A Holocaust Survivor and a Kenyan Boy

20 07 2010

Director Jennifer Arnold, Chris Mburu, Hilde Back, Jane Wanjiru Muigai during the Sundance Film Festival - Credit: Matt Carr, Getty Images

For Chris Mburu, a young, rural Kenyan student, the opportunity to make something out of his life would’ve ended if not for a small act of kindness.

Hilde Back was a young girl and a Jew who was helped by a stranger to escape from Nazi Germany to Sweden. She never saw her parents (who did not survive the Holocaust) again after leaving. She never forgot the kindness of that stranger and of the people who helped her once she got to Sweden. Hilde eventually became a school teacher on a modest salary, but sponsored…for about $15 a month…a young Kenyan student.

Because she paid his fees to go to secondary school, which his parents could not afford, that student…Chris Mburu…went on to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and become a human rights lawyer for the United Nations. Inspired by Hilde’s generosity, in 2001 he decided to start a scholarship program to help other bright Kenyan students who can’t afford school fees and to name the scholarship program after her. With help, he tracked Hilde Back down and the two are now fast friends. She never knew that her small gift each month made such a difference in the life of one boy…and is now making a difference in the lives of countless other children.

Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline - Credit: http://asmallact.blogspot.com/

HBO is now airing an incredibly moving and important documentary film entitled A Small Act about this story and “the ripple effect one small act can have.” The world premiere of the movie was in January 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival. Jennifer Arnold wrote, directed, and produced this film.

It features three students…Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline…who are the top students in their school and who all have no hope of progressing in school due to the lack of ability to pay the $40 per month fees unless they get one of the coveted Hilde Back Education Fund scholarships.

I mostly subscribe to¬† HBO because of their documentaries. They are thoughtful, well done, and carry powerful messages. The message is easy to see in this one. So many of us think we don’t have the ability to make a difference in the life of another person so why bother? We may think we are barely scraping by ourselves and what little we could give just isn’t enough. This story shows that a small donation made monthly totally changed the life of Chris, who has gone on to change the lives of Kimani, Ruth, Caroline and so many more and they have all pledged to change the lives of students who come after them.

A few other ripple effects and how you can learn more:

Watch the trailer for the movie, and if you have HBO or if the film is being screened near you, watch the entire film. It will move you…hopefully to make your own small act.

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Youssou N’Dour: Goodwill and Music Ambassador of the World

16 08 2009

It penetrates. It uplifts. It feels joyful. Grammy award-winning Youssou N’Dour’s music. Mostly sung in his African Senegal native tongue of Youssou N'Dour Sept 2004Wolof, one does not need a translator to feel this music. Described by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 as “perhaps the most famous singer alive,” Youssou N’Dour is the subject of a documentary called I Bring What I Love, which was shown at many prestigious film festivals around the world. It is now being shown in theaters across the country and I had the privilege of seeing it on Friday.

I received an email from UNICEF USA about the movie. Youssou is an UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and, per the the email, “advocates for children at home and abroad, giving benefit performances and participating in social mobilization and advocacy campaigns. He has been a consistent supporter of the Roll-Back Malaria Partnership, a global initiative launch in 1998 to significantly reduce the number of malaria deaths.”

The email also had this to say about the movie:

Enjoy the tantalizing beats, be inspired by Youssou’s compelling story, but also go see the film because there is more at stake. It’s all too rare that an African or Muslim subject gets this kind of film making and this kind of attention. Amid the images in the U.S. media of African AIDS, war and poverty, this film is a chance for Americans to see a positive, realistic representation of contemporary Africa. In addition, it is all too rare that stories go below the surface and give nuanced views of a more tolerant Islam.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Youssou N’Dour is is often credited with introducing the music of Africa to countless new audiences. Now the innovative Sengalese singer, composer and producer is the subject of a new documentary film, ‘I Bring What I Love’, currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit and in cinemas.

Director and producer Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s cameras followed Mr. N’Dour for three years, documenting family life, concert appearances around the world, the infectious energy of Senegal and his Sufi Muslim faith.

The resulting music-driven journey unfolds at an extraordinary moment in N’Dour’s career, when his most personal, spiritual album to date sparks controversy at home when it is released.

Youssou is revered in Senegal and all of Africa, but originally the Egypt album, which was loved all over the world, was rejected in his home country. Considering it a testimony of his faith, he released it during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan; many considered it blasphemous. It was only after the album won a Grammy…Youssou’s first…that it was accepted.

I was privileged to attend the one showing in Austin that was followed by a discussion of the movie. About 20 former Peace Corps volunteers were present as well as several native Sengalese. The discussion was lively and intelligent, as would be expected from the worldly, curious, and open-minded people who stayed to participate. I came away with a new appreciation for the country of Senegal and a renewed interest in Youssou N’Dour.

Not only is he a world-renowned musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Youssou N’Dour also:

  • Organized in 1985 a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela
  • Performed in the 1988 worldwide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour
  • Acted in the 2006 movie Amazing Grace about the abolitionist William Wilberforce
  • Performed at three Live 8 concerts
  • Worked with the United Nations
  • Advocated for public health (including AIDS/HIV activism) and civil and political stability in Africa
  • Helped change the economic landscape in Senegal through the Youssou N’Dour Foundation
  • Was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007 by Time magazine

Check out the movie if you have a chance and definitely check out some of his music. It will make you smile and make you want to get up and dance.

Here is the South by Southwest Film Festival trailer about the movie: