“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
I want to say a few words today about photography. The words that spring to mind are these… Embedded in our Western culture is our desire (conscious or otherwise) to express our differential. The hierarchy that envelops us. The gap between the observer and the observed.
Why am I picking up a camera? Is it narcissism? Am I expressing my superficiality? My grasp of knowledge? My social status? My ‘outsider’ status? My potential? Who or what am I drawing on? What is my intention? What am I showing you when I take a photograph?
In taking the photograph pictured above, I am a guest in this milieu. It’s the first time I’ve stepped foot into the environment of an African orphanage. How do I show this situation? Is it fair to show the children and the adults as equals? When we (the adults) are the outsiders and this is a children’s home.
I want to make a heart connection with these children. I wonder if this is possible in the short time available to me? As a member of The Peace Project team, this is one stop of many …tightly packed into a day. I want to linger, but lingering is not possible when there are 10,000 pairs of crutches to distribute on one day.
A photographer with supernatural powers could compress all her questions into the blink of her eyelids. I have yet to reach that state of awareness.
I’m not a photographer laden with accolades. Officially, I’m not a photographer. I’m a woman who takes pictures. This is a lifelong pleasure and one that has been more private than public.
I want to see the world.
Sierra Leone for me is magic, it’s tiny. By virtue of its size Sierra Leone should not exist anymore…everything should have been taken out of Sierra Leone and there should be nothing left but a little pile of dust heap of embers…but its such a resilient country.
~Sierra Leonean, Eddie Blyden
The civil war in Sierra Leone, West Africa, (1991-2001) was labeled “the cruelest in Africa’s recent history”. Characterized by destruction of property, but more so of human lives and values. Tens of thousands of civilians died, hundreds of thousands were raped, burnt, tortured, enslaved and mutilated. The Sierra Leonean amputees, their limbs cut off by rebels, became this war’s heart-rending icons.
But civil war and the conflict at the heart of that war, which was fueled by the trade in ‘Blood Diamonds’ – is the old story. This 90-minute documentary film shines the spotlight on the new emerging story in Sierra Leone. This film is the story of hope, recovery and the re-birth of Sierra Leone. The story of its people overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds and re-building their lives with the compassionate assistance of a US-based international creative online community called The Whole 9 (www.thewhole9.com) founded four years ago by social entrepreneur, Lisa Schultz.
Out of The Whole 9 has evolved The Peace Project and Operation Rise – two projects that together comprise one of the most audacious healing initiatives in post war Sierra Leone. The goal of Operation Rise is to provide 10,000+ amputees with mobility equipment that is needed to help those forcibly amputated by rebel forces during the civil war to get up off the ground. The celebration of the success of the Operation Rise initiative will take place on World Peace Day on September 21st, 2011.
A key element of the film is that these historic events on World Peace Day will be documented by some of the world’s top photojournalists. We anticipate that this film will be broadcast around the world in an effort to show that dramatic changes are possible…when people come together and use their creativity they change the world.
Against the backdrop of the unfolding of one of the most dramatic social efforts in the recent history of Sierra Leone, the film focuses in on the lives of six main characters and documents the way in which their pathways interweave in post civil war Sierra Leone. These individuals whom we will get to know intimately – are an extended family linked not by biology but by a shared belief in creating a sustainable peace in Sierra Leone. The film will also ask the questions: How do children who’ve had their limbs chopped off, regain their childhood? How do Sierra Leone’s war-affected people create a second life for themselves?
Musa, 19, is a disabled footballer who was born in Kabala Koinadugu District in the northern part of Sierra Leone in January 1992.
Musa says: “Moreover I am a disabled child which means I lost my right leg during the ten years war in our country when a group of rebels attacked our town with heavy gun firing in the middle of the night. When we are trying to escape a rebel saw us and ordered us to stop. When my mother heard the rebel command she became frightened and tried to run into the bush, then the man (rebel) shot at us and one of the bullets hit me on right leg; then I fell on the ground. My mother thought that I was dead and she left me there for some days…one of the old people saw me there and took me for medical attention, but during that time there was no medicine so the doctor decided to amputate my leg.”
