Discovery Innovation Advocacy
Special thanks to the following people and their respective units for helping to make this important trip possible.
Dr. Paul McNamara, Associate Professor College of ACES, UIUC
Dr. Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Strategies, UIUC
Mike Doyle, Executive Director, University YMCA, Urbana-Champaign
Sam Smith, Director of Civic Engagement and Social Practice, Krannert Center
Dr. Stephanie Craft, Head, College of Media, UIUC
David Ivy, Business Admin, UIUC
Meeting the Team and MORE!
After Skyping, Zooming, and WhatsApp'ing, I met part of the African International Documentary Festival Foundation (AFIDFF) team in Chicago last year. It is extremely challenging to try and help lead and assist my team from the U.S., but with great leaders like, Director General Malame Mangzha, Titus Mangzha, Afiniki Mangzha, Joseph Ibeh, and so many others, things are getting done that are simply amazing and so important. I, then, began my first leg of my 6-week journey in Abuja, Nigeria. As president of the African International Documentary Film Foundation (AFIDFF) and Executive Chair of the Board of the African International Documentary Film Festival, I officially met and congratulated my team and the winners of our first short documentary competition that focused on eradicating polio. I am proud of my team for bringing this diseases to the forefront of our global initiative and platform. Two competitions later (second competition focused on World Health Day), the winners, now, represent their provinces as junior ambassadors and are doing a fantastic job not only as young and aspiring/inspiring storytellers, but as community leaders. We have, recently, launched our third documentary competition focused on Nigeria's independence that will bring in submissions from around the globe. We have been Busy! Here are just a few snippets.
While in Abuja, I, along with my Director General who is really doing such a fantastic job, introduced our strategic plans for success now and 5 years out.This is an exciting time for all of us and the word of our efforts is spreading with continued invitations to meet with other interested parties and countries who would like to join us in our global initiative. This team is amazing and full of passion, credentials, talent, and accolades, including one member being named on the Forbes List of Up and Coming Young Entrepreneurship!
My team had a lot of events set up for me before my arrival, including a media day that took me to various media outlets as a special guest to talk about my research as well as the foundation/festival and our future plans. We gained the attention and support of various important people in the community, political dignitaries and NGO organizations that have voiced a passionate interest in being a part of the foundation’s success. This includes having the distinct pleasure of meeting Director General Yakubu Mohammed of the Nigerian Television Authority, and his team of amazing media messengers. The Nigerians I met and interacted with are of quality and went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. In that spirit, the team decided to have our retreat/planning meeting at a beautiful private social club with a juice bar, spa, hair salon and so much more! Great job by Rex Idaminabo, Nigeria's Ambassador for AFIDFF, for arranging the accommodations. Of course, we did not partake in any of the wonderful activities of relaxation at the spa, other than delicious food and organic juices, because we were working! But, it was still a nice setting with nice people. I also had the distinct pleasure of meeting our Director General's Malame Mangzha and her husband, Titus', two beautiful boys (who you will see in the video as I tried to get them to smile AND look a the camera at the same time! Whew!), and the in-laws, who have their own success stories and great advice! Everywhere I went, I met people who were just regular people who did and do extraordinary things for their communities and country. They are political, outspoken and passionate. Even the Front Office Manager of the Grand Pela Hotel & Suites where I stayed, Mr. Chiemeka Ugochukwu, had a message for the youth (as you will see in the video)! I had wonderful meals, conversation and was gifted great books to read! Oh, yes...and we worked and worked and worked and worked! Here are just some of the highlights from the beginning of my trip that you can watch by clicking YouTube!
