Response to “I Am Because We Are”

Sites to watch film: YouTube; Netflix; Hulu.

Write about 250 words on an issue or two that the film raises that reminds you of your experience in Kenya.  The examples should be obvious.  Also, please discuss your reaction to the problems Madonna has had trying to build schools in Malawi.

Please post your thoughts as “Comment”, below; note that the comments from last year’s students are still up.

Post your comment by 11:59pm Tuesday Feb. 14th. Thanks.



Filed under GOV 240 Service and Politics: Kenya

13 responses to “Response to “I Am Because We Are”

  1. Neal Fessler

    What stuck out to me after watching “I Am Because We Are” (there was a lot) was the subject of guidance and education in young people’s lives. I thought the scene of the school in which they teach things like how to get your feet back on the ground, being the power of your own life, choosing the right paths, was really progressive for a country like Malawi. We see so many clinics and schools and testing centers, but very rarely do we see a school that guides young people to get on track with life. A “life” course if you will is something I am sure many people will like. Of course it would be of different context if we had it in the United State, and we also have had classes like this in elementary school and we have resources that we can go to if we need them here at school. But to get a large group of youth or young adults in a room and tell them how it is in Malawi, is really a great idea and something that should be modeled for many poverty-stricken countries. I think classes like this are going to be very beneficial because like mentioned, many have lost their parents or people to take care of them in villages and places like Malawi and Kenya. I liked at the end of the video how they talked about different people motivating villages and being the ones to go in there and really initiate change (the woman who yelled at the men at the bar) and I couldn’t help but think of Mom and our family in Ongata Rongai doing exactly that. They talked a lot about the sense of community and interconnectedness that Africa has, and this is something we all saw and experienced on our own trip to Kenya. The sense of community that they have is something we don’t have here, and I like when Madonna asks, “Who is right?” It makes you re-evaluate your own life and your own idea of what happiness is to you.

  2. Hannah Jenkins

    As I stated quite a few times during the discussion after watching the film, the “cleansing” process that a mother must endure after her child dies, was down right horrific. Especially because we had just seen her so distraught and violently upset during the burial service of her young son, and then to think that she would have to go through such a demeaning experience. The process of forcing her to have sex with a man three times the day after she had to bury her child might have been considered a “ritual” or “tradition” in her community, but to me its inhumane. When the chief of the village was explaining the tradition, he seemed so nonchalant as if giving direction on how to make a cake. The mother who just lost her child to HIV was sitting right next to him and seemed to be unfazed and unemotional. However, when she has a one-on-one interview with the documentary crew, he exact words were, “I don’t have a choice”. With that statement right there, the gender inequality was so prevalent yet so accepted in their community. I could not imagine enduring something so humiliating on top of coping with the death of my young child. This woman had every right to be emotional and attention seeking, however the attention that she was now getting was not close to something that she deserved.

    Next, when the chief was discussing how HIV/AIDS has “disrupted” this tradition and that they are not going to stop this ritual because of the risk, was another subject that grinded my gears. I couldn’t believe that someone could be so passive about a deadly disease that is claiming the lives of men, women and children in their own community. He was so blind to the fact that by him encouraging the continuing of this tradition, he is essentially killing people.

    Even though I respect groups that respect their local culture, this particular instance crossed the line.

  3. Kyle Estelle

    One thing in particular that resonated with me while watching the film Monday night was the interview of the female social worker (it appeared that she served the role of social worker) on the topic of helplessness. At one point she stated, “what saddens me most” is the feeling of helplessness caused by the inability to help enough people. It was an emotional reaction that I witnessed several times in Kenya, particularly in Mary and Nancy. The unifying theme was that no matter how many individuals they can help, there will always be x – number of people that they cannot. The reality is that they, or for that matter we, cannot help everyone we see, and even if we can help in some small way, the need for further assistance still remains. The emotional response attached to this helplessness is, I believe, the most difficult thing experienced by those doing this work.
    It’s safe to say that we all experienced this reaction at some point during the trip, or perhaps many times. It’s the logical outcome of an excess of frustration, sadness, and anger. What’s interesting though, is that this emotional reaction generates the notion of immediate adoption. The thought process, unconscious I would imagine, seems to go; “the only way I will be able to help this child in the necessary way is by taking on a long term commitment to raising them myself.” Clearly, by way of Mary, Nancy, Madonna, and I suspect most (or all) of us, this reaction seems to be a common response generated by the inability to help. Further, this response is so strong that it actually transitions from the desire to adopt, to that actual action and process that follows. The incredible strength, and apparent ubiquity, of the reaction to children suffering alludes to the notion that human nature exhibits an inherent need to help children in need, regardless of any cultural, political, physical, and social differences that exist.

  4. Laura Bellotti

    I Am Because We Are Response
    As horrible as the stories we heard in the documentary were, I found comfort in them. I found comfort in the connections I could make between the stories of the orphans and families living in extreme poverty in Malawi to the families and children I met and worked with in Gataka. One theme that pleased me the most was the importance of educating the children. In the documentary, teaching a child that they could do better and break the cycle of poverty for themselves was stressed. For me, this related to what Mom, Maureen, and the rest of the family is doing in Kenya. Mom set up schools for vulnerable children so that they have a better chance at getting into government school. She recognizes the fact that education is the key to the future, just as Madonna did in the documentary and in her work in Malawi. If you recognize and show the children the potential and ability they have to create a better future for themselves we can change their entire way of life. Education is key and that was stressed in both the movie and in the work we did in Kenya.
    One theme in the film that I found horrifying was the practice and belief in witchcraft. Before reading Sizwe’s Test, I had no idea that people in Africa believed that the reason people got HIV was through a spell placed on them. That alone took me by complete surprise, but when I watched the I Am Because We Are, the idea hit home. I was speechless when they interviewed the boy who was attacked in the field and held down and had his privates cut off. I thought they practiced circumcision but I had no idea they cut the entire penis off. That really bothered me because this poor boy will never be the same. It scared me the most because it was something I had no idea existed. It also really hit home because I thought about the little boys and girls who walk to school in the villages we were in. If this happens in both South Africa and Malawi, this may happen in Kenya as well. The thought of my one of the kids getting attacked while walking to school became very real to me. I thought about to the home visits and remembered a little girl who was twelve who refused to go to school because it was an hour walk and she passed a field where men screamed things at her. I was scared for her then, but I was hopeful that nothing would happen to her. Now, I feel that it is a naïve thought that nothing will happen. I fear there is nothing we can do to end the practice of witchcraft.

  5. Rachel Zaydak

    I Am Because We Are made me reevaluate my characteristically anthropological views of traditional practices. As an aspiring anthropologist, I have striven for objectivity. The idea that something is a “tradition” with a particular cultural group has typically carried great weight on my judgments. For example, the Masai do not practice female circumcision because they sadistically want to cause young women pain; it is a practice that has been done with their people for as long as they can recall. Because of my tendency for objectivity and this idea of something being different because it’s a tradition, I have since been unable to full-heartedly stamp issues such as these as wrong. However, the portion of the film that dealt with the death of a young woman’s son and her village’s chief set off an alarm in my head. The chief had been diligent in his traditional views concerning the child’s death. A headman from another village would come and have sex with her three different times on the same day to “cleanse her of death.” This was her village’s traditional reaction to death of a child; they have been doing it forever. But how far can the term “tradition” stretch before its elasticity breaks in my mind, in the minds of others and as a general principle? How much pain and injustice is too much for the vast blanket of “tradition” to cover? The physical pain these women feel is not any less because it is simply a “tradition.” The young woman needed of “cleansing” admitted to having an STD. Even if the headman doesn’t have one yet that he could give to her, he will be spreading the one she has to other women who have already recently suffered the pain of losing a child. The young woman admitted to her powerlessness saying that she was too young, and the choice was not hers. Why isn’t the father of the late child being cleansed as well? It seems one too many times, in traditional Africa, (even for the amateur anthropologist’s opinion) it is not “the white man’s burden,” but more so “the woman’s burden.”

  6. Kaitlyn Hooper

    Many of the images and situations that we saw in “I Am Because We Are” were very similar to those we experience in Kenya. There were however a few topics in the film that still shocked and upset me. I was not aware of the “cleansing process” that happens after a woman looses a child, or witchcraft that takes places, and the genital mutilation that occurs. These are not things that we experienced or heard anything about while we were in Kenya, and it was shocking to learn about it in the movie.
    We saw first hand about people living with HIV and many children that were left orphaned because of loosing their parents to the disease. The first boy in the movie, Fanizo, who talks about loosing his parents to HIV was a situation I felt like hit home for me. Fanizo was talking about how hard it is to go to school. No one is there to encourage him and support him, so that is something that he has to find within himself. He reminded me a lot of a home visit that we went on in Nyeri. There is a family of three children who lost their parents to HIV. The children are ages 6, 16,18 and the 16 year old boy was not going to school, in large part because there was no one there to make sure he went to school, and he was not interested in becoming the man of the household and setting a good example for his younger brother. No one ever taught him how. While education is a very import issue, there is also of the problem of the children attending school, and who is there to give them that support. Mom and Maureen have created the center to help with the piece of education and also the support, but it is still not the same as living with a parent who is there every morning and evening. It bothers me, and is something that I have been thinking about, how do we solve this?

  7. Elana Abt

    I was so surprised how well this documentary was made. Even though this wasn’t Kenya, it touched on all the issues that we had witnessed. I can’t even remember how many kids we had met that were total orphans. But Madonna talks about the entire community comes together to help out these orphan children; whereas in other parts of the world, people in communities tend to keep to themselves. I was so moved when I saw how the whole village came together when someone had passed away. It seemed like everyone came out of their house to congregate around this bright colored casket with flowers. Even when I was in Kenya, I felt this amazing sense of community that I haven’t felt back here in the states. There was this Shosho that we met who was taking care of three total orphans and she had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help her out. Im not saying that people wont do that here, but its not the same as it is over in Africa.
    The story about the little boy getting his privates cut off because of witch-craft really hit me hard. It was so amazing that Madonna decided to intervene and get this little boy medical attention. His life will never be normal, but at least he can go to school without having to worry about wetting himself.
    When I was in Kenya, I didn’t think it could get any worse than what we were seeing, but I wasn’t taking into consideration other countries in Africa. These two countries, share the same problems with education, HIV/AIDS, poverty, hunger, and so much more. But it is so nice to see that there are people out there like Madonna, who have money, that are trying to make a difference. This isn’t to say that all of Africa’s problems will be solved anytime soon, and right now it doesn’t look like anything will ever get solved because of the people running this continent, but at least people have started to take action.

  8. Adam Nicolais

    I must admit this movie was truly moving. At several points I had tears in my eyes, because the film was so relatable, and touched on so many of my experiences in Africa which in turn, makes it very difficult to pick just one or two subjects. The movie touched on so many aspects of life in Africa, from poverty, poor living conditions and broken families, to AIDS, personal stories, and Africa’s connection to the world.
    However, if I must pick a subject that truly spoke to me, it would be the section illustrated by Madonna where she spoke of the social culture of Africa. This was the part that really grabbed my attention, and vocalized the exact thoughts that were constantly running through my head while in Kenya. Madonna says at one point (around the 59th minute) that while there is so much that needs to change to relieve Malawi of their suffering, one thing that must remain is the people. She states “I often feel like we are the ones who have it wrong. In spite of all the hardships, they have a sense of community and extended family that I have not seen anywhere else.” She then later notes how in Africa “You can walk down the street and you can smile, and there’s a sense of humanity that you don’t find [in other places]. It feels like modernization equals no humanity…but then you think “oh god” they have illnesses, but yet they are happy.” She concludes by saying that one can walk down a street of New York or Los Angeles, and never see that type of happiness.
    It was listening to this monologue that I realized why I enjoyed and miss being in Kenya so much, despite the endless amounts of suffering I witnessed. It is this sense of appreciation and love for life that inspired me, and perhaps that did more for me then I could ever do for someone I meet while in Kenya. Seeing people’s faces light up simply by walking by or kicking a soccer ball gave me such a sense of warmth and comfort to know that at least they will always have love and life. It’s something they helped me understand, and something I truly miss.
    As far as Madonna’s difficulty in building the school, it all seems very understandable and realistic to what we experienced. In poverty ridden countries, in general, evil and selfishness is often lurking behind good intentions. For instance even with our own hosts, we are still to this day weary of their handling of our money. With poverty, self gain is essential to survival, and with weakened individuals, there is always those who will take advantage.

  9. Bettina Briccetti

    One of the first things that stood out to me was the quote “As technology brings us closer together, we seem to be a world spinning out of control, growing farther and farther apart from one another.” I believe this is very true. We all have a facebook, twitter, tumblr, cell phone, email, blogs, and many other technologies that allow us to always be contactable. But do we really know each other? Do we go out of our way to meet up with each other? Or avoid each other? Technologies allow younger generations to avoid learning social skills, and older generations to not use the skills they already know. Maybe that’s a big reason we all felt that the Kenyan people we so much nicer than New Yorkers. Madonna later mentions other quotes later in the film that speak to the same idea. Even though most African’s that Madonna, and that we, met have nothing, are have been affected by disease, they always have a smile on their faces! It’s an idea that still puzzles me.
    The second thing that hit me were some of the signs in the background. One said “Anybody Can Get AIDS.” I guess this equals to all of our “Above the Influence” commercials, but the image was still strange.
    Another sign was advertising coffins! While coffins are something everyone eventually needs, they aren’t something we advertise on a billboard.
    It also stood out to me that AIDS is a bigger deal than malaria and other diseases in Malawi because of it’s stigma. No one talks about it, therefore there prevention and treatment doesn’t go very far.
    I was also really excited to see that Desmond Tutu was involved in the film! He was the Bishop at my mother’s childhood church, and I’ve heard some wonderful stories about his work in Africa and in America. I was very interested in his take on things.
    As for Madonna’s school, I think it is amazing that she would go over there just to help the situation. When the woman called her and said that there was a need for more orphanages in Malawi, Madonna had the opportunity to hang up, but she kept with the conversation. Even after she asked the woman where Malawi was and didn’t receive an answer, Madonna had the opportunity to forget about the phone call. But she looked up Malawi and decided to visit. I think she is very admirable to stick with the project instead of stepping back when things went wrong.

  10. Joseph Kritzer

    One issue the film raises is the problem of education of young people. In the film we see Theresa Malila, the director of Somebody Cares, walking through the slums discussing this problem. She states the population of this slum is 47,000 people, two thirds being children under the age of 15. She says, “Every time you pass a young person they should be in school but they are not in school.” This makes me think how many kids in Kenya are doing the same thing, being on the streets instead of in the classroom. It makes me think how the children we met are and if they are in school, especially Phillip.
    Madonna notices this problem and tries to address it by saying she will build the children schools to learn in. It upsets me that she sees the problem and allows 3.5 million dollars to just disappear. If we think our contributions were a lot imagine a few million what that could do. That money could have helped so many children, instead it went to waste. How could she let someone try to organize this and let them buy cars and golf club memberships before helping these children out?
    On a more positive note, Madonna talks about how the people of Malawi are very happy. She talks about how we are trying to change the way they live to be more like how we live. She is right in the sense that if we drive down Park Ave we will not see people as happy as the people of Kenya and Malawi. I miss the friendliness of strangers; we don’t have as much of that here. I also liked the short clip of the children playing football that brought me right back to playing are the Kware center.

