Mathias Antonsson

Random subjective observations of what's on my mind

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Upon Popular Demand

Hello. Hello. Hello.

Last time I had the god-awful taste to use the three letter sequence cliché that I have picked for the subject on this new blog, I got ridiculed. It was a few years ago and I was on a planking streak. You know that fantastic Aussie-born exercise which consists of someone lying motionless on top of things. Monty Pythonesque meaninglessness. Or due to its Aussie origin perhaps, Chaseresque meaninglessness, is rather more fitting. Anyway, I had been asked by two different people to plank on a plane. Naturally I did so. Wouldn’t you? Once it hit Facebook my “friends” – you know who you are – doubted the truthfulness of my caption; Upon Popular Demand. Well, this time I have the audacity to claim it again. The idea to start this blog was born out of requests made after I posted a photo of the Kibera slum in Nairobi on Facebook. One might say the circle’s closed.

Before I get to my experience in the Kibera slum from yesterday, let me give those of you unfamiliar with my recent life-change a quick update. Last Monday I started my new job at GeSCI in Nairobi, Kenya. Technically I’m hired by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), and they seconded me to GeSCI. In short I’m here to promote the use of ICT4D in education in East Africa. As such I have been assigned to gather information on how ICT is being used to promote Digital Media Arts (photography, film making, animation, graphic design etc.) in Kenya, and at a later stage the same in Zambia. Interviewing different key actors I’ve been touring the city with a colleague and that is how I ended up in a slum yesterday.

Kibera Slum, Nairobi, Kenya

I’ve never been in a slum before. Rough places in rough cities, once or twice, but nothing like this. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the situation of those people living and working in such an environment, and I won’t pretend that I had some great epiphany, but it was humbling and I think “depressing” sums it up somewhat accurately. Which is why the meeting therefore was so much more rewarding.

In the middle of one of Africa’s largest slums, and after asking for directions quite a few times, we found a sign and drove down a make-shift road to Kibera Film School. The following hours were some of the most rewarding of my life. We met with a manager as well as a group of students. Their passion and dedication was unmistakable. So too was their professionalism. Creative minds with the drive to follow, portray and share their ideas, despite the odds stacked against them.

Note the BMW. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

It started with a few individuals who a few years ago wanted to share their story. As a testament to their skills, and pure will, they found collaborators, volunteers and sponsors from far and wide. The result; proper camera equipment and a functioning film studio (with Macs and Final Cut Pro – which incidentally is more than I had when editing for the UN). The story could have ended there, but they decided that they wanted to give back to the community that had spawned them, their ideas and their success. So they started the aforementioned underground photography and film school.

The students, attending for free after being selected based on their passion, did no effort to hide their excitement, as they explained how this opportunity would change their lives. What caught my attention however was that this was not simply hollow words, I’ve heard and seen that before, they knew this to be true. Through hands-on work, mentorship and tough realistic lessons from the school they had realized that in order to achieve that life, to pursue that illusive dream, there needs to be continuous hard work. There was no doubt they would be ready for it once they finished this education. One student said he didn’t even know how to use a keyboard before he came there, two months later he had gone through all production stages (idea, script, casting, directing, shooting, editing etc.). Following a discussion on marketing, and the use of social media for that purpose, a fellow student summed it up perfectly for someone like me:

“Sitting on the bus I assumed Twitter was for the rich with iPhones.”

Kibera has its reputation. Think Bronx. Think Rosengård. Think Hackney. With these students’ reputation preceding them, they have to be better than everyone else to succeed. Yet their origin was their ultimate pride. They wore it like a badge. As much as I share their ambition and dedication, that is what I connected with the most. However unlikely. Like them, I will never excuse myself based on my background, despite the obvious difference. I come from a great equitable society with great opportunities. Not least for social mobility. Sometimes I downplay that. But I’m a product of it, and I’m proud of it. Immensely. To reach that realization in this most unexpected setting, with this most improbable of groups, who’d have thought?

Of course I didn’t say that. If I would’ve, I doubt they’d understood where I was coming from.