By Michelle Kimura
On October 12, 2019, 15 hopeful student filmmakers touched down in Arusha, Tanzania to embark on a two-week journey that redefined my concept of the world as I knew it. Going in, our class knew that we were looking to document the localized impact of the global water crisis. What I didn’t know is how much Tanzania would make me the person I am today.
Witnessing the severity of the global water crisis through my own eyes was jarring, but witnessing how it directly impacted the lives of people I came to know and love was even harder to reconcile. Let me be clear in saying that the goal of our documentary was, and still is, to raise awareness about the global water crisis by amplifying the intimate stories entrusted to us in order to change this world for the better. These are authentic stories of resilience, community, and normalcy. They are depictions of the everyday lives of people living and building community, people who just happen to lack access to clean water. They are human stories filled with the joy, pain, and everything in between that we all experience in our own ways. These are stories that everyone and anyone can connect to in one way or another. Working as a producer was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. The learning curve to succeed in production is steep: it feels like a 90 degree climb straight up a cliff. It was like being thrust into the circus, and you’re the clown—juggling a million different details to drive the project forward and ensuring everyone has what they need to succeed. You’re responsible for keeping morale high and checking in on your crew. For the duration of the project, and especially our two weeks filming, my needs came second because our twofold mission of completing the documentary and raising $90,000 to install solar-powered wells in Malolo and Jamida had to come first. We were pushed to mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual limits, but with the mission in mind, our limits grew — and it all was so worth it. I had the privilege of connecting every part of who I was to every part of the project. With great responsibility came great reward. Tanzania and producing changed the way I think about the world and consequently, my role in it. I am more conscious of my impact as a consumer, and how my actions directly influence downstream effects on communities like Malolo and Jamida, and communities I have yet to even meet. It was beautiful, endearing, heartbreaking, and humbling all at once.
I left a piece of who I was in Tanzania, and came back renewed—the void I carried with me from the tumultuously divisive climate of the United States was filled by the people of Malolo and Jamida, who chose to love on complete strangers who didn’t speak their language with a fierce, unabashed, and unapologetic persistence. They opened their hearts and homes to us without question, and with those open doors, they changed another part of my perspective on the world. Adija, Zeinabu, Miriamu, Tatu, and Neema didn’t look at us and see strangers from a faraway place who didn’t look like them; they saw their friends, family, and community. The value of collectivist culture in Tanzania made it such that we weren’t strangers, we were loved ones. It reminded me what it means to be human: to celebrate and honor the inherent interconnectedness we share, regardless of country or creed.
The challenge presented to us after returning stateside was daunting: how to convey the power and impact of the relationships we built in Tanzania onto the screen. How could we make the average person love Malolo and Jamida as much as we did? How could we poetically lead them to the same conclusion we all reached: everyone should care about the increasingly dire global water crisis. Post production was filled with long nights, early mornings, and many intentional discussions over tiny details the average person likely wouldn’t even notice, but it was fueled by the responsibility we felt to our friends we met in Tanzania to present the most authentic and unfiltered story.
My hope is that after watching our documentary, viewers feel connected to the people of Malolo and Jamida in an almost illogically familial way. It goes against everything about the individualistic culture we’ve been conditioned to see as normal, but in the most genuine way possible, this isn’t a documentary about the lives of strangers halfway across the world, but rather our neighbors in the community of humanity. Their joy is our joy, their pain is our pain, and as the ones standing in the position of privilege and power, I hope this film evokes a sense of personal responsibility to doing our individual part to solve the global water crisis. After seeing the film, I hope that you, too, will think of Adija and Malolo and Jamida often as you go about your version of a normal everyday — I know I do.
p.s. The films ends with a call to the Glass Rose Films’ fundraising mission. I am happy to report that we have successfully reached our $90,000 fundraising goal. Both solar panel wells have been installed in Malolo and Jamida as of July 2020 and November 2020!
ABOUT GLASS ROSE FILMS:
Glass Rose Films is a student-run production company out of Villanova University’s Social Justice Documentary Program. Bringing together 21 students with different backgrounds, the group produced their first documentary short, From the Ground Up, to bring attention to the true value of clean water, and the increasingly dire circumstances of the global water crisis.
SWAHILI is one of the languages spoken in Tanzania. Some of Glass Rose Films favorite Swahili phrases are:
Karibu sana! — A warm welcome
Ansate sana! — Thank you very much
Maji ni uhai — Water is life
If you would like to learn more about Glass Rose Films or to donate, please visit their website.
A viewing of From the Ground Up will kick off tomorrow’s award ceremony at GWA’s 14th Annual Conference. If you haven’t registered, there is still time to sign up here.