Light in the Shadows - By Hannah Kendi. FilmAid Kenya, Finance Officer

It's my third week in Kakuma and I am loving it. I have always wanted to be a humanitarian; it has always been like a thirst and something I felt I needed to do. I never really knew why, until FilmAid, actually, until I went to Kakuma. This is when I understood the real meaning behind what I do, why FilmAid works here, and why I needed to be a part of an organization like FilmAid. 

Hannah Kendi, Kakuma 2015

Hannah Kendi, Kakuma 2015

February 17, 2015: Field trip day.

Our first stop was the new arrivals camp. The first thing I noticed was that the facilitators were refugees themselves.  Here my colleagues and outreach facilitators were showing a film to a group of extremely attentive women on HIV and AIDS and thereafter conducting an amazing question and answer session.  My love story with FilmAid was just beginning. 

Issuing certificates to a women's group after completing a Health Course, Kakuma 2015

Issuing certificates to a women's group after completing a Health Course, Kakuma 2015

The second stop on our tour of Kakuma was a FilmAid journalism class.  FilmAid had a trainer taking these young men and women through the basics of journalism. I felt the hope in that class, the curiosity and the hunger for more knowledge. I am very passionate about the youth and education and it brought me to tears. It was amazing to learn that the journalism class gets fully involved in ideas and stories for FilmAid’s ‘The Refugee Magazine’.  I was completely blown away.

Next we visited a children’s event and screening.  A screen was set up showing cartoons to around two hundred excited children. This was probably the first chance for many of the children to watch cartoons. In some instances the first time in their lives.  It was wonderful to see their excited faces, hear their laughter and see the enthusiasm in answering questions after the screening. FilmAid gives the chance of normalcy to refugees at every opportunity.

February 29, 2015: My first evening screening.

A huge truck with a screen attached projected a children’s cartoon followed by a story about Cholera. The story was so simple yet so effective in its message. After this a movie was shown that was clearly enjoyed by everyone judging from the laugher and cheers in the nighttime crowds. Education, laughter, hope, teamwork and inspiration all rolled into one. There was literally light in the shadows.

Chivas Regal 

Chivas Regal 

FilmAid -  Projecting Hope, Changing lives. Using the power of film in promoting health, strengthening communities and enriching lives.

Every day I am in awe of the FilmAid team. Everyone is working so hard, co-operating, always on the move. My heart melts every time I watch our incentive staff in action. Talent, passion, hard work, energy and the biggest smiles on their faces. They work hard every day with over fifty activities every week and still, they love it. It’s about the impact, and FilmAid giving them the opportunity to showcase their excellence despite everything they have gone through. This is what Hope is about.

I hear the heat will go to my head soon and that this spark in my eyes will fade eventually. I doubt it. The spark appeared in my heart the minute I landed here in Kakuma. I am too busy falling in love with my job that I don’t even think about the heat. I walk around like a girl with new found love. Completely dazed. 


If you'd like to support FilmAid's training courses, media projects and mobile cinema screenings you can donate here.

FilmAid Screenings in Jordan, 2015

#WithSyria screening, March 2014

#WithSyria screening, March 2014

As the prolonged conflict in Syria moves into its fifth year, over 3.9 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. This number continues to rise daily. 

The #WithSyria campaign began on the third anniversary of the conflict. In March 2014, FilmAid International traveled to Jordan's Za'atari Refugee Camp, close to the Syrian border, to host a screening of the Palm d'Or-winning film, Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon) to an audience of Syrian refugees.

FilmAid is now back in Jordan one year later to conduct a Mobile Cinema Screening series for women, children and youth within rural and urban areas of Jordan.  

Children take part in a discussion after educational screening, March 2015 

Children take part in a discussion after educational screening, March 2015 

FilmAid has partnered up with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children to deliver critical health and protection messages to over 1,000 Syrian refugees who have been forced to flee their country. As well as screening educational content, we also show films for entertainment, which provide much-needed joy and psychological relief for communities that have gone through extraordinary trauma. In addition, events like our Mobile Cinema Screenings enhance community cohesion.

During the screenings, youth and children have been able to take part in facilitated community-based discussions. Some children have already expressed their wishes and aspirations to continue their studies, and discussed the problems and challenges they face daily in the refugee camp.

We would like to thank Greyscale Films for their help to make the screenings possible, as well as the other coalition partners, UNHCR and Save the Children. 

If you'd like to support FilmAid's program in Jordan, please visit our Donate page and help us continue to bring life-saving information and hope to Syrian refugees. 

