I was born and brought up in Kibera.
Despite what’s always being reported in the media, I was comfortable and happy as long as I wasn’t reminded (by the media) that Kibera is the largest slum and people are living in deplorable conditions. When I started going to school, that’s when I started realizing the social differences and the cracks in my childhood contemplation emerged. I started to ask myself questions too complex for a child to answer: Did my parent make wrong choices?
I would say that I stumbled into the world of film. A close friend of mine had a complete season of the Brazilian TV series City of Men (*or is it City of God? Iʼve watched both, similar storylines/set up…) I loved the story, I loved the characters, I loved the art. The story wasnʼt set up in Africa, but I could relate. Young kids trying to survive within their hood – a place they call home. I thought of film back then as heavy acting – I found the multiple takes dizzying and annoying. I was convinced that I would never be involved in a film.
Still, I took a leap of faith (unsure where the path would lead me) and joined a local film school in Kibera. My passion started off as a simple urge – to learn filmmaking. And turned out to be a happy accident. I didnʼt expect that storytelling would take over my life. Intensive hands-on training in filmmaking, boot camps, Skype chats with Hollywood filmmakers via Writers Guild of America, being featured by CNN & TED Talks, winning a film fellowship to Ghetto Film School in New York – these were some of my triumphs at Kibera Film School. Before graduating, I managed to complete two projects as a requirement for graduating. I did a short film and a short documentary. The stories were all based on my community but never saw the light of the day, because they were considered taboo.
After completing my training, I was appointed to be the school admin. My colleagues had to go seek jobs elsewhere. Most came back saying they couldnʼt get jobs – seems their training was for nothing. And so we formed a community journalism platform, the first-ever in Kibera; to tell the stories from the community from the communityʼs perspective. It was a successful project. I remember a time we featured a story of the wife to the former US Vice President Jill Biden visiting Kibera. CNN reported the same story but their story angle was a bit off from what happened on the ground that day. Since then I’ve seen similar platforms that are encouraging community journalism been formed across Nairobi.
One thing I have to note about the mainstream media is that the only time they would come to my community to do a story was when something bad happens. This was a disturbing misrepresentation of who we were to the outside world. This led to the birth of the Slum Film Festival – A platform where we could celebrate our own stories without feeling they have been doctored to fit a particular narrative. We wanted to showcase the actual good from our community. Slum Film Festival was to represent the good from underrepresented communities, not just in Nairobi, but in Africa. Together we came to celebrate the rich cultural diversity that comes from our respective communities.
We are celebrating 10 years of the Slum Film Festival since inception. We are changing the narrative; our stories are showcased within our communities, they are celebrated worldwide in renowned and respected festivals as Cannes Festival.
I joined the Mandela Washington Fellowship 2016 cohort. MWF is a flagship program of the Young African Leadership Initiative that helps young leaders from Africa develop skills & connections needed to become a positive force for change in their communities. I was among the 500 selected young community leaders in 2016 to be flying to the US for academic course work, leadership training, and networking at U.S colleges and universities.
My three months in the U.S was a mind-opening exploration of leadership styles. I got an opportunity to learn about governance, leadership, values, communication skills, organizing, and engaging communities. My colleagues came from different countries with rich cultural backgrounds. Networking with fellow community leaders from across Africa allowed for continued relationships when returning to our respective countries.
Another unique project I was privileged to be part of was Road To Madaraka. Road To Madaraka aimed at promoting cross-cultural collaboration and linking global communities through arts, culture, and storytelling. I was able to travel to the US again as part of the RTM team from Kenya.
Again the ability to interact, learn, and exchange ideas with young people from a different cultural background created a strong collaborative environment. We have great stories that are yet to be told. We have so much good in Africa.
I believe in Africa. I am What’s Good Africa.
– Josephat Keya (aka Jos Boss)