Report from the field: FilmAid’s Filmmaker Training Program for Girls in Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya

FilmAid Kenya’s Communication Intern, Sammy Olumola visited Hagadera Refugee Camp, one of six camps in the Dadaab complex. There he met with participants in FilmAid’s Filmmaker Training Program designed exclusively for women and girls.

Dadaab, Kenya – July 23, 2013 – For most Somali girls in Dadaab Refugee Camp, cultural biases are barriers to participation in public life. Women are not allowed to interact freely with men or even speak in public; their voices have been silenced by a male dominated society.

It is the month of Ramadan and I am set to meet a group of 15 Somali girls assembled in a classroom at the Information, Communications and Technology Centre in Hagadera. As I enter the room, Robert Gikunji, a FilmAid staff member and trainer, has already informed the girls of my visit to ask them about their training.

“Why did you join this class?” I asked. The girls are timid, but Halima Mohammed Ali, the class prefect, raises her hand and breaks the ice. “I want to be journalist” she says. Soon more hennaed hands shoot up to contribute to the discussion.

The training targets Somali girls who have completed secondary education to assist in building their future careers in filmmaking and other media professions. The project further seeks to empower the girls by strengthening their self-confidence and social skills.

According to John Kilungu, Manager of FilmAid in Dadaab, strong cultural beliefs have continued to limit the participation of Somali girls who wish to join the Filmmaker Training Program. Some members of the community have often ridiculed those girls who have completed work behind the camera, or engaged in public film activities. The program hopes to encourage active participation by providing a favorable and safe environment for learning.

Since October 2012, the girls have been introduced to a number of topics on cinematography. The majority of their studies focus on scriptwriting and video editing, as such skills do not necessarily require the girls to be shooting films publicly–thus reducing the risk of community backlash.

According to Hussein, member of the Filmmaker Training Program, most people consider the film industry to be dominated by men. She recounts sneaking out of her house to attend film classes because her parents did not approve of her undertaking such a career.

I listen keenly to Robert as he explains how difficult it is for him and the girls to conduct practical lessons in Hagadera. Instead he has to transport the girls, 32km distance to the nearby Girls’ Centre’ in Dagahaley refugee camp. There, Robert can comfortably teach the girls how to handle cameras and film.

"The Girls’ Centre in Dagahaley is a safer place where I can teach them various practical skills of handling a camera. And they also move around freely with the cameras within the Centre,” said Robert.

Built in 1991 to shelter 30,000 refugees fleeing Somalia, Hagadera now houses over 132,000 people, according the UN refugee agency, 60% of whom are women. Despite their huge numbers, Somali women do not have the freedom to speak openly and share their experience even amongst themselves, let alone with the rest of the world. Among others, the International Rescue Committee has been sensitizing refugees in the roles of women and the need to empower women and children. The community has begun to slowly change their perception of women in society. “Before, my parents and relatives would not allow me to leave my home to interact with other people in the community, but now they have started appreciating my contributions in the family. They are very supportive and they give me permission to go out and meet my friends and work.” Fardosa Ali, a facilitator at FilmAid in Hagadera.

“If we get more knowledge, the men in the community will listen and respect us,” said Khadro, a member of the Filmmaker Training Program.

Most of the participants in FilmAid’s training program would like to pursue full-time careers in filmmaking and journalism. The success of the program has drawn significant attention, particularly from local leaders of the surrounding host communities, who live in the vicinity of Dadaab refugee camps. As a result, some are insisting on being consulted during the recruitment process of new members.

Since its introduction in February 2009, over 60 people have been trained in the Filmmaker Training Program. Thirty-five are currently undergoing training: ten people from the host community, ten boys and 15 girls from the refugee communities. As part of the training, FilmAid has invited Visiting Training Artists to Dadaab to train participants on specialized areas of filmmaking such as lighting, script writing, editing, directing and casting. 

Meanwhile, FilmAid is in the process of forming an alumni association of all the program’s graduates. The Filmmaker Training Program alumni association will be run by the members and will offer further trainings as a form of income generation to the group.

As the program’s participant’s increase, the main challenge becomes one of limited resources. The students are forced to share a camera, an editing machine and other production equipment, which has resulted in less time dedicated to practical lessons.

Consequently, FilmAid has decentralized its activities to different camps in Dadaab complex to allow wider participation in the program’s activities. For instance, the Filmmaker Training Program is based in Hagadera; the print media project (The Refugee Newsletter) is based in Dagahaley; and the participatory video project is based at IFO refugee camp.

The Filmmaker Training Program in Hagadera has changed the lives of many refugees already. Robert and his colleagues at FilmAid in Dadaab hope that this initiative will inspire behavioral change amongst Somali communities to allow more girls to freely pursue filmmaking careers.

FilmAid thanks the many supporters who make the program possible, including contributors to Slashfilm's campaign earlier in 2013.