In the mountains around Nairobi, Kenya, and more precisely close to the village of Ngong, there is a place where education, protection, creativity and initiative have come together to give hope for a better future and a great opportunity for a group of Kenyan girls. Anita’s Home is part of the Koinonia Community projects for former street girls.
Grace Orsolato went to Anita’s Home for the first time in 2002 for a volunteer camp and was so impressed with the stories of the girls that she went back every summer as the responsible of the camp, seeing the girls growing and becoming young women. They all finished high school but because some of them didn’t do very well in school, they were provided with a scholarship and ended up being home re-integrated. Going home back into the slums of Nairobi, without a job and facing difficult family situations and relationships was not easy to to deal with. In December 2009, Grace, after hearing about the girls not doing so well, quit her daily administration job at the very established firm Pirelli and moved to Anita’s Home for creating Get Together Girls Collection (GtoG), a tailoring project for them. She brought all the sewing machines and the rest of the equipment to Kenya and had her friend, the Italian stylist Roberta Vincenzi, hosting a free tailoring course, allowing them to learn the basics of the craft with great enthusiasm.
The name of the collection represents the reunion of these girls that grew up together at Anita’s home during their childhood. Get Together Girls Collection has celebrated two years of activity on February 25th. Until today, with Grace’s supervision, the six girls left in the project created the spirit of the collection. Some of them also manage the business aspects with the use of computers and the management of the orders. Their daily pay allows them to conduct a better life standard considering the poverty and unemployment in Kenya and they all live close to Anita’s Home. They all work during the day and attend some school classes at night. Among the peaceful environment of Anita’s Home, the colorful and creative activities of GtoG and the struggles of their daily lives, there is always the will and the awareness that they can hope and aim for a better future.
The production took place in Nairobi and Ngong in the month of March 2011. The director, Vanessa Crocini, left alone with her camera and microphone but no crew in order to build a trusting relationship with the girls during the month of shooting. Vanessa followed the girls during their work schedule. (Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm). The first couple of days Vanessa didn’t shoot but was carrying her camera everywhere at Anita’s Home to make sure the girls were comfortable with it. Once the girls started opening up with her, Vanessa visited their places and filmed them in their environment, including where the girls’ mothers live.
Crocini shot in three different slums (Mathare in Ngong, Mathare and Kibera in Nairobi) with the help of a local shooter, Kelvin Nyangweso, who shot with a GoPro. More shooting took place in Milan, at Grace’s apartment and in Bologna and Piacenza where the GtoG fashion shows GtoG took place.
When I was in Rwanda, during the production of the movie The Consul’s List directed by Alessandro Rocca, we visited an orphanage close to the border with Burundi. Since I have a 10-year-old adopted niece from Ethiopia, I remembered stories from my sister’s trip about the fact that girls are always in disadvantage and it is better for them to be adopted because in most of the cases they don’t have the same opportunities as may boys do. Alex Rocca talked to me about Anita’s Home in that occasion, telling me that is was one of the places that most touched him in his many trips to Africa. I managed to write to the Amani Onlus Ngo and one of the board members exposed me to Grace’s story and Get Together Girls.
The Get Together Girls project focuses on helping and making self reliant former street girls that have been rehabilitated and reintegrated in the society. Former prostitutes? No, street girls as many street boys are children or teenagers that simply adapt their lives on the streets, begging for money, sleeping in corridors, without any adult or family supervision or care and often subject to abuse, neglect and violence. Some of them get lucky because they are approached by volunteers or workers from many organizations that are dedicated to rehabilitating street children. Not an easy process considering that it is very gradual and often very difficult for street children to abandon the street life that they are comfortable with, where there are no rules to follow and where there are no restrictions. Often street girls are protected by older street boys that don’t deal very well with one of them leaving the group as traitors. Life in the rehabilitation centers is not painless either but at least the kids don’t leave on the street and they become used to be loved, taken care of and taught rules and manners. After being sustained in finishing their studies, most of these former street children now young women and men, face some difficulties managing their lives alone and being caught up with drugs, drinking and delinquencies is a very suitable option. Considering that Nairobi is one of the most violent and contradictious major cities in Africa and it has some of the unfortunately world most famous slums, it is clear that there are not many opportunities for younger kids, especially girls.
GtoG is only one of the many other possibilities for them, making young women the fundamental part of projects that focus on their professional and creative capabilities. Talking to Grace and seeing her passion for this project made me understand that this was the story I wanted to tell. I didn’t know if it was going to be difficult to approach the girls and be able to show the project for what it really is. I wanted to capture the differences between Grace’s set of mind and the girls’ and bring them to the screen in its most natural way. Grace is not a saint, but she is a very sensitive yet strong woman. Leaving a comfortable life in Italy is not easy, adapting to a different culture where lots of situations and events are never understood completely. On the other hand, the girls are attached to Grace so much, she is a pillar in their lives and a reminder of how far they have gone since they were children when they met her during their rehabilitation at Anita’s Home. Their connection is a result of time, work, will, acceptance, a learning process that is still taking place.
Grace’s choice is a big example and unfortunately not everybody is able is change his/her life in a radical way like she did, but her story to be shown in this documentary can really activate a chain effect of thoughts, actions and above all concrete ways of helping and develop ideas, projects being aware of the difficulties that many young women have all around the world. There are ways to change the actual situations and even with little steps, there can be great results. With this documentary, I’m also hoping to influence even the young generations all around the world in the more civilized ad economically developed countries to show them that there are ways they can improve the lives of some of their peers and that they have a responsibility to make it happen. It is important to open minds because unfortunately there is a lot of ignorance about Africa and its history, its countries and its cultures. I think it is important to bring awareness of characters, stories and places around the world that many people would not know otherwise. Share stories and influence the way of thinking and taking actions is my goal. There is so much out there to bring over here.