Tread Carefully: Mine Awareness in Southeast Asia

Tread Carefully filming in action

FilmAid’s work on the Thai-Myanmar Border, reaches thousands of refugees with its on-going screenings.  Audience figures stand at well over 500,000 viewings.

In 2013, FilmAid was more than willing to partner with Handicap International - now called Humanity & Inclusion - to provide a vital public service and information dissemination.

Our mission, to inform those who live in the 9 Shelter Camps how to avoid life threatening contact with land mines and ERWs (explosive remnants of war) and what to do if you encounter them.  More than 3,000 people have been killed or injured along the Thai-Myanmar border as a result of these in recent years. In fact, across the entirety of this 2,000 kilometre-long border, it is estimated 70 per cent of the ground has been sown with mines.

In order to pass on this information, FilmAid produced Tread Carefully. This 50-minute film tells the story of two young brothers and the care they must take to arrive safely at their grandfather’s village on the other side of the mountain.

After two months of script development, casting, location scouting and rehearsals, refugee filmmakers jumped into filming. Conditions were difficult - 100-degree heat, a time consuming relocation after the set burnt down, and a production that hobbled along when the main actor sprained his ankle. But refugee filmmakers learned that it’s all part of the process.FilmAid’s mine risk education film Tread Carefully has now been screening in all 9 camps along the border as part of a campaign to prevent land mine accidents. Reports say it will take over 50 years to clear the land mines along the border, but the impact of our film and outreach efforts alongside Handicap International will undoubtedly have a lasting positive impact.  Tread Carefully has received over 106,590 viewings in all nine camps.

In 2018, the FilmAid team will be working on a new short film with the MRE team.

In order to find out more about our ongoing programs in Thailand, follow us onTwitter and Facebook

FilmAid at Fifteen

Fifteen years ago, as I lay in bed, listening to morning radio, my heart ached from the tales of children languishing in refugee camps. I had been following the plight of the Kosovar refugees for months: each image and story intensifying my desire to do something, anything.  

The radio report detailed the emotional trauma, boredom, uncertainty, and the high toll that war extracts from innocent, displaced peoples – especially women and children. Key necessities, like food, medicine, and shelter were being delivered by aid agencies; but people were still left in a state of fear and hopelessness. As a professional filmmaker, I wondered if movies could provide some psychological relief, and with that thought, a door to the complex world of humanitarian aid cracked open, I stepped through and FilmAid was born.

The original idea was to hold outdoor screenings to feed the imagination and the soul while providing life-saving messages on the big screen. I assembled a crew of committed volunteers and a stash of films. Six weeks later, I was on my way to Macedonia, armed with what would become FilmAid’s first Mobile Cinema - a generator, projectors, and screens loaded into the back of a truck. FilmAid's experience in Macedonia and Kosovo successfully proved the power of the big screen: films restore hope and provide education and inspiration.


Over the years, FilmAid has brought the power of film to millions of refugees and displaced persons, in environments as diverse as Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, Nairobi slums, New Orleans, the Thailand-Myanmar border, Afghanistan, Haiti and most recently Jordan.  Our programs now include participatory filmmaking, skills training, facilitated video workshops, mass awareness campaigns, and mentoring to help refugees achieve their dreams.

Despite FilmAid’s successes, sadly, we all still wake up to stories of people fleeing their homes. They are driven from safety and comfort by human cruelty or natural disasters. Civil wars, conflict and genocide leave millions homeless around the world. Three years into Syria’s civil war over 9 million people have been forced to flee their homes. The ongoing turmoil in South Sudan continues to displace people into neighboring countries. The global refugee situation is becoming more urgent than ever before. We need your help to continue and expand our work.

Fifteen years ago, a radio report caused me to get up and start this journey. Please support us by donating nowYour generosity will help us educate, empower and inspire refugees displaced by conflict and natural disaster from South Sudan to Syria and Thailand to Colombia. Let me paraphrase philosopher Bertrand Russell when he described his three simple passions: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and the compassion for the suffering of mankind. These continue to drive me and so many others to do what we can to ease the pain of others. FilmAid embodies this universal human spirit and is deeply committed to projecting hope and giving voice to those whose voices are rarely heard.

Thank you for your continued support. We couldn’t do this work without you!

Caroline Baron,
Founder, FilmAid International


Stand #WithSyria on Third Anniversary of Conflict

As balloons surround the little boy and whisk him away across the skyline, the enraptured audience of young Syrian children breaks into cheers and applause.  And so ends the FilmAid screening of the Palm d'Or-winning film, Le Ballon Rouge ("The Red Balloon") bringing much needed joy to children displaced by the ongoing tragedy in Syria nearly 60 years after its production.

