Stories of the Poor
A woman uses a long stick to pick through garbage in a Nakuru dump site, west of Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, where 800,000 people are crammed into a slum of densely packed tin shacks. Poverty, illness and crime are rampant. The woman, part of the Minyore Women’s Group, searches for discarded plastics and fabrics that can be crafted into sellable items. Any money earned goes to her children’s education.
In the slum of Korogocho, grandmothers gather to learn karate. The skill will help them ward off sexual assaults from young men who believe the older women are HIV-free.
Evans Wadongo offers a solar lantern built from scrap materials free to the poor. The solar lantern replaces kerosene lamps, eliminating noxious smoke and odor, and allowing children to do their homework indoors.
These stories represent the short documentaries of Dutch-born videojournalist Ruud Elmendorp, currently based in East Africa. His work gives the lives of these people global attention. “I listen to their stories, engage with them, learn from them, and then present their experiences to a world-wide audience.”
Passion for Storytelling
His motivation comes from a passion for reporting on the people’s challenges, fears and hopes. “I have an urge to tell how our fellow humans live, which conditions they endure, and how they survive.”
Elmendorp walks the streets and alleys, where he gathers many hours of video footage. He relies on his Sony HXR-MC50 HD camera and laptop. “Usually I inhale all the things that can be known about a story and then I depart with a clear objective.” After that, he says, “I collect the pieces needed to build the story, meanwhile keeping an open eye for the unexpected to integrate in the script.”
While not ignoring the broad social and political issues facing East Africa, Elmendorp typically focuses on individuals eking out a living amid poverty and squalor. Many of the residents in the Kibera slum, and others in the wider region, survive by building their own small businesses. They craft sellable products from anything they can find: plastic bags, animal bones, bits of trash.
The People’s Stories
Here are several examples of his documentaries:
Mohamed Osman has created the Al Imra School of Journalism, a year-long program to train young people in media and journalism. Some of these students, their families refugees from neighboring Somalia, hope to one day return to Somalia to report on the 20-year long struggle for power. A dangerous objective, but they say they are not afraid if they have to die doing their work.
The visual artist known as Solo7, who walks the streets painting messages of peace on pavement and walls. Solo7 preaches peace in Kenya, where post-election violence, rioting and looting killed over 1000 people in 2007 amid allegations of vote rigging. A more recent election was followed by peace. Some leaders fear the loss of international support if violence resumes.
A man named Matayo Magalasi, who makes a light bulb made from a 2-liter soda bottle. Filled with purified water and inserted partially through a tin roof, the bottle allows sunlight to come indoors in windowless huts for people too poor to afford electricity. The idea, found on the Internet, originated in Brazil.
Ben Handa, owner of Woodley Weavers, trains and employs single mothers to weave rugs, which are sold to tourists and hotels.
Elmendorp’s clients include major news agencies in Europe and the United States. He says that, “As a video journalist on location, the best is to do full packages with my own voice and stand up. It also happens that I deliver the footage with a script, and very rarely I only deliver the footage. It depends on the customer.”
To view a number of Elmendorp’s video documentaries, see his own site. Most are just two to six minutes long.