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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Women Suffer Atrocities Silently in the Congo

23 11 2008

You see it in their eyes. Blank stares. Emotional and physical pain. Hopelessness. Witness to unbelievable violence and cruelty. Abandonment. Silent suffering. Tens of thousands of women of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are being kidnapped, raped, mutilated, and tortured.

Emmy-winning filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson, herself a victim of gang rape, traveled to the Congo and interviewed women there who have experienced these horrors. She also spoke to armed itinerant gangs who are the rapists, doctors who help the women, and those advocating for the women and trying to help them. The result is a moving and unforgettable HBO documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo. I watched this documentary for the second time today. It is beyond comprehension what these women experience. Here are a few of the women featured in the film and the descriptions given about them on HBO’s website about the film:

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Marie Jeanne M’Bweshe, 42 years old, mother of 8
Raped and viciously beaten by the Interahamwe after witnessing the murder and dismemberment of her husband.

congo-woman-safi1

Safi, from Bunyakiri, 12 years old
Raped at age 11 as her home was being looted by soldiers.

[The film showed her with a baby, which was the result of the rape.]

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Alexandrine M’Kajibwami, mother of 9
Raped by Rwandan soldiers, her husband was murdered trying to protect her.

A brutal war has raged in the Congo for ten years and over four million people have been killed as a result. Tens of thousands of women have been raped and brutalized. They are usually cast out by their husbands, families, and villages after being raped. They are often left with lifelong injuries that leave them incontinent and worse. They are also often infected with AIDS and/or become pregnant as a result of the rapes. Some women have been forced into sexual slavery.

The rebel forces – and often the Congolese Army soldiers who are supposed to protect people – justify the rapes by saying they have needs and if a woman won’t submit, they must take her with force. There is no consideration or thought about how their selfish acts ruin women’s lives.

You can watch the HBO trailer for the film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo here:

congo-displaced-people-camp-nov-12-081Refugees have been forced from their homes and live in squalor in camps such as these due to the decade-old war. This photo and 38 others are shown on the Boston Globe’s website in an article about this on 11/21/08.

The Doctors without Borders organization has created their own initiative called Condition Critical to “bring global attention to the humanitarian consequences of the intensifying war in eastern DR Congo.” The Boston Globe reports that the UN Peacekeepers are unable to do much to help. This is the shortened form of the video put out by the Doctors without Borders organization. Go to their website to see the whole video.

There are many organizations trying to provide relief and help in the Congo. A partial list of them is located on the HBO documentary’s website. These women and children who suffer are continents away from us, but they are still our sisters. Their suffering is our suffering. Our hope for a better tomorrow can be their hope.

UPDATE: Associated Press tells more stories of these women in this March 16, 2009 article. The stories are heartbreaking, but also show tremendous courage on the part of the damaged women.