CFAN IN ACTION
Graceland Girls Explores the Power of Girl Education
By Jordan Salvatoriello, Producer, Director and Cinematographer
Award Recipient of The Caucus Foundation Grant Program
A little over a year ago, a dear friend told me about the girls at the Graceland School in Central Kenya. At this unique private boarding school for underprivileged teen girls, students are not only given the rare chance to receive a high school education, but the hope of joining the ranks of the next generation of female leadership in East Africa. As a woman, a documentary filmmaker and an activist with a keen interest in human rights issues, I was captivated by the idea of working with these girls and learning of their individual struggles and triumphs.
As I began to more deeply research the situation in Kenya, I found undeniable evidence that educating girls is the most direct and powerful way to impact economic development. In fact, it creates a ripple effect that can help break the cycle of poverty there, spreading from the individual, to their family, their community and so on. Yet despite this, many Kenyan girls continue to be denied an education, as well as rights, equality, independence and respect due to deeply rooted cultural and political obstacles. They are often pulled from school due to poverty, the need for laborers at home or to be married for a dowry. Even if girls are lucky enough to stay in school, there is often no time to study at home, no food to help them stay focused and motivated and no source of light to study by. The girls represented in my film Graceland Girls have, so far, defied these odds. This is a powerful story, and one I feel can have a powerful impact.
When I began this journey, I was a fledgling filmmaker still fumbling with my video camera. It seemed appropriate that I was learning a craft alongside the girls. As they experimented with photography, I experimented with video. As they learned and worked toward their lofty academic goals, I too worked toward earning my degree. We were connected on many levels, and that was something I found to be unique and important to this process.
Since it’s world premier in late 2012, Graceland Girls has been well received and honored with the Director’s Guild of America Jury Prize, the Caucus Foundation Gold Circle Award, and recently received the Maria Menounos “Take Action Hollywood” Award at Emerson College’s annual Film Festival in L.A. In addition, I have been invited into the classroom to show the film and talk to students about their Kenyan counterparts, as well as the importance of education, community service and valuing women and girls as equal contributors in our communities. It is my hope that this work will remind us of what we may take for granted in our own lives, but also where we could invest our resources to make the greatest impact on global development. In addition, I think it will be important for Kenya, and surrounding cultures that may still deny women and girls equal rights and access to education, to experience stories such as this. Perhaps through story, we can create more understanding, support and ultimately educational opportunities and help the ripple effect work its way outward.