Musa is now studying information technology and computer programming at a college in Freetown and his dream is to one day become the President of his country.
Obai, 33, is the foster father of two children, nine-year-old Tejan and Bekiss (Tejan’s sister) who is twelve. Obai is an amputee who was shot in the leg while trying to save his mother from capture by rebel forces, during the civil war. Obai is a member of the Amputee Soccer League. The amputee soccer players call themselves “The Ambassadors for Peace”. Obai cannot read or write and is currently attending adult education classes in literacy and mathematics.
Bekiss, 12, was raped by a family member while Obai was away playing soccer. Bekiss was then taken by her grandparents to live in the most distant part of Sierra Leone because it was felt that Obai couldn’t provide for her.
Tejan, 9, lost the only father he had known during the war and his mother was raped and subsequently died several years ago. Tejan is currently in the care of Obai, but there are hopes for Tejan to be adopted and start a new life in America.
Whizzy, 39, is the PR director of the Amputee Soccer League. Whizzy was in a refugee camp in Ghana during the civil war and as a result of being in exile during the war – he is one of the few men of his age to escape forced amputation.
Lisa, 45, is a social entrepreneur and community builder. Lisa founded The Whole 9 international online creative community in 2007, The Peace Project in 2010, and is at the helm of the Operation Rise initiative. Her vision has galvanized The Whole 9 community of 30,000+ creatives and a growing wider community to ponder the question: “If one man can get World Peace Day on the calendar, what can an entire creative community do?” Lisa believes that “If people come together and use their creativity they can change the world. Now an ambitious agenda has been set for 2011 that includes sponsoring the education and welfare of over 100 children, designing and building the first Peace Center, from which arts and cultural initiatives and training and micro-loan programs will be operated, and developing a coalition of partners to get the people of Sierra Leone back on their feet. A critical component to sustainable peace is the ability to provide for oneself and one’ s family and personal mobility is key in that.”
Lisa is also the mother of a three year-old daughter and is currently in the process of adopting Tejan.
The film is both an expansive tale and an intimate one. It is an insightful portrait into the lives of these people as they each individually and collectively work towards the goal of creating sustainable peace in a country where life expectancy at birth is estimated at 47.5 years. GDP per capita is $341.00. 52.3% of the population is deprived of drinking water; and based on the 2007 World Health Organization’s Human Development Report, Sierra Leone is ranked 177 out of 177 on the index of least developed countries in the world. The civil war left over 75,000 dead, nearly half of the country’s population displaced, and over 10,000 people amputated by machetes and bullets. Sierra Leone is home to thousands of polio victims as well as over 20% of the world’ s amputees. What is peace against this backdrop?
The film is unique in documenting the resourcefulness of Sierra Leonean people to create a pool of good memories as a legacy for future generations to draw on. This is real people writing history.
Below are examples of three sequences that will be in the film. These sequences will give a good introduction to the overall style and tone of the film.
Sequence One: Everybody Born Free
Over black…opening titles appears on screen:
Whole 9 Films presents…
PEACE IS A VERB
The opening titles fade out and in their place is a montage sequence of handwritten messages that have been written on walls around the world in countries that, at one time or another, have been touched by war. From Prague to Berlin and from Palestine to South Africa and Freetown in Sierra Leone – the message is clear – “Peace is a universal human right”.
Intercut with this montage of handwritten peace messages: two children, an African boy and an African girl – are passing by the Peace Wall in Freetown.
It is early morning – and as the children meander along the streets of Freetown, the montage of handwritten peace messages flash past the faces of the two children like folding Japanese origami paper around two slow-moving figures. As the children continue on their walk, they start to recite The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Kiro and English. The boy speaks Krio, the girl speaks English.
For today is not a typical day. In a few weeks’ time on April 27th, 2011, Sierra Leone will celebrate 50 years of independence from the British.
