11 July 2012

Kenya: Film School Lights Up Kibera

Photo: The New Times
Shooting of “Chora Chora” movie.

Nairobi — It is a common assumption that nothing good can come out of Kibera, one of Africa's largest slums.

But unknown to many, at the heart of this slum lies an unsung project that is helping uplift the lives of the youths in this infamous slum.

At the Kibera film school, youths develop their talents, tell their stories and become role models for peace.

Mercy Murugi is the co-founder of the Kibera Film School. Her first engagement with the Kibera youths was in 2009 through the Hot Sun Foundation, a non profit organisation that provides the way for the youths of Kibera to share their stories with the world through video and films.

"I was working on a film called Togetherness supreme. I was producing it so I hired about 10 heads of department who were professionals and then under each head of department I put about two to three trainees of Kibera to enable them learn as we were filming," she explains.

But after one month of shooting the now award winning film, Togetherness Supreme, Mercy realised that the Kibera trainees had gained some knowledge but it was not enough for them to secure jobs.

So she talked to the founder of Hot Sun Foundation about establishing a curriculum.

"But there was a challenge in resources in terms of who was going to teach them and we did not want to employ teachers who were on a salary because we couldn't afford that," she goes on to say.

Mercy convinced some people she knew in the industry to volunteer their time to mentor the youths. She says the Kibera Film School started with 10 students. Eight of them graduated but two dropped out.

The hired the graduates as teachers' assistants, earning a stipend. "That worked out great," she said.

But they could not keep doing this and that is when the idea of Kibera TV, an online media distributor was borne.

According to the TV Schedule and Story Coordinator Mitchelle Mulemi, their aim is to tell the untold stories of the slums.

"We are trying to demystify what other people think about slums, when you hear slums; you think about the dirt, the violence and the informal settlements there are some good stories here that we get by ourselves," she says.

A tour of the facility reveals humble beginnings with a bright future ahead. The students in this school have been able to make award winning films like Kibera kid that talks of an orphan who lives with a gang of thieves.

Vincent Oduor is an alumni of the Kibera film school. He was born and brought up in Kibera. He trained here in 2011.

"This film school is like a Messiah that came to Kibera because so many of us didn't know that we had the talent of doing film, we went through school but didn't know that there was a career called film making but then they have enlightened the youths," he says adding that it has kept many of them away from drug use and crime.

The film school focuses more on talent than the academic experience of the students it enrolls.

Its work has been recognised globally. They are collaborating with the writer's guild of America. They have also had skype lessons with Charles Levitt the writer of the award winning Blood Diamond movie.

Locally, the school won Sh100, 000 from Safaricom Foundation after being nominated on social networks. This is part of a campaign where Safaricom foundation is giving away 100,000 shillings everyday to a Charity nominated by its social network followers.

"We solicited information from our followers in social media about projects in Kenya that they thought were worthwhile that we should support and there was an overwhelming amount of support for this specific organisation. We heard from people on social media about the great work that they are doing in terms of production in terms of empowering young Kenyans and giving them useful skills and more importantly portraying Kibera in a very positive light," noted Sanda Ojiambo, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Safaricom.

The Kibera Film School hopes to spread it wings in the near future and reach the youths of the marginalised Turkana community.

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