When an American film crew went to Samfya, a city in Northeast Zambia, in 2003, their intention was to allow the native women an opportunity to share their daily lives in Sub-Saharan Africa to others. It was a chance those young women might not otherwise get.
The end result is the documentary, Where Water Meets The Sky, from the same producers behind the 2005 documentary March of the Penguins. The African film was funded by Campaign for Female Education (Camfed), a charitable organization founded in 1993 to educate girls in Africa.
The film, narrated by Academy Award winner actor Morgan Freeman, follows the two filmmakers as they set out looking for young women who are willing to talk about, and film, their daily lives. In all, 23 women participated.
They travel to a local high school of 1700 students, where they find seven girls willing to talk. They find two more at a market, where the women are paid less than a dollar a day. Finally, they find seven women from a fishing community, the poorest in Zambia. The filmmakers gave the girls a camera and microphone, the first time many of them had ever seen either.
Next, they try to convince the young girls to talk. This was no small feat, as it is tradition for women in these areas never to speak their mind. They were shy and nervous in the beginning, as each told their story of being forced into early marriages or their inability to attend school. It quickly became evident, though, that while from different communities, there was one path most all the girls had traveled – a road that caused them to experience the death of their parents due to AIDS. They all agreed this disease was the biggest problem in their communities, forcing the orphans left behind to become street kids.
One of the young women, Penelop, spoke of her parents and sister who died from the AIDS virus. The documentary paid extra focus on her story, which included her involvement in prostitution because of hunger and extreme hardship. She recalls after her parent’s death that her sister sold all of their belongings for food. When there was no longer any property, she sold her body. The young girls usually contract the disease from the male who refuses to use protection. The girls then pass it on to their babies.
The documentary has been shown in screenings worldwide and is also available to organizations and schools through Camfed. Last Saturday, a screening took place in Oak Park, organized by high school students there looking to raise money for women in Africa.
James Bell, a teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School, had initially planned to have the 25 girls in his women’s literature class do individual projects for their final grade. But when the students told him they wanted to work as a team, he agreed.
“The girls made a suggestion and I thought it sounded pretty good and I think I’m going to implement the idea of a final group project for all classes to come,” Bell said.
For their final grade, the girls developed their own organization, Students for Equal Education (SEE) to raise awareness on women’s education. They designed and hand-printed T-shirts that they sold in their school. They’ve raised more than $1000 so far, and their group has been recognized as an official affiliate of CamFed. The girls hosted two screenings of the documentary at the Oak Park Art League. Student Hannah Zeller, 17, said her group’s main focus initially was on literacy.
“The fact that it turned into sort of an AIDS campaign just goes hand in hand with Africa. But it’s still about literacy,” she said. “If you educate the girls, then that changes everything.”