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Stories That Must Be Told

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Preparing for a UNICEF field trip

After a busy first few months at UNICEF UK as their Television Manager, I’m happy to say that there are now some exciting TV projects in the pipeline. Right now, I’m gearing up for an imminent overseas trip with a small BBC crew to film an ambitious documentary with Syrian refugee children. It will be an opportunity to hear first-hand the stories of some of the real people involved in the so-called “migrant crisis”, and to show their extraordinary resilience and humanity in the face of circumstances many of us would, I’m sure, find completely unbearable.

Since starting my UNICEF job back in May, I’ve frequently been called to mind of one of my favourite ever movie scenes. In The Constant Gardener, Rachel Weisz’s character Tessa, a human rights campaigner, is trying to persuade her conservative diplomat husband Justin (played by Ralph Fiennes) to pull over their 4×4 as they drive through a poor African village, to give a lift to a mother and her young sons who are walking miles along the dusty road to fetch water. Justin: “We can’t involve ourselves in their lives, Tessa.” Tessa: “Why?” Justin: “Be reasonable. There are millions of people, they all need help…” Tessa: “Yeah, but these are three people WE can help.”

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Working at UNICEF has opened my eyes to the sheer numbers of people in the world – millions – who need assistance, whether because of disease, natural disasters, or as victims of conflict. While UNICEF and many organisations like it are doing some incredible work, I’ve more than once questioned whether it’s possible to really “make a difference” – especially when thinking about my own tiny contribution as someone helping to get international development stories out there to the general public.

Where I’ve got to is Tessa’s approach: to think in “micro” rather than “macro” terms, to humanise the issue, if you will. It’s not about helping the masses, the millions, but simply doing what you can in your own life – whether it’s putting a coin in a collecting tin, working or volunteering for a charity, or simply keeping an eye out for your neighbour, it all counts in the “humanity stakes”. For me, storytelling has always been at the heart of what I do – this is my way of showing I give a damn about what’s happening in the world around me, a small but meaningful way that I can help.

So, as I get ready for my next field trip with UNICEF and the documentary crew, my focus is very much on the people I will be meeting on the ground and how we might tell their stories with integrity and sensitivity. We’ll be filming in some challenging environments and will undoubtedly see some confronting scenes. It’s going to be an adventure of a very different kind for me, and I’m both excited and trepidatious. I hope to share the fruits of it with you all later in the year. 🙂

Meantime, here are some of our UNICEF Ambassadors including Ewan McGregor, Michael Sheen and Tom Hiddleston making a powerful plea on behalf of Syrian children:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=un4cZOKFK3M

There’s No Place Like Home. 

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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Adventure Travel

 

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Film Africa – Shooting Starts

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

It’s been a busy week down here in southwest Uganda. After a few weeks of field research and collating some basic bits of camera equipment, we’ve been able to do our first shooting for Film Africa – or “Film Club” as the locals have dubbed it.

On Tuesday, we headed up the mountain on motorbikes for a first meeting with the Batwa tribe near Nkuringo, to broach the idea with them of documenting their culture and way of life on film. I’d always wondered if pygmies really existed – or whether it was just an outdated term for indigenous tribes – but as soon as we met the first Batwa, I realised that at 5″4 I towered above them all! Moments later, we were heading deep into the pocket forest with them for a first taste of how they live. After showing us various medicinal herbs and some “chat” leaves (“These make a very strong drink!”), we went to one of their settlements, where they live in small huts made of mud and leaves and a rather spectacular two-storey treehouse.

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

We then found ourselves huddled in the dark in one of the small huts with all twelve tribe members staring at us expectantly with wide eyes. The moment had come to talk to them about our film project. With the help of Kenneth, our local guide and interpreter, we talked the Batwa through our hopes of capturing their stories and way of life on film. When we said we wanted to get to know them better, they broke into wide smiles, clapped excitedly, and invited us to come back soon to spend a full day and night with them – and they would bring their questions for us to discuss things further. We left on a high, knowing that the first step towards filming with the Batwa was done. A special day indeed and one I will never forget.

One of the local kids plants a tree at the TRees For Life event

One of the local kids plants a tree at the Trees For Life event

Then on Friday, we filmed our first big community event – Trees For Life, a tree-planting event organised by Louise, a fellow volunteer. The whole town of Rubuguri turned out for a day of ceremonial tree-planting, speeches, music and dancing. As usual, the kids stole the show with their colourful costumes and enthusiastic singing as they led everyone down the town’s main street towards the ceremony.

So the Film Africa project is well and truly up and running. It’s been a struggle with limited electricity and minimal equipment but, undeterred, we’re now forging ahead!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Adventure Travel

 

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