Digital production and content distribution is a platform that allows for an interactive global process. This process is extremely important to those who are marginalized. In this spirit, I led and conducted several hands-on multimedia workshops to educate, train and empower amateur, professional storytellers and journalists and business staff. One of the workshops called “Africa, Telling Her Story,” was held at a very nice location at the Alien Prose Entertainment Studio. The team in Abuja, along with team members from the U.S. that included Canon Representative, Lisa Gualtieri and Grammy award winning marketing strategist, Ranadeb Choudhury, joined a full house of eager media messengers. We talked about video, still pictures, audio, script writing, marketing and promotion, a Code of Ethics, working with governing bodies, strategies (social and technological) and tools to get your story out there. The stories and visuals they picked up were really interesting...a part of Nigeria I had not seen. Each workshop participant came with their own set of talents and skills and I was impressed with all that they accomplished, especially, because they accomplished everything in just a few hours without knowing any of us and most times, their team members. It was a beautiful sight to see, individuals from different parts of Nigeria, different tribes, political affiliations, socioeconomic levels come together in peace to tell a story. In all of my years of conducting these types of workshops, I believe these participants were some of the most enthusiastic, most engaging and interactive members I have had the pleasure of working with. In just 3 days, using refurbished cameras and equipment that I bought prior to my trip, their phones and some had their own equipment, each team, shot, wrote, reported, edited and produced their own stories. The audio technician at Alien Prose even helped some of them with their sound quality enhancements! At the end of the workshop, each team had a chance to present, talk, and screen their projects. Each workshop participant also received a certificate of completion as well. It was a great success, great fun and I look forward to working with and seeing them all again. From the evaluations, they wanted more time, and so, I hope I can make this happen in the future and take some of my students from the U.S. with me!!! Lisa and Ranadeb were also instrumental in the success of the workshop. Lisa from Canon covered still photography and Ranadeb covered social media and digital publication. We also had presentations on legal matters from Chinelo Iwenofu and the history of storytelling that is deep in the culture from Prince Awuzi (yes, a real Prince!), and John Barnett discussed the important of distribution of films and stories from the margins, with a focus on Nigeria! The whole team pitched in to make this workshop a great success: Director General Malame Mangzha, Titus Ngamariju Mangzha, Benjamin Ubiri, Joseph Ibeh, Chinze Ojobo, Gideon Jesse, Barr. Mshellia Samuel, Ejimofor Chima, Benjamin Eneanya, Timothy Imana, Lisa Gualtieri Alford, Eleanor Nwadinobi, Banns Freeman, James Ejimnaka, John Barnett, the staff and crew of Alien Prose, and a wonderful journalist and activist who helped to synch everything that was being taught with everything that needed to be learned, Jamila Obionu. Nigerians are hard working people who are extremely polite and consider themselves more British than having a connection to America. And in proper Nigerian/British fashion, there was food and tea provided at precise times. Nice! It was a lot of hard work...months of planning, lots of sweating before, during, and even after but it was all worth it. I wanted to set up a workshop and curriculum that everyone and anyone can benefit from who participated and from the last picture that you will see at the end of the video montage that is blurry because we were all shouting and clapping, I think it was a great success for our first workshop there. But, it could not be such a success without such wonderful people. I learned so much from them as well...and I thank them. Here's a peek at the behind-the-scenes preparation and execution of the workshop itself captured by AFIDFF staff and a little footage from some of the participants at the workshop. They left the building and, enthusiastically, took to the streets to capture visuals and sounds that illustrated the hardworking and persevering nature of Nigerians. Equipment was very limited ...but I think they did a fantastic job! One can always manage to get equipment, but, knowing how to generate a story...now that is a skill! I am proud of their efforts. Enjoy!
The Beauty of Art and the Artist!