I am writing to you from Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan on the third anniversary of the conflict in Syria.  A conflict that has seen nearly half the country's population forced to flee from their homes and that has claimed over 100,000 lives.  Today, FilmAid joined a global coalition of over 100 NGOs and charities that are coming together to mark this anniversary with a call for solidarity and hope.

Candle-lit vigils and the release of red balloons, inspired by street artist Banksy's reworking of his iconic "girl with a red balloon" image are taking place around the world, from Trafalgar Square in London, to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, Moscow and Paris. Close to Syria’s border, in Za'atari refugee camp, children displaced by the conflict also participated in the #WithSyria campaign by releasing balloons and watching the film.

As you can imagine, it was an incredibly moving event and I'm very proud that FilmAid could be involved. This was our first activity in support of Syrian refugees, however, I hope it is not the last. Over the coming weeks and months we will be looking at how we can provide information and empowerment to the millions that have been displaced by the ongoing conflict.

Please support FilmAid as we stand #WithSyria at this crucial moment. Post on Facebook or Tweet a message of support. Visit to learn more.

I'd like to thank Films Distribution for their help to make the screening possible as well as the other coalition partners, including Save the Children, Oxfam, Norwegian Refugee Council, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Arab Network for NGO Development and the Permanent Peace Movement.

-- Simon Goff, Executive Director

Guests Attend FilmAid Asia Screening of "Plastic Oceans"


Last night FilmAid Asia and long term supporters Moet & Chandon and The Upper House teamed up to host an exclusive cocktail and screening of "Plastic Oceans" - a documentary that unveils the catastrophic impact of disposable plastic on the environment.

Approximately 50 guests were able to preview the highly anticipated film and seek insight from Film Producer, Jo Ruxton, and Chief Conservations Officer, Cynthia Phillips, PHD, on solutions to the global plastic disaster.

To view the film yourself, please contact

FilmAid Welcomes Mortal Instruments Cast at Exclusive Hong Kong Screening in Aid of Asia Programs

On Saturday 31st August, FilmAid Asia collaborated with HUGO BOSS to host an exclusive screening of the Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, with actors Jamie Campbell Bower and Godfrey Gao (seen above with Gerrit Ruetzel, CEO and president of HUGO BOSS Hong Kong) in attendance.

Over 600 tickets were sold in aid of the charity with over 200 of the tickets being donated to Project Share, providing underprivileged children the chance to not only see the movie, but meet their favorite stars in person.  

Well attended by media, fans, and celebrities alike, the event was a great success and saw funds raised for FilmAid Asia's regional projects which include compelling campaigns to raise landmine awareness and combat human trafficking. 

FilmAid Asia would like to thank all our generous sponsors and supporters for helping to make the day such a success and we look forward to welcoming Jamie and Godfrey, both members of the Global Artists Council, back for the next instalment of the Mortal Instruments!

Jamie Campbell Bower and some young guests

Refugee Filmmakers Shine at Film Festival

When people talk about refugees and life in the camps, the image that comes to mind is what the news channels have been feeding us over the years. Malnourished children, endless fights, hunger, tents not worth living in and general harsh environmental conditions. As much as this could be true, what we never realize is that within this camp, ordinary lives are going on! Children are born and go to schools, talents are nurtured, businesses are thriving, and boys are hitting on girls… You know, the usual stuff that happens in any other modern society.

“We always forget that these people have talents and are just human beings like any others” Says Duc Mallard, a 19 year old Burundian refugee filmmaker now living in Kakuma. Duc was speaking at the closing ceremony of the recently concluded FilmAid Film Festival at Alliance Française in Nairobi where his film “Kakuma can Dance” received the award for best documentary film.

A passionate dancer, musician and filmmaker, Duc Mallard was able to bring these three elements together in his short documentary Kakuma Can Dance. This video portrays the life of young refugees who are not only obsessed by hip hop dancing but use the dance for recreation and as a way of interacting among themselves. All they want is a chance to be able to showcase their skills against those of Kenyans at the national level.

Speaking during a discussion panel in Nairobi, Duc together with renowned Kenyan film and TV producers; Judy Kibinge and Mburugu Gikunda, talked about how they hope the films would portray various aspects of life in the camps and break down some of the stigma attached to refugee life.  The panelists were drawn from the media, human rights groups, UN refugee agency (UNHCR), academia, film industry and the refugee community. The audiences engaged in lively discussions and Q&A sessions on topics such as: media and human rights, displaced persons, xenophobia, racism and tribalism

Mohammed Sheikh Bashir is a budding journalist, blogger and Filmmaker who has been living in Dadaab since 1991 when he was the age of 4. His documentary film “Pesa” saw him bag the prestigious award for best director from Dadaab. His film is about a character called Pesa who has lived in a rural village all his life. He understands bartering to be the way of life, as no other form of currency exists in the village. When he decides to move to an urban town, Pesa must come face-to-face and understand the true value of money.

