Visiting Teaching Artist

My Start - From Kakuma to London

My Start Project - Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya


My Start is a collaborative, creative Arts project working with Film Aid International. Since August 2012 My Start has run a series of Art, photography and film workshops in refugee camps each summer. These workshops encourage young refugees to share their experiences through the arts. The workshops teach practical skills, encourage creative expression and bring together the various ethnic and tribal refugee and host communities to work in a fun and dynamic way. 

Kakuma workshop

Kakuma workshop

Kakuma workshop

Kakuma workshop

United Kingdom

The art work produced at the camp is then exhibited in London schools. It acts as a powerful, visual resource that can be used across the curriculum to support learning on global issues. Issues such as conflict and conflict resolution, displacement and migration as well as promoting peace, tolerance and empathy. The exhibition encourages British students to share and discuss their own views on immigration, forced migration and refugees and challenges misconceptions and existing perspectives.

The student response was fantastic and thoroughly engaging
— Alex Costello, Art teacher, Park View School, UK.
                                                 London workshop

                                                 London workshop

The British schools are encouraged to create response work including their own visual diaries and messages for the refugees at Kakuma. This work is then taken back and exhibited at the camp the following summer.  My Start is an inspiring project that brings local and international communities together through the arts.

Creating the Mural - Kakuma Refugee Camp

If you would like to support the work of My Start and their projects with FilmAid International then please contact Tania and Amy or visit My Start's Facebook page.;




FilmAid's Research, Learning and Outreach

Ilana Sackler-Berner spent three weeks in Kenya working with FilmAid’s Outreach and Research and Learning teams in Nairobi and Kakuma. Here she reflects on her time with FilmAid.

This February, I had the incredible fortune of working with FilmAid in Nairobi and visiting Kakuma Refugee Camp.  I live and work in New York City as a public health professional.  This was my first trip to Africa.  I plan to return!

FilmAid delivers media content in Kakuma and Dadaab that is designed to inform refugees about critical issues affecting their lives (from health education to human rights, conflict resolution to economic empowerment) and to provide psychosocial relief.  In order to show that these programs have a practical impact on the lives of refugees, FilmAid conducts ongoing research to monitor and evaluate the reach, quality, and outcomes of programs.  I worked with FilmAid to design an approach to do just this.  Maybe not glamorous work (I love it anyways!!), but essential for continued and future funding.           

In Kakuma, I had the pleasure of conducting a training for the refugee facilitators of FilmAid’s Video Workshop Series.  These wonderful women and men are inspiring.  They are leaders. They are knowledgeable about the issues facing their communities, and skilled in delivering critical messages and facilitating engaging discussions.  They are kind, open-minded, and work hard to make a difference every day.  I am in awe of them.       

While in Kakuma, I attended an evening screening in the new arrivals section of the camp.  What a magical experience.  I think now I understand what FilmAid means by ‘the power of film.’  It is difficult to describe the emotion I felt in that moment.    

I am back in the United States now and I have taken many moments to ‘evaluate the impact’ my time in Kenya had on me personally.  I have no doubt it has changed me for the better.  I’d like to thank FilmAid’s staff in Kenya for being such wonderful hosts, teachers, and friends.  A very special thank you to Mordecai, FilmAid's Research and Learning Officer.  It was an absolute pleasure working with you.

Making Music in Kakuma

This February, Michael Sackler-Berner together with his wife Ilana (see her post here) spent one week in Kakuma with FilmAid staff. Michael brought state-of-the-art sound equipment and conducted workshops with FilmAid staff and students. Here is his account of the week!

Flying to Kakuma can be misleading. Though the plane I took was chartered and run by the World Food Programme and headed to a massive refugee camp hours from any city, it felt much like a standard commuter plane, complete with drink cart and flight attendants. It took only a few minutes upon arrival to realize it was no usual puddle jumper.

Kakuma is in the desert and the only real road signs I noticed as we approached the camp were those pointing to NGO compounds.  The armed, gated compounds are tucked inside a surprisingly large city of small, dusty homes.  Some homes are mud brick with metal roofs, others are tarp relief tents, and none have flooring or plumbing. 

The tremendously bumpy roads and paths the NGO land cruisers use to get around led us right to FilmAid’s offices. I clutched my guitar and bag hoping the recording gear inside wouldn't be damaged in this last leg of my two-day journey from Brooklyn to Kenya.

After a warm welcome from FilmAid’s field staff, I found myself in a small community building just past the new arrivals check-in point, with a generator pumping outside.  Within a few hours, microphones were set up, software installed, and monitors blasting. I would spend the next four days in this building with refugee and host community musicians, FilmAid audio staff, and countless refugees who would hear music and wander through to see what was going on. Outside the studio window was a latrine and a road where goats would occasionally wander by, munching on garbage that lines the paths. 

