Youthful African Refugees Celebrate Hard Won Awards and Accolades during the International Changing the Story Online Film Festival 2020
It happened so fast, at first he thought it was something he would give up. It was something he did not have to tell his parents about as they returned home from school in the afternoon. He had finally kissed another boy he had admired for two terms. That was something easily forgotten and done away with. John is now a refugee and a Male-to-Female Transgender with a boyfriend of 7 years now.
They used to play soccer at a large trailer yard when it was empty next to Kampala’s Industrial Area. At this time of the year, boys and girls from different housing estates would play up to around 2:00 pm after which they had to rush back home. Maria and two other girls were ‘fillers’ in the soccer team but they played better than the boys. The boys ridiculed them and the neighbourhood never wanted anything to do with “those girls who shout so loud at the top of their voices and all the while playing soccer.” Maria is now a lesbian leader among refugees awaiting resettlement in Australia.
Maria and John (not their real names) are very talented. John sings so well that she (preferred pronoun) is invited to Karaoke competitions in Nairobi from which she returns with accolades. Maria is a team-builder and community organiser and he (preferred pronoun) has contributed to grassroots organising in many parts of Africa. These two and many others have turned their skills in health promotion, community mobilisation, social-justice, leadership, arts, music, dance, drama, heritage, and human rights to support LGBTIQQ and Sex-workers’ approaches to civil society building following relocation from their countries of birth; assimilation in local host communities; joining communities to fight TB/HIV/Malaria and COVID-19; and in many post-conflict scenarios.
The ingredients of life are many and they include: the air we breathe; the blood coursing through our veins; the ground we set our feet upon; the diverse plants and animals; the communities and homes; the parents, relatives and friends; the various seen and un seen things. These make up the life we preserve and thrive upon. The two films that were chosen during the Changing the Story (CTS) Film Festival came to life because of many minute or large events. The events are many and they included: University of Leeds’ Theology Department choosing one East African Country to be a research venue on topics intersecting life such as religion and sexuality; the existence of the Nature Network; the willing members who participated in various discussions which turned out to be part of the presentations. The presentations included: discussion sessions; dialogues; town-halls; reading Bible texts; sharing stories on political contexts in various African countries; discussions on relationship of religious practices on refugee life; hate speeches and acts; child neglect; youths and development in Africa; talent as an avenue to self-determination; working with academics; recreation; drug-related addiction; composing reports; work ethics; home chores; life span organisation and many other issues. These were made into the two films that run no more than 20 minutes each. The two films are: ‘Daniel in the Homophobic lion’s den,’ and ‘Jesus and the Guys charged with indecency.’
According to the CTS website, ‘Daniel in the Homophobic Lion’s Den’ creatively uses stories from the Bible to tell the life experiences of LGBTQI+ Ugandan refugees living in Nairobi. In this film the Nature Network team members used the story of Daniel to celebrate the liberation of the LGBTQI+ community against the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda.
‘Jesus and the Guys Charged with Indecency,’ creatively uses stories from the Bible to tell the life experiences of LGBTQI+ Ugandan refugees living in Nairobi. In this film, The Nature Network team members used the story of Jesus to play out their experience of stigma, discrimination and violence because of their sexual and gender identity.
These two films were nominated and went on to win many accolades as well including the highest viewership in the first few days. The story of triumph would be incomplete if I did not share the opening remarks of the executive director of the Nature Network who happened to be part of the Q and A Panel before the nominations.
The remarks were part of the presentation on the films. The executive director remarked that “the testimonies, the different open spaces are provided through a committed desire to have their voices, actions, drama, and film to convey solutions to the question of youthful agency, autonomy and self-determination. In the film one watches or meets the youths turning hateful rhetoric into a call for love, direction, inclusion and respectful regard. This is just a sneak peek! I am sure you will come out after watching a more refreshed person. Allow the youths to participate in life-long influencing activities. Empower them!"
A toast is in order! A thank you goes to all refugees who in one way or another made all this work possible. To them and many others who contribute to that collective livelihood in Kenya, Asante Sana!