The most compelling and powerful films share an important truth: they affect the filmmaker and the viewer equally. Both come away from the experience with an emotional bond to the story, new knowledge and, hopefully, a thirst for more. ‘Zawadi’, the story of a young woman growing up in Nairobi, achieves all of this in a short film that is, by turns, eye-opening, shocking and honest, but is also a tale of friendship, bravery and growth.
However, the story of Zawadi begins before the opening credits have even begun – with a group of young women from the informal settlements of Nairobi, where the charity K-youth Media has been working since 2011, offering education in media skills to young people. In the urban slums and informal settlements, there is a real desire for training and development, but a lack of funding has put the opportunity well out of reach for most youngsters. K-youth Media looks to broaden their horizons and open their eyes to new opportunities as they head into adulthood.
For these young women, a programme was put in place to address a lack of empowerment and voice for issues specific to them, taking a long-term approach that imparts practical media production skills alongside confidence building and growing the means to ‘lean in’ and grasp opportunities. Under the guidance and mentorship of a professional team, the group explored themes of daily life in their community and what it means to be a woman, reflecting on their shared stories and prioritising those that needed to be shared in the context of creating awareness and social change. In this regard it was critical to present an authentic voice, so they went about scripting their world into Zawadi’s, basing her story on an amalgamation of all their experiences.
When a team collectively owns the story, the passion for the bringing it to life is clear. Each of the young women responsible for Zawadi selected an area to specialise in and took lead roles in scripting, casting, wardrobe, filming, sound, lighting and postproduction. Each was taken under the wing of a mentor, including Director of Photography, Wambui Muigai, a graduate of Kenyatta University and one-time participant of a Canon production workshop with Ambassador Simeon Quarrie.
The film is only 20 minutes long, but presents poverty, inequality, violence and bereavement, and Adeline Wairimu, who plays Zawadi, conveys palpable feelings of being trapped and without hope – until she meets Grace (played by Hellen Njoki), who shows her new possibilities. To know that these subjects are all part of the life experience of the young women responsible for Zawadi only serves to make the story more powerful still. Their film premiered at the Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi and has since travelled to Sweden for a showing at the Kenyan Embassy, bringing their real-life experiences to a European audience. Sharing their story is an incredibly important part of the process for Mercy Owegi, the Director of Zawadi, who is “a firm believer in advocating for human rights”. Her drive to support women and girls has inspired her to continue as a filmmaker, “I have seen that storytelling is an empowering voice.”
But why Zawadi? The word literally means ‘gift’ – the gift of hope from Grace to Zawadi and the gift of truth from the writers to the viewers. She is the embodiment of many women’s fear and sadness, but ultimately is also the hope, potential, strength and creativity of the future.
Canon’s Miraisha programme harnesses the power of visual storytelling to equip young people with the skills, tools and platforms they need to share their stories with the world and create new opportunities both for themselves and others.