Nigeria is very beautiful and has culture and entertainment for everyone. I had a chance to meet and chat with a wonderful director team whose play was opening near a mall. Before the sun set, we walked along the back side of the mall and a beautiful view of liquid motion of history just outside greeted us....stunning! And the roads and highways were full of beautiful architecture and traffic that had a mind of its own, because the drivers had a mind of their own and NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS! Yet! I did not witness one single traffic accident. It is kind of like driving in New York. Just keep moving and everything will be fine. Want to know of something really neat?! I was in Nigeria at a hotel when I saw my documentary, Journey to My Mother's Land, on television! Other people around Africa and in the States and Canada and the U.K. were also watching it!!!! WoW! Now THAT was really, REALLY cool! Another special moment occurred at the Chocolate Mall’s Kulture Kode Arts Hub and Gallery. Chinze Ojobo, an extremely talented and well-known artist and owner of the venue hosted a get together to welcome me and my team. She said that she opened the art hub to inspire Nigerian female artists and other artists who want to showcase their talents. Her art is amazing! She was gracious and warm and passionate about empowering women through the arts! I was honored to receive a gift from her, one of her amazing pieces of art. This blessing is so fitting because it represents sisters helping sisters and I research and study demarginalization which includes women. I am deeply honored. Take a look!
Voice of the Dreamers!
In the midst of all of the excitement, I visited a place that was not so enjoyable but important…an Internally Displaced Peoples camp to interview children survivors of Boko Haram. According to the Internal Displacement website, these camps are set up for people who have been forced out of the country in which they live. Each year, millions of people run for safety from some type of conflict, acts pf violence, development projects, disasters and climate change. As of the end of 2018, 41.3 million people were living in internal displacement camps because of conflict and violence. These numbers show that internal displacement is a crisis of enormous proportion and, yet, when was the last time you saw these stories being told in the media?
There are 4 IDP camps in Nigeria...Lugbe, Area One, New Kuchi Goro, and Kuje. I was supposed to visit all four camps. Instead, I visited only one, New Kuchi Goro ... and after visiting this camp I could not find the spiritual, emotional or physical energy to visit another. As a human being and journalist, I was not prepared for what I witnessed in this camp. I am not blaming any organization or any particular person. One trip to a camp such as this is not enough to draw conclusions on my own. I will say that from what I witnessed, children were not being taken care of efficiently nor effectively. Neither were the adults, who were, often times, left alone to fend for themselves and what family members they had left. I saw one child with what I thought was a gash on top of his head...a gash that went right down to the white meat. I hugged him, prayed silently over him and asked for someone to please take care of the open wound ... only to find out that the white meat, was actually a ring worm. Chills shot up and down my spine when I learned of this. But, I was there to do a job, to get a story. I had no idea that all of the standard objectives as a journalist were going to change into an effort of humanitarianism on a whole new level for me. Something Afiniki Mangzha, a team member, has been doing for years. Trying to give voice to the voiceless. Below is a story she and another team member, Joseph Ibeh, produced for AFIDFF, making sure these young voices are heard. Moving...
The Story Continues...
There are so many children that have yet to be reached. I was there, on the ground, so I began to reach out to them them in simple, yet, complicated ways. I asked each of them to tell me about their lives before the attack, during the attack, after the attack and, the final question, what were their dreams? I asked them about their dreams because I believe that within dreams, lies hope. Much like the way we all can kind of drift off to better places in our minds when things are not right, I wanted them to always try to continue to have a dream or hope that things will get better, somehow, some way, and some day. Their stories were heart wrenching. Many times I found myself silent…just listening to their stories of horror and crying and praying inside of my body and soul. I thought to myself that there was a story there, yes. But, this was about humanity, or, the lack thereof. It was not the time for me to be a journalist who was merely getting a story, asking question after question after question. I could not tell them that their mothers and fathers would return. I could not tell them that their brothers and family members who were killed in front of them, that their sisters who were raped or dragged into the woods, would return soon. How could I say that? How could I say anything? It was their story, the voices unheard ... so ... I just let them speak, comforted them the best way that I could with a hug or a light rub on their back and just listened. Using cameras loaned to me by Canon and my Samsung Galaxy Note 9, the sights, sounds and stories of the children.
Believe it or not, after the tears, after the horrendous stories were told, I still dream beautiful dreams for their future. And they are still dreaming too! Some said that they wanted to be soldiers to help their village and the world, while others said that they wanted to be journalists, doctors, lawyers and teachers! One young man said that he has already written 4 stories!
