Orphans of Mathare a film by

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Announcements and Screenings:
Orphans of Mathare has won the Rosa Luxemburg Award at the New England Film and Video Festival. The award is given to the film that best embodies the movement toward a more egalitarian society. Orphans of Mathare will screen on Wednesday, March 26th, at 7:00pm at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, MA. The program is called "Human" and also includes Being Human by Lisa Seidenberg. More information on the festival can be found at http://www.bfvf.org/festival

Orphans of Mathare will be screening at the Cambridge African Film Festival, Cambridge, England, in early May. More info soon.


This 60-minute film documents the lives of former street children now living at The Good Samaritan Children's Home, an orphanage and school in the Mathare slum of Nairobi, Kenya. These children—many orphaned by HIV/AIDS—slipped through the fraying net of Kenyan family structures and social services and ended up on the streets of Nairobi. They sniffed glue, scoured trash bins for food, and slept under cars until they were brought to the Home. The film follows the lives of several of these children as they go to school, struggle with the poverty and violence that surrounds them, and reflect on their former lives.

For six weeks during the summer of 2001 we filmed at the Good Samaritan Home and in the surrounding slum. The horrors we documented are not only medical, but social and cultural as well. HIV/AIDS threatens to create a generation of children without parents or homes, growing up to be drug-addicts and thugs, alienated from their traditional family structure, their culture and their history. To fully understand the fallout of HIV/AIDS, we realized our film needed to focus on more than the disease; it had to understand a culture in crisis.

When adults and elders are scarce and thousands of children sniff glue in the streets, when neither traditional beliefs nor Christianity can handle the new problems, when the medicines of modern science remain out of reach, what do people do? What do they teach to children? How do they live?

The reality at The Good Samaritan Children's Home lays bare the complicated relationship between disease, poverty, violence, religion, tradition, and the orphan crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. The film addresses this complex of issues by delving into the lives of those affected. When Ochieng, an orphan, falls sick with typhoid, he languishes in bed for a month before finally being taken to the hospital. The Home hoped that inexpensive medicine given by the local doctor would cure him. Instead, this treatment nearly kills him.

The film shows students struggle to learn about basic hygiene, Africa's traditions and its colonial history, Christian doctrine, and the ways to prevent HIV/AIDS. We see a teacher explain to children that people must challenge their traditional beliefs in order to fight AIDS, only to have a youth respond that one must accept Jesus to stop the disease.

Finally, in this world where the Good Samaritan Home can barely care for its own children, we watch the overburdened Kenyan Children's Department ask the Home to care for three more little girls who have been sexually abused at another home. This story demonstrates the extremes of abuse and neglect orphans suffer outside the walls of Good Samaritan.

Through rich character development and strong narrative line, Orphans of Mathare attempts to understand a culture ravished by disease and poverty, ambivalent about its colonial past, and unsure about its future—or if there will even be one.

Sub-Saharan, East African nations like Kenya are hardest hit by the AIDS crisis. One in eight Kenyan adults is infected with HIV/AIDS. 700 Kenyans die from AIDS everyday.

There are one million AIDS orphans-children who have lost at least one parent to the disease-in Kenya. Most of these children end up homeless; in the last ten years the number of street children has doubled, an increase largely attributed to AIDS. Because there are fewer able- bodied adults, another million Kenyan children have dropped out of school to tend to ill relatives or to act as a family's primary breadwinner.

Girls are particularly vulnerable in this situation. A report by Save the Children Sweden, based on extensive interviews with female sex workers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania found that, "an unprotected girl working on the streets will sooner or later end up working as a prostitute."

The Kenyan government has been slow to respond; only in the last two years has President Daniel Arap Moi begun measures to cut the cost of imported condoms. Still, resources remain grossly inadequate and life-extending AIDS drugs remain all but unavailable.

-All facts and figures from World Health Organization and Human Rights Watch-

The estimated total budget of the project is $100,000. Current funding comes from The Strauss Foundation, the Harvard College Research Fund, the Harvard Children's Initiative, private funding sources, and in-kind donations. We are looking for post-production finishing funds totaling $45,000. The bulk of this figure covers the final preparation of the film for theatrical and television exhibition. To meet television broadcast standards we need a professional sound mix, color correction session, and online edit, all of which are very time and equipment-intensive. This figure also covers the cost of fees owed to translators and distribution expenses such film festival applications, VHS and DVD production, and publicity. To meet our funding needs we have applied for grants from the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Sundance Documentary Fund. We are also continuing to look for other sources of funding. If you or your organization are interested in supporting the mission of Orphans of Mathare, please give your support by making a tax-deductible contribution.

For more information please contact Randy Bell.


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