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This past August we facilitated an inspirational workshop that in many ways broke the mold for Bent Marble. For starters, we worked with participants much younger than we normally do… children actually… and as young as 5 years of age! The works they made also were not limited to the genre of documentary. For in addition to conducting interviews, they also composed and directed a series of skits, that while based on their life experiences, were acted out. A final thing that made this workshop different was that the participants were not just any group of kids, but patients receiving life-saving treatment in the children’s cancer ward at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
For this project we partnered with the Tanzanian-based NGO, Tumaini la Maisha, which means “Hope for Life” in Swahili. TLM’s goal is both simple and profound: to provide ready, local access to high quality treatments to all children with cancer in Tanzania. Importantly, TLM understands that a successful treatment program doesn’t just involve the medical components, but also the psychological and social ones. For that reason they provide ample educational, recreational, and even artistic services and activities to their patients, who often reside in the children’s ward for up to a year while receiving treatment. And this is where Bent Marble and our documentary-“ish” workshops fit in.
Let’s now take a moment to hear from Tumaini la Maisha Psychosocial Program Manager, Beatrice Millinga, who talks about the benefits of these extracurricular programs, as well as of the impact that our filmmaking workshops specifically had on the kids.
As previously mentioned the films the children made in the workshops were a combination of both documentary and fiction. In the documentary portions, the students interviewed each other on personal themes ranging from friendship, to social pressure they face as young people, to life in the hospital. And in these conversations their strength, humor, and love and support for one another really shined through. The fictional skits they made touched on equally significant topics. One highlighted the risks of child marriage (still a common practice in certain parts of the country) and the associated risk of dropping out of school. Another addresses the dreams that each child holds for the future. And their final film, entitled Maisha ya Muhimbili (or “Life in Muhimbili Hospital), portrayed the journey of two families taking their sick child through the process of entry and treatment in the national hospital, itself.
This film turned out to be an particularly poignant piece, as it provides a strong example of how a population facing great challenges can express their experiences, hopes, and fears in a creative way that empowers them, as well as potentially helps countless future patients and families like their own. Indeed, TLM plans to use this film as part of their orientation process for new families admitting their sick children to the cancer ward. For who better to let you know what to expect, than the very people who have been through it themselves!
So let’s take a look now at the amazing pieces produced by these young filmmakers:
Maisha ya Muhimbili
(Click here to visit Bent Marble on YouTube)
In addition to playing all the roles in their skits (from patients, to parents, to nurses and doctors), it is so important to note that the children, themselves, also performed all aspects of their films’ pre-production, production, and post-production. They came up with the ideas and scenarios, rehearsed the scenes in their free time, directed and performed the videography on shoot days, selected which takes would make the final cut, and created the titles and credits for the finished films.
It has been said that filmmaking is “a team sport”, in the sense that it typically requires the coordinated efforts of many individuals, each playing their part, in order to succeed. And with Tumaini la Maisha, it really was the case, and as never before in our program’s history. Even the parents and guardians of the patients, who often live full-time in the ward along with their sick children, got involved.
Let’s take a look now at a photo album from our Facebook page that captures this amazing team effort throughout the workshop series.
Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2
I would like to offer a HUGE thanks to pediatric oncologist and TLM Director, Dr. Trish Scanlan, for having the foresight to see how Bent Marble’s workshops could potentially benefit TLM’s kids, and for encouraging us to “break the mold” and get involved. Indeed, “Dr. Trish”, as TLM staff and patients affectionately call her, has played a critical role over the years in ensuring the continuity and success of the children’s cancer treatment program. And I encourage all of you to learn more about what Tumaini la Maisha does, by checking out (and “Liking”) their Facebook page, We Are TLM.
I’d also like to extend my gratitude to TLM Psychosocial Manager, Beatrice Millinga, and TLM volunteer, Alice Frank, for being our co-facilitators, translators, and overall partners-in-crime throughout the workshops. Nothing would have gotten done on the ground without them, and they were indeed the “glue” between myself, the patients, and their families.
I am left thinking of a phrase, from the field of education, about how we often learn more from our students than they from us, as teachers. This is certainly the case for me in regards to the workshops with these inspirational young individuals. Each time I think about my experiences with them, tears well up in my eyes for the strength, resilience, innocence, and joy they showed, while face to face with a fight against a life-threatening illness. And each time the enormity of this indescribable lesson gives me pause for reflection on the precious value of each of our lives.
But beyond what they did for me on a personal level, they also made Bent Marble something different, and something more than it was before. They catalyzed a methodological metamorphosis, to include fictional and dramatized elements in Bent Marble projects, as a way to strengthen and expand the documentary’s narrative argument. And they opened our eyes to the possibility of working with populations much younger and more (for lack of a better term) “at-risk” than we ever would have dared to in the past. So in a very real way, they have breathed new life into Bent Marble, itself.
So with love, respect, and great gratitude we wish each and every one of these inspirational young filmmakers a complete recovery, and a life full of many more stories to share!