Hello from Africa!
I have just arrived a few days ago in Nairobi, Kenya, for 2-3 months’ work with FilmAid International (blog). I have been working Caroline Baron, the organization’s CEO, for three months now, and will continue to do so on my return.
We are a nonprofit that works worldwide in refugee camps and with other displaced people. Our most visible work is our film screenings, which can attract up to 3,000 people. We show entertainment films chosen by the community, preceded by informational public service announcements, most of which we produce. It’s a very effective way to get messages out to a large and scattered population of people who do not all speak the same language; mass media in the camps is fairly rare. It’s also an awesome way to feed the boredom and complacency that (I am told) is a major issue in the camps.
Even cooler, our Participatory Video Project (PVP) program teaches refugees how to create film through a series of in-depth classes. They emerge from the program having created a number of professional short films. From the few people I have spoken to who have been involved with the project, it has the power to change lives through storytelling, skills, competency, and a new purpose.
It might be hard to read this without seeing it as sappy, so please remember, the sappiness is probably on your end. Most of what comes across as cliché, trite, pithy, sappy, does so because its truth is too universal for it to be interesting or feel new. As always, I’ll try to write only the interesting bits as long as you do your part and try to find the new in what I am saying.
For most of my 8+ weeks here I will be working in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world. It is designed for 80,000 people and holds 300,000+, so the conditions are quite poor and sanitation is a constant issue. (google “dadaab” for more) The camp is 100km from the Somali border and almost all the refugees are Somali. Security is a constant issue, as Somali terrorists have infiltrated the camps and are often looking to kidnap Americans; in fact, they no longer do screenings after dark now. Because of these issues, I will be working under armed guard most of the time.
I’ll be living in the CARE compound (they are a large nonprofit) and traveling every morning to the camp, then back for lunch, then back for the rest of the day. I have no idea what this experience will be like physically or emotionally – I’ve hear “you’ll be fine” and “you’ll have a great time” amidst talk of mosquitos, malaria, scorpions, and witnessing the conditions. We shall see…
Below is a film about Dadaab created by some FilmAid PVP members: