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Let Girls Lead Video Contest Winner: Harriet Kamashanyu's Documentary Premiere

06/25/2015 08:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

Let Girls Lead is pleased and excited to announce our Global Girls' Video Contest first prize winner, Harriet Kamashanyu, from Kampala, Uganda. Harriet's winning video was selected out of 142 video entries from 26 countries in the video Contest. She received $10,000 in cash, equipment, and technical assistance to produce a powerful documentary that chronicles her important work.

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Harriet founded Rhythm of Life, a Ugandan organization that helps young girls escape from the sex trade, go to school, and earn livelihoods free of violence and disease. Harriet is charting a new course for generations of girls, and thus charting a new course for her country.

Here, she writes about her experience winning the video contest and how the video she produced in association with LGL will help her and her organization shape a brighter future for girls in Uganda.

Winning Video Leads to Improved Advocacy for Uganda Sex Workers

My name is Harriet Kamashanyu. I am a 25 year old Ugandan, and the founder and executive director of Rhythm of Life, a Ugandan NGO that empowers HIV positive female sex workers and their daughters in the red light districts of Kampala and Kabalagala.

Having grown up in Uganda's biggest red light area (Kabalagala), I now reach out to marginalized women and girls and help them secure the services and opportunities long denied to them due to societal stigmas. As a result of accessing education and healthcare, girls born into the sex trade can change their fates and realize their dreams beyond following their mothers' footsteps in the vicious cycle of mother-to-daughter prostitution.

Winning the Let Girls Lead video contest was an incredible opportunity. My initial two-minute video entry demonstrated the power of girls' leadership in changing things for the better through innovative solutions that address the challenges in their different communities. The funds and equipment that I won to develop a longer documentary resulted in sharing more about our work, more about the lives of those seeking to escape the sex trade, and showcasing our impacts in advocating for social change.

Beyond the award funds and equipment, what made this project a success was the ongoing and hands-on guidance provided by Let Girls Lead. Their knowledge sharing and skills transfer supported me at every step of production, from script writing to scene setting to editing.

The moment was thrilling - not only for me, but for all the girls and women in Kabalagala, Daido, Makindye and the other red light districts. This was an opportunity to provide a platform to share stories of leadership and courage - and for voices to be heard. The award also accompanied a moment of belief and self-actualization, and gave me the courage to continue with my advocacy journey. I heard the message loud and clear: "We believe in you.....you've got the power to make it....you have the potential nobody else does.....we are here to listen to your story....we are here to support you."

I am now using my new video to highlight the power of girls in my community, sharing their experiences and lessons learned. I'm also incorporating the video in advocacy efforts with government and the general public, most recently on Women's Day where we championed girls' education. We showed what education means to girls from the red light districts, and what dreams they can achieve.

In terms of other digital media, we are also restructuring our website. Now as an award-winning videographer, I have the confidence to video document all of our programs so that the world can see we are doing. My team and I also plan to collaborate on video projects with partner organizations in order to broaden the platform for collective voices about issues of concern in our respective communities. Videos will instrumentally ease our connection with traditional media outlets, especially the television broadcasting companies that prefer finished work.

I have learned that smart utilization of video and digital media requires skills and planning that include networking, audiences analysis, content writing, storytelling, interviewing, understanding visual imagery, and organizing meaningful outreach events:

· Take advantage of strategic win-win opportunities on key dates such as International Day of Girl Child and Women's Day. Contributed digital content and videos will prove timely and help put your message at the forefront.
· Establish contacts with media outlets to help disseminate your message across larger audiences.
·Have videos - short or long - at the ready for deployment on social media channels.
· Calls to action - such as online petitions - are important to engage supporters.

In this whole process, I also learned that video and digital media tools play a significant role in effective advocacy, and all social entrepreneurs must embrace this in their operations. Traditional media - radio, television, press - are equally instrumental in public advocacy initiatives, especially campaign-based approaches. And it is important to weight all the risks and rewards. Video and digital media can deliver our messages to a mass audience, potentially increasing profile and credibility. The flip side is bad publicity that may contribute to mobilizing opposition. But perhaps the most valuable lesson I have learned is that when your stories are authentic and shared with the intent of combating injustice, there is nowhere to go but up.

We invite you to read about our other contest finalists and their powerful stories advocating for change in their countries!

Let Girls Lead empowers girls and their allies to lead social change through advocacy, education, economic empowerment, storytelling and strategic partnerships, contributing to improved health, education and livelihoods for more than 7 million girls globally.

Let Girls Lead's Global Girls' Conversation video contest highlights girls' power to create change by sharing their own solutions through short videos. The video contest served as an exciting opportunity for girls, organizations working with girls, and girls' allies to share their advocacy solutions and successes.

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