Last year a friend and I made a film.
It is funny what can grow from a conversation over a cup of coffee.
The conversation went something like this;
Friend: I have a great idea. Let’s collaborate on a short film together…
Me: It is a great idea. Except I know absolutely nothing about film making…
Friend: True. But I do. And you know about acting and stories and stuff…
Me: True. But we have no money.
Friend: Oh don’t worry about that. We will worry about that later. It will come from somewhere…
And so began a crazy learning curve.
We began our search for a story.
We were looking for something relevant. Something current. We wanted to find an authentic Malawian story. Something raw and heart felt. We asked what are the current most pressing issues here in Malawi? And what are the real stories tangled into those issues?
Our aim was to find a story, write it, shoot it and create something beautiful. A piece of art, with the possible goal of putting it through the international film festival circuit.
We began our research. We wrestled with ideas. We dug deep into the stories of the people we interviewed. But as our story began to take shape, we saw something else start to evolve. A possibility.
The chance to use the medium of film, with all its power, as a master story telling vessel, to raise questions, stir up hearts and minds, evoke hope and fundamentally change attitudes. We saw the possibility to advocate for essential change, for the sake of the girl child here in Malawi, and beyond.
Today, according to UNICEF, there are 720 million girls worldwide, who have been married before their 18th birthday. Of these, approximately 250 million were married before their 15th birthday.
A girl who becomes pregnant before her body is ready is at high risk of death during childbirth. There is also a high chance that her baby may also not survive. Girls who marry as children are highly unlikely to continue in school. Their futures will be deprived as will their families and communities. Girls who are married as children often suffer horrific violence and abuse, including that of a sexual nature – Keep in mind that here in Malawi, there is no such thing as ‘rape within marriage’, According to Malawian law, such a felony cannot exist.
How can a child defend herself?
And of course the knock on effect of all of this, is these children often suffer depression and isolation, and the children born to those child mothers may not receive adequate care and nurturing.
Malawi is ranked 8th in the world in terms of child marriage.
In Malawi, less than 25% of girls finish primary education. Less than 5% of girls finish their secondary education and UNICEF draws a direct correlation between the numbers of girls finishing their education and the number of girls marrying as children.
We talked to a lot of people.
We came across brokenness in a whole new way. Like brokenness with jagged lacerated edges, the kind that takes your breath away and leaves you a little bit emotionally disfigured. That kind of brokenness.
And in amidst all that brokenness in the crumpled pages of people’s life stories, we found our story.
It is a story about a girl and a boy. Actually, a sister and brother. It is a story about child marriage, and the hard choices people make when faced with abject poverty. It is a story about the rights of the girl child to have an education and a potential filled future. It is a story about love and sacrifice.
It is based on real stories.
And it turned out my friend, May, is really rather good at what she does.
I filled in the gaps doing…stuff… and mostly fretting.
May isn’t a fretter so that’s good. She is more of a ‘get it done’ kind of girl.
The film is now in the Netherlands with May and an incredible team who are putting it through the final stages of post-production.
It will be complete in a couple of weeks.
And it is getting kind of busy here.
The film now has the backing of both UNFPA and UNICEF, the latter of whom are building a whole nationwide 2015/16 campaign around it. They are taking it out to schools and communities throughout Malawi. They will be doing public screenings and we are working with them to build and facilitate workshops and discussion groups off the back of the screening with all the different community groups – Girls, boys, parents, teachers, community chiefs and leaders.
It’s quite big.
I find myself in the midst of meetings where people talk in acronyms and use words and phrases like gender responsive pedagogy and participatory methodologies. I jot them down and then go home to my personal UN translator, Bails who explains and I say “Well why say participatory methodologies if they mean Drama Workshop??? I can totally do drama workshop. Now we’re talking.”
I feel a little like David the Shepherd boy looking up at Goliath, with my little sling and a couple of pebbles, and I’m like, okay, he’s quite big… I’ll just fire this at him and see what happens…Oh, that actually went quite well…okay, maybe I can actually do stuff other than sing a bit and count sheep…Maybe this is okay…maybe I can be useful with my gifts and stuff…maybe I can be part of something a bit important…okay…Maybe…I can always go back to singing and counting sheep…
Like I said. Its funny what can grow from a conversation over a cup of coffee.