About the Film
Educating its adolescent girls has proven to be the cornerstone of Kenyan development, yet so many are denied equal access to education, social and economic equality and respect. The half-hour documentary Graceland Girls provides an intimate look at how the high school students at Graceland Girls School in central Kenya have, so far, defied the odds. Using a combination of video and digital photographs – taken by both the subjects and the filmmaker – the girls express the beauty and pressures of empowered Kenyan girlhood and share their personal struggles to find hope for a better future.
Educating its adolescent girls has proven to be the cornerstone of Kenyan development, yet so many are still denied equal access to education, social and economic equality and respect. They are pulled from school to care for the home, labor in the fields or to be married off for a dowry, only to perpetuate the cycle of poverty into which they were born. The half-hour documentary, Graceland Girls, provides an intimate look at how the secondary (high) school students at Graceland Girls School in central Kenya have, so far, defied the odds.
Using a combination of video and digital photographs – taken by both the subjects and the filmmaker – the girls express the beauty and pressures of empowered Kenyan girlhood. They diligently struggle to achieve academically, including waking at 4 a.m. each morning to study, and to stay motivated amid burdensome cultural and societal constraints, to give back to their kin and country.
Seen as their last chance for a better fate than that of their parents, their collective stories are both inspiring and heartbreaking. “I have two more years in school where I could make my life or destroy it,” says Bethany, a Graceland student, as she describes the struggles of her childhood and those of her single mother. “You know the world will never change, you are the one who is going to change.”
As part of an early crop of Kenyan girls fortunate and bright enough to receive sponsorship to continue on at this uniquely feminist secondary school, some now have unrealistic expectations for their future. Although they are more likely than their predecessors, it may be that only a handful will ultimately overcome the grinding poverty, and escape their predestined role as laborer and dutiful mother.
In the midst of a Kenyan winter, Zipporah is in her final year of secondary school at Graceland and preparing to take the KCSE exam. The KCSE exam is a national examination that will determine whether she can continue on to college and whether she qualifies for the government funding she desperately needs. As the pressure builds, she decides to visit her home in rural Nyeri, a threadbare wood and newspaper structure, commonplace to such agrarian regions, and still occupied by her parents and four of her seven siblings. Her mother and father express their fears in going against cultural norms, and granting Zipporah’s request to attend secondary school. “We were scared and had no money,” says Zipporah’s father across the wood dining table laden with metal teacups and chapattis. The expectation that Zipporah will graduate from secondary school and later financially care for her parents and siblings is palpable, and a common philosophy among those permitted to receive secondary education. Yet despite these pressures, it is her desired alternative to early marriage and the dangers of adolescent childbearing, which would otherwise be her fate.
Back in the classroom, as the exams draw closer, the girls learn of the rights afforded them as females in Kenya’s hard-fought constitutional amendments and change is in the air. If the girls are indeed successful, they could join the ranks of the next generation of female leadership in Kenya and provide equal opportunities for both men and women that could create a ripple effect so powerful, it could end the cycle of poverty there. They express hope for a better future and, with cameras in hand, explore the wonders of nature, importance of friendship and the uniqueness of the human spirit that allows them to carry on.
In developing countries, educating girls and giving them greater say in their own lives and futures, is still considered a revolutionary concept, going against hundreds of years of tradition-fed repression in male dominated societies. At a time when girl education and women’s rights has proven more powerful and effective a global development tool than ever before – and with the desire for change evident among girls – the fate of these Graceland girls is more vital and relevant now than ever.
“Let them get into a position of power, a position of decision-making,” says Graceland Principal, Michael Mutie. “Let them decide how they would like their country to be ruled…a revolution starts from the ground.”
About the Issue
“If you want to change the world, invest in an adolescent girl.” (The Population Council, Inc., Lloyd)
“Without an education, girls miss out on opportunities to socialize, acquire knowledge, and gain the skills and sense of autonomy needed to improve their personal well-being and their lot in life. Each additional year of schooling tends to increase an individual’s earnings by more than 15 percent, and education also improves women’s health and gives them a greater say in how their lives are conducted.” (Bloom, Weston, PBS.org)
At Graceland, a unique private boarding school for undervalued teen girls in the Nyeri District, Central Province in Kenya, girls are given not only an education, but the hope of joining the ranks of the next generation of female leadership in East Africa. The school was founded by Kenyan Nderitu Wachira and named after his mother, Grace. The school offers students’ families an opportunity to pay tuition on a sliding scale as part of a larger effort to make a social and economic impact through investing in adolescent girls as they transition into adulthood.
“These opportunities are transformative not only in the skills and knowledge acquired, but also in the attitudes, aspirations, and self-confidence forged— and in the pathways taken.” (Greene, Cardinal, Goldstein- Siegel).
Resources & Additional Information:
United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative
E4 Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality, May 2010
The Girl Effect, Nike Foundation
The unique potential of 600 Million adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world.
Girl Up, Uniting Girls to Change the World, United Nations Foundation
Girl Up envisions a world where all girls, no matter where they live, have the opportunity to become educated, healthy, safe, counted and positioned to be the next generation of leaders.
10×10, Educate Girls, Change the World
“Girl Rising” is a documentary feature about the power of education to change the world. Featuring 9 extraordinary girls from 9 countries, whose stories are told by 9 celebrated writers and voiced by 9 renowned actresses.
New Lessons: The Power of Educating Adolescent Girls
A Girls Count Report on Adolescent Girls
Cynthia B. Lloyd, Population Council, 2009
Essay: Girls’ Education in Developing Countries: Mind the Gap
David E. Bloom and Mark Weston, PBS.org
The Coalition for Adolescent Girls
GIRLS SPEAK: A NEW VOICE IN GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT
Margaret Greene, Laura Cardinal and Even Goldstein-Siegel
Tools for Transformation: To create opportunities for education and financial freedom for Kenyan girls and women through health education, empowerment and delivery of sanitary pads.
Acheive in Africa
Education can alleviate poverty, hunger and the AIDS epidemic in Africa (founded by a fellow Boston University alum).
For this shoot I took with me to Kenya a Sony EX-3 video camera, a Canon 7D DSLR, a Libec tripod, my trusty monopod and an Zoom H4 Field Recorder with wired lav mic.
I have learned the real beauty of shooting video with a DSLR, despite the horrendous audio, and with a few quick fixes like adding a Sennheiser MKE 400 to the 7D and shooting dual system, this camera creates beautiful imagery with an appropriate L-glass lens. However, upon my return to Kenya during their summer months, I found that the 7D can overheat and shut down when used for extended periods of time outdoors in high tempertures, in particular when used with a battery grip. Without the grip, the camera functions better with long term use in heat.
It is also recommended that you do not raise your ISO too high in low light situations as this creates video noise. A final tip for fledgling DSLR filmmakers, focus and camera shake can be an issue, so be prepared for this. Also, your aperture can easily lock (on the back of the camera) if you are not careful, so if you are unable to adjust your aperture at any time, check to see if you bumped the “lock” switch on the back.