”

The grants do not specify why Washington believes Ukraine needs so much help establishing an entertainment industry. It is home to a thriving television and film industry, one aided by an expanded initiative to attract foreign filmmaking and television production put in place in 2019. The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is a television actor best known for playing the president in a popular sitcom before his election.

$685,000 for a Documentary Contest, Development of Media, and ESL in Kazakhstan

Five grant offers available through the U.S. Mission to Kazakhstan offer $685,000 in total funding. One of these grants, valued at $75,000, solicits proposals to develop the “Central Asian 48 Hour Film Race,” a filmmaking contest for “the continued maintenance and development of the Central Asian Independent Film Network.”

Another grant with $130,000 of funding aims to support “Kazakhstan’s intentions to increase journalistic professionalism and strengthen the competitiveness of Kazakhstani media.”

An additional $200,000 is available to offer English-language training to Kazakh journalists.

Kazakhstan, another former Soviet state, has struggled for years to maintain an independent media and civil society in the face of government repression. The government often shuts down dissident media and the country has experienced the mystery deaths of dissident journalists.

$200,000 to Build Cultural Ties with Slovenia Through Art

Two grants with $200,000 in total funding are offered through the U.S. Mission to Slovenia. Each offer $100,000 in funding, with both seeking to “encourage and promote cultural and artistic cooperation, collaboration and exchange between the United States and Slovenia.”

One of the grants requests proposals for the development of “the presentation and promotion of American values, culture, and/or history through art, music, literature, dance, and/or other cultural mediums [to] Slovenian audiences.”

The second grant is available to “Slovenian civil society organizations.” Its description reads:

The U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana, Slovenia announces this Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for Slovenian civil society organizations. The Embassy continues to offer grants for well-conceived and managed projects that strengthen ties between the United States and Slovenia. Eligible topics for projects are broadly defined to include democracy and human rights, security and defense issues, and economic and business development.  Successful proposals will strengthen understanding of the United States, including its society, culture, politics and values, and support a priority theme listed below. Typically grant awards range from $3,000 to $5,000, though some exceptional projects are funded up to $10,000, and supplement other funding.

The CIA Factbook describes Slovenia as having “a growing economy [and] a stable democracy,” noting the state’s accession to both NATO and the EU in 2004. First lady Melania Trump is originally from Slovenia.

The grants’ descriptions encourage applicants’ proposals to avoid travel plans, if possible, given the coronavirus outbreak.

Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter.

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