Time, which has a way of moving at light speed in New York, moves mighty slowly in a refugee camp. Refugees from every corner of the region live in Kakuma, from years to decades, with no ability to work and nowhere to go. It is not unusual to see someone spend a whole day under a tree, resting, with nothing to do. So anything to do, particularly something creative that results in a final product, is much needed psychological relief. It is met with open arms, excitement and preparation. 

Every morning, I worked with 4 or 5 artists, rappers, and singers to write a song. Every afternoon, we tracked the tune. When I work in professional co-writing sessions in New York or Nashville, it often takes hours before the writers find a new way of saying something meaningful enough to consider the words "lyric." Not in Kakuma. The artists have a lot to say and it is right on the surface.

The opportunity to be heard is a rare treat for these artists. They live difficult lives in arguably some of the toughest of conditions.  No time I spent with them was ever wasted or taken for granted. Questions, ideas, titles, melodies, beats, and lyric were constantly flowing from the 8:30am car ride to the studio, until the generator ran out of gas after our final playback around 6:00pm.

I never could've anticipated the wealth of talent FilmAid’s outreach staff was able to find.  Everything I’d heard about African rhythm was true and there seemed to be a gold mine of incredible singers and rappers with something important to say. They also have fantastic stage names – Smart, Diddy Stone, Afisa, King Moses, Fire Man, etc. FilmAid’s staff audio producers, Victor K. and Abdul, have the skills and gear to make fantastic and meaningful records for years to come.  Their passion for making records was deeply refreshing.

I could go on for days about the artist’s individual talents, heartbreaking stories, hopeful dreams, and plentiful skills, but I will let their music do the talking. With the help of FilmAid, they have a microphone that has the potential to not just bring them moments of joy when it is needed, but with any luck, and a touch of musical magic, bring their stories to the world.

Designs for Change

You may remember the name George Odenyo from his piece on the 2012 World Refugee Day and FilmAid Film Festival. But did you know he was a talented graphic designer too?

George's unique poster, focusing on breastfeeding as part of a maternal health campaign, was selected for the África Gráfica exhibit at the Tenerife Design Festival. The Tenerife Design Festival, held in Spain since 2009, presents designs in an innovative way based on three key concepts; local identity, landscape contrast and tourism. These concepts are the starting point for establishing synergies between local factors and international proposals, consolidating design as tool of change and economic stimulus. 

The focus this year was on Africa as an aesthetic reference, as an inexhaustible source of ideas and a potent hotbed of new proposals in the field of design. As proof, the festival showcased innovative projects that had a philosophy of, "change the world through creativity."

George was mentored in the design process by Isaiah King, one of FilmAid's recent Visiting Teaching Artists who met George when they were both working with FilmAid in Kakuma refugee camp in August. George has been an intern with FilmAid in Kakuma for the last few months but has now returned to Nairobi to finish his Bachelor of Science degree in communications and public relations at Moi University.

Although organisers had not intended to exhibit student work, after being introduced to George's incredible piece by Isaiah, they decided to make an exception. George shares the wall with Isaiah King's thought provoking designs and with many world renowned designers including Chaz Maviyane-Davies from Zimbabwe.  

Kakuma Design Workshop

"My students were incredibly talented with many powerful stories to tell. It was my hope to give them new tools of visual communication to add to their skill sets."

Isaiah King and Larianna Krysak, our talented Visiting Teaching Artists, have recently returned from two weeks volunteering in Kakuma and Nairobi. 

While there, Isaiah ran creative workshops for FilmAid production staff and refugee youth film makers, and Larianna ran workshops on project planning, leadership and communications.

Isaiah's creative workshops in Kakuma involved a range of creative design tools and methods including, graphic design with an eye on film making, storyboard development, typography, title design and animation.

The FilmAid crew in Kakuma reports that it was a treat to have such talented and multi-skilled artists on board. " It was great to have the workshops. You should see some of the designs that are now coming through from the kids! " 

To view some of the work that was created in the design workshop, you can enjoy Isaiah's reel here - Kakuma Design Workshop Reel

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.

FilmAid and The Joy Formidable “A Heavy Abacus”

This entry has been reposted from The Fader

Filmmakers Paola Mendoza and Topaz Adizes spent a month volunteering for nonprofit group FilmAid as visiting teaching artists in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. While there, they got inspired to shoot a video inside the camp, based around Welsh band The Joy Formidable‘s single “A Heavy Abacus.”

The video is a beautifully vivid portrait of young Sudanese refugees, a tribute to the strength and resilience of kids whose lives are in limbo. “So often refugees are forgotten because the problem seems too overwhelming,” the directors have stated. “This is an attempt to shake us out of our complacency and recognize the power that is in every one of us to help make the world better.” Impressively, the video was shot in just three days, using one camera, two light reflectors and an iPhone. It’s FilmAid’s first music video, released in support of World Refugee Day on June 20th.