“It isn’t what you look at that matters, it is what you see.” (Henry David Thoreau) This paradox challenged our team while we filmed in the heart of poverty in Mathare Valley, a slum of Nairobi. Yes, the poverty is obvious to anyone who looks, however, it takes one who can really ‘see’ to observe. Our perception of a slum tends to be great need, and unrelenting poverty. Yes, there is a great need in Mathare. However, we also observed neighbors helping one another, men and women departing for another days work, and small shop fronts selling goods daily as we entered the slums for another day of filming. We observed faith, hope, entrepreneurship, family, and community even in the midst of such impoverished surroundings.
As we spent time in the Mathare Valley slum the words of Hernando de Soto in the book, The Mystery of Capital echoed in my mind. He describes this paradox of perception as follows, “The words international poverty too easily bring to mind images of destitute beggars sleeping on the curbs of Calcutta and hungry African children starving in the sand. These scenes are of course real, and millions of our fellow human beings demand and deserve our help. Nevertheless, the grimmest picture of the Third World is not the most accurate. Worse, it draws attention away from the arduous achievements of those small entrepreneurs who have triumphed over every imaginable obstacle to create the greater part of the wealth of their society. A truer image would depict a man and woman who have painstakingly saved to construct a house for themselves and their children and who are creating enterprises where nobody imaged they could be built. I resent the characterization of such heroic entrepreneurs as contributors to the problem of global poverty. They are not the problem. They are the solution.” (The Mystery of Capital 35-37)
Less than one month ago, I wrote this post after spending considerable time with our documentary team in these ‘informal settlements’ of Nairobi, Kenya. I currently write this post from the comforts and conveniences of a place that my family knows and refers to as home. The transition that has taken place in our life over the last few weeks, relocating from Africa back to the United States, has been difficult for me personally. I’ve been encouraged by the shared struggle that others have articulated in posts prior to this. If you haven’t already, I’d highly encourage you to take a moment and read through Bob’s, Kelsey’s, Von’s, and Justin’s posts. We provided this short series in order for you to see how a common experience can have a different ‘take-away’ for each and every person.
For me, the take-away has been much more of a burden than I was expecting. This burden isn’t so much a result of the weight of the experience but is seemingly a result of the weight of the responsibility to share the experience through film in a way that is both truthful and whole. It would be quite easy for us to perpetuate the perception that De Soto refers to above, but we want this story to, in a powerful way, communicate the power that is already present in these communities.
We are just beginning the editing process of the film, so please take a moment to join our cause by giving to the film and in a very important way, tell this story with us. The film will be coming to a theater near you this fall!