A New Experience in Kibera by Mathias Antonsson

Last Monday I started my new job at GESCI in Nairobi, Kenya. Technically I’m hired by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), and they seconded me to GESCI. In short I’m here to promote the use of ICT4D in education in East Africa. As such, I have been assigned to gather information on how ICT is being used to promote Digital Media Arts (photography, film making, animation, graphic design etc.) in Kenya, and at a later stage the same in Zambia. Interviewing different key actors I’ve been touring the city with a colleague and that is how I ended up visiting Kibera slum yesterday.

Kibera Slum

In the middle of one of Africa’s largest slums, and after asking for directions quite a few times, we found a sign and drove down a make-shift road to Kibera Film School. The following hours were some of the most rewarding of my life. We met with a manager as well as a group of students. Their passion and dedication was unmistakable. So too was their professionalism. Creative minds with the drive to follow, portray and share their ideas, despite the odds stacked against them.

It started with a few individuals who a few years ago wanted to share their story. As a testament to their skills, and pure will, they found collaborators, volunteers and sponsors from far and wide. The result; proper camera equipment and a functioning film studio (with Macs and Final Cut Pro – which incidentally is more than I had when editing for the UN). The story could have ended there, but they decided that they wanted to give back to the community that had spawned them, their ideas and their success. So they started the aforementioned underground photography and film school.

The students, attending for free after being selected based on their passion, made no effort to hide their excitement, as they explained how this opportunity would change their lives. What caught my attention however was that these were not hollow words, I’ve heard and seen that before, they knew this to be true. Through hands-on work, mentorship and tough realistic lessons from the school they had realized that in order to achieve that life, to pursue their dream, there needs to be continuous hard work. There was no doubt they would be ready for it once they finished this education. One student said he didn’t even know how to use a keyboard before he came there, two months later he had gone through all production stages (idea, script, casting, directing, shooting, editing etc.). Following a discussion on marketing, and the use of social media for that purpose, a fellow student summed it up perfectly for someone like me:

“Sitting on the bus I assumed Twitter was for the rich with iPhones.”

Kibera has its reputation. And with these students’ reputation preceding them, they have to be better than everyone else to succeed. Yet their origin was their ultimate pride. They wore it like a badge. As much as I share their ambition and dedication, that is what I connected with the most. However unlikely. Like them, I will never excuse myself based on my background, despite the obvious differences. I come from a great equitable society with great opportunities, not least for social mobility. Sometimes I downplay that. But I’m a product of it, and I’m proud of it. Immensely. To reach that realization in this most unexpected setting, with this most improbable of groups, who’d have thought?