Also screening from Dadaab were: “Ibramina” and “Towards the Light” by Hassan Jimale; “Shattered and Restored” by Fu’ad Abdi Affey and “Lacag (Pesa)” by award-winner, Mohamed Bashir Shiek, for best director.

The line-up from Kakuma included: “Love Worthy Suicide” by Akolom Fredrick; “Larme (Tears)” directed by John Thomas; “Ayang (Hero)” by Majok Mabil; “The Edge” by Ebenyo William Eloto  and “Bitter Tears” directed by Lowot John Peter.

The FilmAid Film Festival is an annual event that provides a platform to the young and talented filmmakers living in and around Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya to be able to showcase their work in the community as well as national and global level. These youth undertake a one-year film-training program where they are taught basic skills in filmmaking after which they produce their own films. The FilmAid Filmmaker Training Program is a youth and media arts program that targets young refugees from the surrounding host communities with media training that equips them to use media for social good.

This year, the seventh run of the FilmAid Film Festival was held over one week  (12-16 August) in Kakuma and Dadaab, and three days (21-23 August) in Nairobi’s informal settlements of Mathare and Kibera, and at Alliance Française. The festival showcased 16 refugee films and 6 foreign entry submissions under the theme “The Right to Tell Our Stories”.

Speaking to local journalists in Dadaab, John Kilungu, (Programs Manager, FilmAid Dadaab) said, this years` theme provides the youth with an opportunity to tell their stories in their own voices to the rest of the world. “Unfortunately most of the content shown in Dadaab is predominantly from local and international media that is mostly shaped to fit a particular audience and therefore we hope that the event will help increase local content for people leaving in Dadaab” he added.

The featured international entries were an award-winning collection from the USA, Rwanda, Sweden, India and the UK. These films were “Finding Hillywood” by Leah Warshawski & Chris Towey; “The Last Day” by Siddartha Gigoo, “A Testimony” by Marta Lefler, “Rain is Beautiful” by Marc Silver & Nick Francis, “Nickel City Smiler” directed by Scott Murchie & Brett Williams and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” directed by Benh Zeitlin.

Fresh from its success at Cannes and Sundance film festivals, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” took the premier spot in the screenings in Dadaab, Kakuma and Nairobi. This daring, atmospheric and richly textured film, is shot through with raw emotion in a forgotten but defiant bayou community that has been cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee. The ten-year-old protagonist, Hushpuppy, exists on the brink of orphan hood, buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination; she believes that the natural world is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm transforms her reality. Desperate to bring order back to her world by saving her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive unstoppable catastrophes of epic proportions. Check out the trailer here.

In the camps, the festival consisted of much more than mere screenings, students from the Filmmaker Training Program, together with FilmAid staff held several filmmaking clinics where eager youth were introduced to the basic skills of handling a camera, shooting and given tips in video editing. This helped to encourage more people to sign up to be a part of the next generation of young FilmAid filmmakers.

In addition, a team from My Start Project from the UK, held a two-week workshop in Kakuma to teach young students skills in filmmaking, painting, drawing and photography to help them express their stories in more creative ways.

Ismail Shallis, a member of My Start says, the complete art works are taken back and exhibited in schools in Europe and America, so that the kids in those countries can learn about the life of a refugee in the camps and hopefully to remove some of the stigma in the West about what is it like to be a refugee.

“Young people in the camps have limited opportunity for creative expression, which is crucial for young people who have lived through distressing experiences and face uncertain futures” said Tania and Amy Campbell Golding, Co-founders of My Start.

At the closing gala, residents of Kakuma were treated to an electric performance by one of Kenya’s rising hip-hop stars, Octopizzo. Among others singles Octopizzo sang, Ivo Ivo, Swag, BilaMic, and Mama, his favorite hit. During his three-day visit in Kakuma, Octopizzo met with the music artists living in the camps where he encouraged them to work hard, continue their art, and overcome the challenges their environment presents.  Meanwhile, Octopizzo is planning to produce a music video in Kakuma, which will include some of the talented music artists living in the camp.

We would like to thank our wonderful audiences during our mass out-door evening screenings in Kibera and Mathare Informal settlements. Special thanks to the filmmakers, panelists, Chris Cooper our projectionist!, Charles Otieno for braving the heat in the discussion panels!! And OCTOPIZZO for his electric performances and great hits .We are most grateful to U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Population, Refugees (BPRM), and Movies that MatterMy Start and UNHCR for supporting us!

