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.”