They loved when we showed them how to use cameras to capture their own stories. It really made my heart jump up and down and smile when I reviewed the footage and heard children saying , "We Can Dream," a chant I asked them to join me in at the end of my visit. I was also touched by the laughter of the children ... beautiful, vibrating sounds of resilience we find in children. To hear young girls who had never met me before calling me "Auntie," a term of endearment of a positive emotional and spiritual connection. Take a look!
At the end of the day, I reminded them that they are strong enough to survive. My prayer is that they never stop dreaming. As I was walking back to the car to leave, I hugged each and every child that I saw and watched the boys play football. I felt a ball hit me on the right side of my knee. I bent down to pick it up and saw this young little girl. So, what I thought was a ball, was actually a young baby who, literally, slammed into my leg, grabbed my leg and didn’t let go. I didn’t know if she was holding onto me so that I would stay, so that I would not leave, or so that I would take her with me. It broke my heart. With my heart touched and broken, I still tried to leave her with love and kindness. So, I bent down and loved on her the best way I knew how at that moment. I, silently, prayed over her with my hand over her heart. That was all that I could do.
I want to thank my team members, Afiniki Mangzha, Joseph Ibeh and Hamman Gadzama who knew where the camp was located, played an instrumental role in getting me permission to enter the camp, safe passage into and through the camp, as well as assistance in translations and footage. The pictures and videos they captured were amazing! I am forever grateful.
When I first heard of Boko Haram, I thought of the children and now that I have visited Nigeria and one of the IDP camps, I have real, beautiful faces of survivors to remember...children...who I will never forget and will never forget in my prayers. These stories of surviving Boko Haram and other traumatic events were the inspiration to my idea of including a special section in our foundation and in our festival competitions called the, Voice of the Dreamers.
There is so much more to tell and show (book and podcast in the future), but I will conclude this leg of my trip with one of the most fun and delicious parts of Nigeria...and that was my trip to an Amazing fish market. My Director General, Madame Malame Mangzha and her husband, Titus, asked me what I wanted to do before I left to head to Sierra Leone. Like any good east coast Virginian, I said that I wanted to go somewhere where I could eat FRESH SEAFOOD! And oh my goodness! It was unbelievable! They took me to the Mogadishu Cantonement Miami Market in Asokoro Abuja where there was laughter, great food and a coming together that reminded me of a good old fashion outdoor barbque and party. Ironically, this is the same location that is also filled with buildings riddled with stories of the past ... bullet holes that painted the walls of what used to be the location of army barracks during the Boko Haram attacks. My footage of the exterior is extremely limited because security stopped us from shooting almost immediately. I walked a little further, following the sounds of Life and found an amazing entrepreneurial circle of economic sustainment and vital source for women empowerment. Yes, the women were in charge of this circle of cooking, entrepreneurship and money! And, oh my gosh!!!! The food! The fresh, organic, just pulled out of the ocean food was delicious! Just fyi, the food, everywhere I went was fresh and delicious, whether it was in a home, restaurant or hotel, the food was amazing!
All in all, I had a great time in Abuja. I was well taken care of and met some amazing people. My hope as I leave Nigeria, is that she becomes stronger and healthier as she heads into the future. Nigerians are resilient, so I know that more victories are to come. As for the Festival and Foundation, my hope is that we continue to join others in telling the stories of some of these challenges and victories. We hope and plan to have our first major film festival screening of the winners for all 3 storytelling competitions right here in the U.S. soon. As President, I am continuing to work with the team towards developing a festival that will do more than just tell stories. We plan to have multicultural events including dance, music, art, religion, spirituality and multimedia, technology, health and economic sustainability workshops and so much more. I am and we are looking forward to the future, together, as members of the global community.
For more information on the African International Documentary Film Festival and the African International Documentary Festival Foundation and how you can be a part of this humanitarian effort of global proportions, visit AFIDFF.org here. Peace to you...