Lindsay Branham Helps Child Soldiers Find Home Again

 We’re giving 50% of our online sales for one month to Lindsay’s Mobile Cinema project. Shop here.Lindsay Branham, Ember Hero

Shooting was stalled, and Lindsay Branham and her team of New York filmmakers were stuck in a village in the struggling and beautiful Republic of South Sudan. Their production schedule demanded action, but local government officers were threatening to shut them down completely. They had come to film a story about an abducted child soldier returning home, not for Sundance or box office glory, but as a tool to help people in Central Africa recover from the very real abductions and violence they had endured at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

“In the shadowlands of pain and despair we find slow, dark beauty,” wrote Irish Poet John O’Donohue, in a quote Lindsay shared with me by email. “Beauty,” he continued, “triumphs over the suffering inherent in life.” In the LRA’s ongoing brutality in Central Africa, Lindsay found staggering depths of pain. She brought the film crew to capture the triumph of reconciliation and healing, of beauty, and to help it along.

The LRA is notorious for abducting children and forcing them to commit violent acts against their own families and communities. Lindsay and her partners, including the Congolese organization SAIPED, create beautiful short films that capture these traumas, and that illustrate a path to recovery. Together with techniques like role playing and community discussion, these films help people, families, and communities navigate the emotional minefield of losing their children and, sometimes, seeing theme escape and return home. She calls it the Mobile Cinema project, and she created it as part of her work with Discover the Journey, a non-profit network of media makers and storytellers that works to change the lives of children in conflict.

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“After the very last meeting, when we were told we would not be able to continue the project, I walked out to our car and finally just cried,” said Lindsay. They had already cast villagers for the film, and she felt that she was letting them down, along with their whole community.

When she got back to the village she called a community meeting with the cast to break the news. One by one, cast members expressed their sadness. Samson, the young teenage boy who’d been cast in the lead role, started to cry. His brother had been abducted by the LRA and was still missing, he said. He saw his role in the film as a way to honor his brother by helping others who’d been through his trauma.

“To make meaning from [pain] was something sacred,” said Lindsay, “and I hadn’t seen that or predicted how deeply people would want that until we were there sitting in the grass saying we were leaving.”

They had eleven days left for a shoot that needed three weeks. The next morning they flew from South Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo and started auditions that afternoon. “Thankfully,” said Lindsay, “the actors we ended up working with in Congo showed the same level of zeal and excitement for the vision. And it only communicated to me just how much people want to be agents in their own healing process.” They shot into early mornings and, with the help of a heroic Congolese producer and translator, finished a film about a child soldier’s tumultuous return to the home he’d been ripped away from, a film that will promote healing throughout the region.

In a conversation that spanned a number of emails and a rainy-day interview in Uganda, I asked Lindsay why it’s worth it to her to engage with such painful stories, to really care about these people and so to take on an element of their suffering.

I keep myself open to pain, and beauty in pain, because I loose my own humanity if I don’t,” said Lindsay. “If it’s the natural rhythm of life to die and live and die and live and die and live—our cells are constantly dying and being regenerated, plants are dying and being regenerated, that seems to be the cycle, the way our world functions—do we not also have to have our own souls and hearts die in order to fully live?

Shop our brand new products by December 11 and we’ll donate 50% of your purchase to support Lindsay’s work. And see Lindsay’s first Mobile Cinema film here.

Dreamer: Rebecca Snavely, Co-Founder
of Action Kivu

Follow Rebecca’s work with Action Kivu on Facebook.
Rebecca Snavely, Ember Dreamer, in Mumosho, Democratic Republic of Congo
On the television show Project Runway, aspiring fashion designers sew for a chance at sudden fame and success. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a small group of women sew in hopes of feeding and educating their children. These two realities, still so distant on our small planet, are connected by one woman: Rebecca Snavely.

Rebecca grew up a bookworm and followed her fascination with story into entertainment and journalism, and to countries like Ethiopia and Kosovo. Her most recent job is casting for Project Runway, where she explores the fashion blogging world in search of the next potential star. “My favorite part of the job is interviewing people to find out the quirks of their personal stories,” Rebecca told me by email.

A few years ago she and her friend Cate Haight, a film editor in Los Angeles, read Half the Sky, Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn’s treatise on global injustice against women. When they reached the section about Congo, about rape being used as a weapon of war and the courage of women in the face of such violence, they decided together to do something. Through a friend, they connected with Amani Matabaro, a Congolese man who founded his own non-profit to serve women and children in eastern Congo. “I have never met anyone like Amani,” Rebecca told me. “Cate and I are inspired by his never-ending dedication to making a difference in his community, his persistence, his joy, his intelligence, his empathy and love for those he works and lives with.”

She and Cate founded Action Kivu to help Amani fund his work, and to support positive change in Congo through the “powerful, purposeful people of its local communities.” The work they support tackles practical challenges like education, income generation, and stopping domestic violence. And it’s all driven by the needs of the Congolese communities where it’s accomplished. In a land where women are often scorned and abused, Ernata, a woman who learned tailoring in Amani’s program, sums up the benefits: “I am very proud of myself today, and my husband is proud of me and he’s happy to have me as a wife, especially as I help make an income for the family.”

Rebecca Snavely with Amani Matabaro.Rebecca, Cate, and Amani plan to start a fair trade program to sell the products created in Congo in the American market, and to create a ‘Peace School’ to provide education for the vulnerable children of Amani’s home community, many of whom are orphaned by war and disease. Rebecca dreams of working full time on Action Kivu, connecting with funders and other partners to magnify their impact. The work of Action Kivu, she told me, “is what makes my heart break with anguish and joy, what wakes me up, what makes me come alive.”

In the meantime, she will keep splitting her life across two worlds. “It’s an odd and beautiful balance of realities: women who are trying to sew their way into the world of fashion, and women who trying to sew their way out of poverty and into empowerment.” She is helping bring those stories a little closer together, and as she put it so well, “as we all grow closer and share our stories, helping each other find our talents and our voices, as we create places of peace, peace that is crucial for hope to take hold, we can learn from watching each other begin live life to the fullest, without fear.” A worthy dream indeed.

Rebecca told me you can support her and her dreams by connecting with Action Kivu on Facebook and Twitter, and by sharing the stories of the women, men and children of eastern Congo. You are, of course, encouraged to donate on their site. And introductions to foundations that might invest in their work would be a tremendous help.