Ɛvribɔdi bɔn fri
All human beings are born free
nɔn wan nɔ pas in kɔmpin
and equal in dignity and rights.
Wi ɔl ebul fɔ tink
They are endowed with reason
ɛn rɔŋ pantap dat wi fɔ sabi
and should act towards one another
aw fɔ liv lɛk wan big famili.
in a spirit of brotherhood.
Padi dem, kontri, una ahl wey dey na Rom,
Mek una ohl kak una yeys.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!
…go gɛt fridɔm, jɔstis ɛn pis in Salone.
After a great darkness, we see the new dawn of peace in Sierra Leone. But peace is a fragile unity.
This montage sequence ends with the children stenciling of the words…THE PEACE CENTER onto the wall of an abandoned building, at the site where the Peace Center will be built…Using the process of reverse graffiti, the children begin to clean off years of layers of dirt and grime. As the abandoned building sheds its dirt, a new image is born.
Children’s commentary – Over this:
gladi fɔ mit yu. – “I am happy to meet you.”
Misєf gladi fɔ mit yu. – “I myself am happy to meet you.”
OK, a de go nau. – “OK, I am going now.”
Ɔrayt, wi go si bak. – “Alright, we will see again.”
Fade to black:
Sequence Two: Red Sand
EXT. FREETOWN – DAY – THE TIME IS THE PRESENT
Text appears on screen.
ɛvribɔdi fɔ gɛt di sem rayt ɛn fridom we dis stetmɛnt tɔk bɔt, nɔ mata wɛda in na wetman ɔ blakman, man ɔ uman, bukman ɔ yu nɔ sabi rid ɛn rayt, poman ɔ mɔniman, kristiɛn ɔ muslim.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Text fades out… and is replaced by a montage of traveling shots, aerial shots and general views of Freetown and the surrounding area.
Over this: Voice over commentary of Lisa Schultz, founder of The Peace Project and The Whole 9 online creative community.
“There’s a fine red sand that coats the ground in much of Freetown – due, I’m sure, to the rich mineral content of the earth. As you move through your days here, the sand alternately lifts and settles, leaving a thin coat of dust on nearly everything including the 2+ million people that inhabit this capital city. In a city where water is scarce (due to the shocking lack of plumbing), there’s no opportunity to wash your hands or face and I’ve found it’s important to simply give into the reality that you will start your day clean, but shortly after you step into the street, you’re going to be dirty.
Since working in Sierra Leone, I’ve marveled at the strength of the amputees and most especially the amputee soccer players — the main focus of the work that both Sergi Agusti and photojournalist Pep Bonet have done here. If you followed my blog during my last trip, you’ll remember that they asked me to tell you one thing — that they are “Ambassadors for Peace.” Remarkable in that most of them were forcibly amputated during the war – immediately losing so much more than a limb – losing their livelihoods, often their homes and families, as well as that intangible something that makes a man a man. Soccer helped them reclaim all of this –- giving them incredible physical strength, grace and pride.
There were many victories today (one very important which I’ll share at a later date), however I ended the day feeling like I was not only coated with a layer of red sand, but that it had permeated my pores, come in through my ears and settled on my brain, shrouding it in knowledge that was both dark and heavy. You see, today I learned what it takes to bring a proud man like Obai to his knees. And as Obai sat beside me, doubled over sobbing while he shared that Tejan’s 11 year old sister Bekiss had been raped by a family member while Obai was away playing soccer and then with Tejan, was then taken by their grandparents to live in the most distant part of Sierra Leone because they didn’t feel that Obai could provide for them, I couldn’t help but sob as well – for Bekiss, and for Obai, and for Tejan, and for the magnitude of what they’ve lost which is far greater than I can even begin to imagine.
On Saturday, I’ll be accompanying Obai and Pastor Samai to Kabalah in hopes that together we can prove to Tejan and Bekiss’ grandparents that Obai has the financial means to care for them – and also in hopes that we can all return to Freetown together on Sunday – just days before Bekiss’s 12th birthday.”
Sequence 3: Right to Life.
