Lara: How did you get the idea of making a film on the children of Nyumbani, Kenya? What objective did you set out to achieve with your film?
Gaby: I first spent time volunteering at the Nyumbani Children's Home for HIV positive orphans in Kenya in 2006. I had taken a lot of pictures which I shared with the orphanage to use in any way they wanted. The Chair of the orphanage's Board asked that I do a video to help raise awareness of the orphanage and their various programs in the slums and rural areas with the hope of raising funds and support. I returned in the summer of 2008 and spent several weeks filming there.
Lara: Did you film with a story or message in mind or did the story emerge only afterwards? What is the story or message of your film?
Gaby: I did the film with a story/message in mind which was to bring awareness to the plight of a whole generation of children who have not only lost their parents, often to AIDS, but have been ostracized by their extended families and communities because they were either born HIV-positive or contracted the disease through mother-to-child transmission. Another generation being affected (and cared for by Nyumbani) is the grandparent generation who, instead of being taken care of by their children, are having to bury the children instead. With a whole generation being wiped out by HIV/AIDS, Nyumbani is doing its best to help create a self-sustaining life for those left behind.
Lara: Tell us about the “stars” of your film. How did you pick them and did you get to know any of them closely?
Gaby: The main stars of the film are the children living with HIV at the orphanage who I got to know over the course of two summers, volunteering and working there. Although most of the children are thriving due to the care and medication they receive, I did focus on one little boy, Sammy, who was a heartbreaking reminder that the children still live with the deadly disease. Sammy became resistant to the anti-retroviral drugs available to the children and, after a 9 month struggle to survive, finally died. The film tries to highlight how Nyumbani works to prevent more deaths like Sammy's in the future.
Lara: In what specific ways, if any, do Kenya teenagers differ from American teenagers?
Gaby: The teenagers at Nyumbani differ from most American teenagers because they are living with HIV. Most don't know who or where their families are. Although they are still interested in similar things as American teenagers including pop music, movies and celebrities, they don't take for granted how important education is to their future and that they have to take important medical precautions in order to survive. However, they also differ significantly from other Kenyan teenagers living with HIV because of their good fortune to have the care and support that they receive at Nyumbani. Father Angelo D'Agostino, the founder of Nyumbani, won a landmark lawsuit with the Kenyan government in 2002 to allow HIV positive children to attend public school with other Kenyan children. Despite this triumph, the teenagers at Nyumbani are still often shunned due to their HIV and orphan status.
Lara: What was the most memorable part of your work at Nyumbani?
Gaby: The children and the relationships I developed with them and the staff. I was welcomed into their community as if I, myself, were a long lost relative or family member. As cliched as it may sound, once you are a part of the Nyumbani family, you are always a part of it.
Lara: What suggestions do you have to make places like Nyumbani serve the kids even more effectively?
Gaby: Because Nyumbani serves a very specialized population, medical care and access to an ongoing supply of medications and medical supplies is crucial to its ability to effectively serve the children. Nyumbani works hard to maintain relationships with organizations that can help secure such supplies. Nyumbani also needs expertise in various areas (agriculture/farming, skills training, education) to help it and the children and grandparents it serves become more self-sufficient and self-sustaining and decrease dependence on aid from developed countries.
Lara: What advice do you have for budding film makers?
Gaby: To have an idea for a story or script before you start filming to ensure that you take all the footage you will need. Also, the better you know a
subject or population, the better it will be represented it in the footage you take.
Lara: How can people watch your film?
Gaby: It can be borrowed from my office any time.
Gaby at Nyumbani Children’s Home, Kenya