Penn in Kenya, Day 13


Laurel Jaffe confers with a FilmAid teammate Okelo and Michael Schwartz while shooting their film about food distribution in the Kalobeyei settlement.

July 19, 2017

Post by Nicholas Escobar, Class of 2018, an English major and music minor from Villanova, Pa.

The day began with a short run as the sun rose over Kakuma. The nights have been restful, but fairly hot. The breeze was cool, the light barely kissing the buildings bordering the dried riverbank as I jogged around the compound where we are housed. I felt ready to start the day.

It has been exactly a week since we left Fisher-Bennett Hall to start our journey to Kakuma. It has been two weeks since our adventure began, in “boot camp” back in room 222 of Fisher-Bennett. I have really gotten to know the members of this Penn group well during that time, and I am honored to be working alongside every person in this talented cohort.

This morning started like many other mornings: with breakfast and conversation. We are in the middle of our four-day shoot for the documentary series on Kalobeiyei, a new settlement adjacent to the Kakuma Refugee Camp. My group is tasked with filming two, five-minute short films on Health and Education. We are a diverse set of seven individuals, some interested in directing, others screenwriting, as well as cinematography. Because of this, our group really functions as a unit. I am paired with Penn student colleague Sonari, and we have gotten to know the FilmAid alumni, who are all impressive and motivated artists.

Our first interview took place at the Handicap International building in Kalobeiyei. As we drove to the settlement, I reflected upon the last week and about how familiar Kakuma seems to me now. It’s amazing how one can adapt so quickly to a new situation. I look around Kakuma with recognition, but still with a feeling of intense awe. It is a breathtakingly unique place, and I am convinced that even if I spent two years working here, every morning I would see the camp with fresh, sometimes tearful, eyes. This is one of the places it seems where the extraordinary never can truly become ordinary.

The Handicap International (HI) building is located near the Red Cross hospital. It is a simple, small wooden structure. We spoke with an employee who had just been helping to mold a cast for a small baby. The baby was crying softly as his mother held him. There was an older man in aviator sunglasses who was very thin standing outside the building. He immediately approached me specifically as we were setting up for the interview and diligently passed me different papers. All were in some way or other referral papers. They were lamenated and well worn, contained in a ragged plastic blue bag, appearing like he had passed them out multiple times. I initially thought that he was part of HI, but then I was told that he thought I was from the UN, and that is why he was desperately handing over his referral papers. I felt really helpless, and quietly told him that I was sorry and that I do not work with the UN. I do not believe he understood English. He was told this in Swahili and I handed the papers back. I felt terrible. Here was this man, trying to look for help, and he assumed that I could help simply by the way that I look, and yet I could not help him at all. It’s one of those moments that reminds you that this problem of the global refugee crisis is bigger than all of us. It will not be solved in a day. But I hope the films we are making for the new arrivals in the camp will make a difference, and we have to focus on that. I wish the old man with aviator sunglasses the best of luck, and I hope someday someone will be able to assist him.

We successfully got the interview and b-roll at the HI building. Barry (our cinematographer and cameraman) went into the HI building and got close-ups of some of the patients being treated. I am the co-director with Stallone. He and I discuss different b-roll shots to get, as well as check the camera angle for each interview. We quickly piled into the van and headed to Kakuma Secondary School to interview Margaret, who works for Windell Trust Kenya (WTK).

The school is in a part of Kakuma I hadn’t been to before. To get there we had to cut across the plains, getting quite close to the dramatic rocky hill Kalemchuch.  The secondary school was filled with students, most of them clad with white-collared shirts and blue pants. We interviewed Margaret outside in the courtyard, where there were students working under a tree, as well as at a desk behind her. The interview lasted 30 minutes or so, and we got a lot of information about how secondary schools are run at Kalobeiyei as well as at Kakuma. As the interview progressed the clouds in the sky grew gray and a bit sinister. Once the interview ended, I directed Barry to get some b-roll inside a classroom and also of the buildings. It then started to downpour for a short while, so we took cover on one of the porches outside of a classroom. Eventually we made a run for it, and got to the car slightly soggy, but smiling.

On our way back to the FilmAid office, we drove through Kakuma 1. A large main street flashed by my window. Bright colors flowed together. We suddenly stopped, much to the confusion of everyone in the van. Someone said an old woman had been hit by something, a motorcycle perhaps. There was blood on her face. I never actually saw. We drove on. It is hard to really process the number of events that happen in a refugee camp such as this. I truly hope that the old woman is ok.

Back at the FilmAid office, Sonari helped organize all of our footage thus far into our hard drive. We then had lunch, and met up with our team again to get a quick interview at the Red Cross office on our compound. We interviewed an employee who works with children who are unidentified, those children who arrive at the reception center as unaccompanied minors. He described the process of helping to find these children’s families.

That interview ended our shooting for today. We had three successful and thorough interviews. Looking towards tomorrow, it had been arranged for us to follow a 20-year-old female student from her house to her secondary school. We will interview her on the way. Then we will speak to a teacher at her secondary school and take more b-roll of the students. We also have other stops to make tomorrow, including to the Red Cross hospital.

I plan to go on a run again tomorrow morning, and feel the morning breeze on my face. It prepares me for these long and incredibly exhilarating days. For now, I must rest and recuperate, as we have a long day tomorrow.


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