Looking forward to a bigger and better FilmAid Film Festival 2014!

Success in Kakuma: Another Report from Kenya

This blog entry has been reposted from Mountain FilmStash Wislocki, the producer of Mountainfilm in Telluride, is in Kenya right now with FilmAid. This is his second installment from his experience. ( Read his first report from Kakuma Refugee Camp.)

We left Kakuma Refugee Camp this morning after an intense two weeks of helping the FilmAid students and staff produce the 2012 FilmAid Kakuma Film Festival. By all accounts, it was a success.

At night, we moved about, screening films in the different camps. The students worked hard, and it paid off with fantastic shows and great attendance. Everyone loved the student films. These screenings left me impressed by the powerful impact of FilmAid's work.

As I leave Kakuma, I realize that the refugees, especially the students, have taught me far more than I taught them. The takeaway lesson from this trip is that if these people can be optimistic in this place, then I have no reason to ever be pessimistic. Conditions here are always dusty and insanely hot, and the refugees live on scant food rations. Everyone at Kakuma is here because of extreme circumstances: I’ve met children whose parents were killed in war, kids who were soldiers and people fleeing famine. Despite being pushed to the brink, the FilmAidand students are cheerful and sweet. Most of them cling to the hope that someday they will get relocated to America.

Yes, the American dream hasn’t lost its lure, and it’s actually refreshing to feel proud to be an American. Our taxpayer dollars are hard at work here. Funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health and Human Services are being well used. Workers from the U.N. and the States say that the U.S. takes more refugees from here than any other country (and could take even more if they could cut through the U.N. red tape).

With a heavy heart, I said goodbye to all of my new friends at Kakuma and am now in in Nairobi, working at the FilmAid office and, hopefully, headed soon to the Kibera slum.

Here’s a recent video made by the Kakuma FilmAid refugee students and another the students helped make a few months ago. They rock. We will upload films from the festival when we get a faster Internet connection.

A Story from Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya


About eight years ago I traveled to a refugee camp for the first time. This was Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, by then home to about 100,000 refugees, majority of them from South Sudan, with a significant number from Somalia, Ethiopia and the Great Lakes region. By then, my perception of the refugee camp had been informed by images that I had mostly consumed from the media. I saw the emaciated malnourished children and depressed adults as were filtered through my television screens. I saw people without hope, stripped off any vestiges of humanity, waiting to be either helped or to die. So as I made my flight from Nairobi to Kakuma refugee camp, that is what I expected to find.


Among the first refugees I encountered was a Congolese man called Michael. And as is wont with most Congolese men, he took great pride in how he dressed. His shirt was elegantly ironed out and neatly tucked into his trouser. His black shoes, though they were starting to get covered by a layer of Kakuma dust, was apparent that they had been well polished earlier in the morning. I sensed a whiff of cologne around him and noticed that he had a clean cut. All that was missing from him was a tie and he might as well have been working in a corporate office in Nairobi city. His face was lit with a welcoming smile, and with optimism and hope, confidence and expectation. On the contrast, I had faded jeans on, a simple t-shirt and shoes that looked that they had seen better days. My face was lit with hesitation, and betrayed someone who was not too sure what to expect. From that point, it was obvious that I was beginning my re-education.


Yes, it is true that there is disease, hunger and malnutrition in refugee camps, just as there is in other parts of rural Africa, or in slums around the big cities of the world. Yes, it is true that I met eyes that betrayed despair, eyes that I have seen in lots of other places as well. As I worked and developed friendships with refugees over the years, I slowly learned that there were absolutely no differences between refugees and ‘others’ in terms of their aspirations, dreams and ambitions. I met a lot of young men and women like Michael, those that dreamed of becoming doctors and teachers and models, some who played football and basketball every evening and dreamed of being sport stars. I met poets and actors and music composers. I met men and women who ran small businesses, provided services to their communities and wanted to soak in all the knowledge they could muster. The only differences is that unlike you and I who face our struggles in either our natural environments, or environments that we choose to, these are people who have been forced to flee their homes and pursue their aspirations in foreign places. But one thing they all wanted was to leave the refugee camps and go back home. And the best way people like me can help them is to sustain that hope that they will get back home some day – and make sure we never force someone else to flee their home.

Charles Otieno Hongo is Technical Adviser at FilmAid, Kenya.

FilmAid’s screening series and filmmaker training project targets refugees and their host communities in refugee camps and urban areas across Kenya, with the aim of easing ethnic, racial and cultural tension and conflict by creating opportunities for young refugees and non-refugees to tell their stories.

FilmAid is one of the winners of the 2013 Intercultural Innovation Award. 

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