  11. Jericho Densmore

    Besides being a film that instantly brought me back to Kenya, I Am Because We Are did an excellent job at putting into words the very emotions and feelings that we all experienced during our time in Kenya. There were many similarities between the issues in Malawi and those we saw. One thing that struck me was the discussions of Victim Mentality, how you cannot change what you do not accept. I feel like this issue is one of the biggest obstacles in these types of places; too many people are busy denying their problems and refusing to take any responsibility for them. The domino scene, in which he was trying to get the children to see cause and effect, how one strong move or one wrong move triggers a whole string of events was particularly interesting. For one thing, I would guess that there are many children who truly do not even understand the concept of cause and effect, there are so many legitimate outside factors that make it difficult for them, or even us, to realize how they can have any control over their own situations. On top of that, traditions and beliefs in magic and curses encourage thinking that tells them that most things are out of their control, that this is just the way things are. When that’s the mentality of the adults and the community, how are the children supposed to realize that they can control their own fates, that what they do can matter, can make a difference. We saw this everywhere in Kenya; from the women who refused to acknowledge their illnesses, to the men who ignore their responsibilities and drink away their money instead. I really feel that just getting people to realize and acknowledge the problems is a significant step in beginning to change them. Another part of the film that I found particularly interesting was the discussions on how modernization means no humanity. I sincerely cannot stress enough how often this hits me. I walk into rooms everyday where people won’t even look up from their iphones and tablets. When I try to talk about issues like the kids in Kenya starving or soldiers dying overseas or the poverty on the streets of New York City, no one cares. No one wants to hear it. I guess I understand that it’s not always fun or cheery to talk about stuff like that, but to be able to just block it out and not care at all disturbs me. Finally, I find the phrase that was chosen for the title to be a great thought; I am because we are. We are all connected in one way or another… if only more people realized that, progress would be easier, faster, and more rewarding.
    Madonna’s difficulties with building schools in Malawi are sad, but unfortunately, not surprising. I feel like it’s hard to find a charity/organization that doesn’t struggle with corruption. I also don’t know that I think building a $15 million school in Africa sounds like the most productive way to help out a struggling community. School, yes…but why put so much money into one institution that in all likelihood will be neglected and mismanaged after the “faces” (Madonna and her people) of the project are gone. That much money could build the school, train and pay better teachers, and get uniforms for all of the 400 students…instead of spending the money all on the facility, the structure.

  12. Allison Dufford

    When I heard that the name of this film was I Am Because We Are, I was half expecting a really overdramatic, celebrity filled documentary about how Madonna tried to save the world. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the film was almost completely opposite from my expectations. Not only was the very tasteful, it was also a true representation of the country. Although we did not spend out time in Malawi, I saw so many similarities between our trip and Malawi. The first similarity I found in the interview with the young boy who was orphaned. He expressed that all he wished was to be like the other kids who had parents, and his life would be much better. This absolutely broke my heart because he reminded me of Frederick, who we did a home visit with in Kware. He and his brother lived in a tin hut alone in Kware because they were orphaned. Frederick is fortunate enough to have a sponsor for boarding school so he has exposure to education and a separate life from the slum, but for this young boy in Malawi, he just feels alone and hopeless. This reminded me of the many children in Kware who were not fortunate enough to be sponsors, education and hope should be offered to everyone. This film clearly affected me because within the first twenty minutes I cried on two separate occasions, for the simple fact that the experience reminded me so much of our trip and made me appreciate it that much more, and also miss it. Bill Clinton was interviewed for the documentary and claimed, “When people ask me why do you love it so much there? Because they have the highest percentage of people, i believe, on earth that wake up everyday with a song in their heart. They sing through pain, need, madness of people around them. It’s almost an ingrained wisdom of more than 1000 years.” I was so incredibly affected by this statement alone because I realized how true it was…I loved that he said that, and again it made me miss Kware and the family so much more. If anyone woke up with a song in their heart everyday it was Mama and the people in that family.

  13. Grace Zhang

    The film brought me back to several aspects of Kenya that I found absolutely heartbreaking. First, the children are raised to believe that they are hopeless and therefore are stuck in their life of poverty and death. It is truly saddening to find such young children to have already given up in life. Children need to be motivated and applauded for their efforts but instead they are neglected and rejected. A major factor that plays a role in helping children raise their confidence and start a new life is education. There should be more education reforms to allow every child to go to school. With education, a child can develop a career and provided for himself/herself. They should have the option to not starve, to have the opportunity to be better, to achieve what they dream. Another issue that the film brought up was children being the head of the family and having to work at a young age. This should not be tolerated and once again schools and support centers should be stepping in to help support the younger generation.
    I find what Madonna has been trying to do Malawi very inspiring but at the same time frustrating. Education should be the first priority but country is so corrupt that any large charity work to be done always end up in some kind of scam. I think Madonna idea of building a school is wonderful but she should control a bigger part of her project. She delegates too much of her responsibilities to others that when one messes up, the whole operation crumbles. Some of the negotiations that for the builders of the school is absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary. After losing so much money, she should take matters into her own hands so that effective charity work can be done.

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