Text appears on screen.
Evribɔdi fɔ ebul fɔ liv in layf, fɔ fil fri ɛn fɔ fil sɛf se nɔbɔdi ɔ natin nɔ go denja in layf.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Text fades out…
Montage of images of Edward Wilmot Blyden (Sierra Leonean educator, writer, diplomat, and politician) appear on screen.
“There is a talent entrusted to you. It is your duty to call into action the highest forms of your being. It does not matter what your calling may be – whether it be what men call menial or what the world calls honorable – whether it be to speak in the halls of Congress or to sweep out those halls – whether it be to wait upon others or to be waited on— it is the manner of using your faculties that will determine the result- that will determine your true influence in this world and your status in the world to come. Every one should do his part to advance humanity. Each should exert himself to be a helper in progress. Whatever your condition, you do occupy some room in the world; what are you doing to make return for the room you occupy? There are so many of our people who fail to realize their responsibility, who fail to hear the inspiring call of the past and the prophetic call of the future.”
__Sierra Leonean, Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912)
INT. SAN FRANCISCO GALLERY – NIGHT. THE TIME IS THE PRESENT
Interview with Eddie Blyden (great-grandson of Edward Wilmot Blyden). Eddie Blyden is a chef based in Berkeley, California.
“Sierra Leone is a country that has been through massive civil war by virtue of its assets. Diamonds, iron ore, and its rainforest which have been depleted for many centuries… Now is the time when every country, every neighborhood, every island is in transition. And now is the time when Sierra Leone is in transtition…I feel that deeply.
We’ve passed the civil war, we’ve passed the questions being asked…There’s no more of a resilient people than you might find in Sierra Leone. They go about their business…one limb gone, the other limb gone…
but they go about their daily business more actively and more enthusiastically than you might find here in the U.S.
Sierra Leone for me is magic, it’s tiny. By virtue of its size, Sierra Leone should not exist anymore…everything should have been taken out of Sierra Leone and there should be nothing left but a little pile of dust heap of embers…but its such a resilient country.
We believe in its future, we believe it’s going to turn around…the time has come now where there is optimism that is starting to show fruition. And we’re praying and hoping for that…
What is Sierra Leone? Its a diamond in the rough. We’ve always been just one buffer away, just one buffer away…So we’re lined up and we have a legacy that we need to fulfill.
My understanding of The Peace Project is…every time I read Lisa’s blog I felt this alignment…somebody was going into Sierra Leone progressively without a religious message. It was pure from the heart.
Somebody wants to go into Sierra Leone and do exactly what I’ve been dreaming of for five years, because what are we here in this society? What change can we really effect? I’m a chef amongst a few other millions…what change can I really effect? You’re effecting change that really matters to me, where my ancestors lay…
So yes art is the platform. Peace is the platform, but that’s where it really starts isn’t it? Isn’t it really where it all begins? It’s just some common ground? This project to me was the most exciting thing to me because…I believe in it. It’s my turn. It’s my turn now to contribute something of value with a message. Let’s put a message out there that people follow, but it’s the right message that can be spread in the right positive community. Sierra Leone is the best example to spark the flame because it is small, more easily managed, and has unlimited resources to tell its story.”
PEACE IS A VERB…is both a campaigning and a triumphant film. It is a film that contemplates the nature of identity and what makes us who we are?
While the film will not shy away from showing the trauma and loss of life that has resulted from the civil war, this is not the film’s main remit; rather we will tell a story through filmed and photographic images set to a soundtrack that has been composed specifically for the film with songs written and instrumental pieces composed that will enhance the emotional resonance of the film as well as serve to underscore the message of the film – through creativity and community we can change the world.
In taking this approach, we will create a multi-layered experience for the audience that will combine the film’s compassionate sensibility with a sensitivity that speaks to hearts and minds…and ultimately to the universal truth that we are all connected. We want the ripples of this film to resonate in Sierra Leone and beyond…to a visceral attitude that is beyond debate. Making the mind approach processes that could awaken one.