I learned about a documentary film project called, Nancy: A One Girl Revolution. Nancy is a young girl living in the remote hills of Kenya. Her world changed when she refused to marry the man her parents had agreed on.
These are the kinds of stories that shake me to my very foundations. From "faraway" Kenya, a young girl is saying "no" to a tradition that she, in her heart, believes is harmful to girls.
Sara Nason is the filmmaker behind the project. I've been able to correspond with Nason and have learned more about her as a compassionate storyteller.
"When I walked into Nancy's parents compound, high on a remote hill in northeast Kenya, miles from any modern amenities, it was clear that Nancy was driven by a passionate desire for change. She was refusing to have her genitals cut and be sold to an older man for cows. She longed for education and to be treated equally. I filmed as an extraordinary argument between Nancy and her mother erupted over the washing up, in which she stated she wanted to end the cycle of suffering of the generations of women before her and pioneer a new way. Even if, as she would say, it was normal for women to be treated like animals, she innately knew it was wrong. Many of her generation accepted it as their inescapable fate but Nancy spoke out fearlessly. She was spat upon and abused by those around her, but she stood firm due to her inner conviction that women's voices needed to be heard." Sara Nason
The extraordinary moment that Nason refers to is quite remarkable to watch. It's the moment when Nancy breaks into a passionate monologue, explaining why she does not want to get married now, why she does not want to undergo female genital circumcision and why she wants to go to school.
"Do you want me to grind stones like you? For how long shall we remain desperate in this dry and barren village?" Nancy asks her mother in Pökoot language. Her mother listens.
"In our backwards culture. It's a vicious cycle, mother, daughter, mother, daughter...My passion for education is driving me. Look hard for someone else to cut, so long as it's not me."
"Cut" refers to the circumcision. For a young girl to speak to her mother in such direct opposition in the context of a conservative, rural East African community is nothing short of impressive.
Nason describes Nancy as "a rebel, a brilliant speaker and a fearless taboo-breaker" living in a culture that prizes meekness and obedience.
For many of us, the eastern hills of Kenya seems like a world away, but we all must have known a "Nancy" in our own lives. In the existence of what we call humankind, we all quest for the same things: happiness, truth and dignity.
Nancy is striving for the same.
Nason realized the power of Sara's story and the need to capture it on film.
"...if I told her story, I could magnifying the change she desired manyfold. I believe her story of hope can have a profound impact in East Africa, indeed even the wider continent and perhaps the world, wherever gender inequality and abuse is widespread. I now share her dream.
Not long ago Kenya celebrated 50 year of Independence. Yet in Kenya's hundreds of square miles of bush, women are trapped in unspeakable suffering. Nelson Mandela said before he died that, "Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression." Yet in Africa 3 million girls are at risk annually, leading to trauma and suffering that impacts every aspect of tribal life." Sara Nason
Nason followed her storyteller's instinct in following Nancy's story. She shot Nancy A One Girl Revolution over the course of six years.
Something beautiful happens when we journalists and professional storytellers connect with the people who we are "reporting on." We begin to let our professional armory down and connect as humans.
"Like ripples from a stone thrown into water, each girl can impact other girls and as ripples join other ripples a movement for change becomes unstoppable. The film is about these role models - one girl at a time, leading to a girl revolution!
I believe Nancy's story is part of a worldwide awakening - the rebirthing of The Feminine in response to the need for a new consciousness triggered by the social and ecological crisis of our time. Nancy's desire for a new way erupted like a fountain from a source within her - a desire shared by women across the world who hear the same inner call, from the richest to the poorest. Carl Jung's words resonate deeply with me when he says, "The world hangs on a thin thread, and that is the psyche of mankind" and "Woman is faced with an immense cultural task; perhaps it will be the dawn of a new era."
Stories can change the world - indeed perhaps they are the most powerful tool to shift social norms, particularly across a continent where the oral tradition is strong. Nancy's tribe's story of transformation could create a domino effect in the region - amplifying and spreading the message and inspiring others to follow - girl by girl, village by village, tribe by tribe. We hope the film will become a movement for change and unlock more significant cultural change. As Kofi Annan says "There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women". Sara Nason
If you'd like to support Nancy's Girl Revolution please go to the website:
Nancy's Story - A One Girl Revolution
The story is not over. In 2014, Sara's family and friends sponsored Nancy's education and in 2014, Nancy received the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Award for Courage.
I'm excited to see where Nancy will go next and I applaud Sara for following her storyteller's instinct, which is essentially, the human instinct that compels us to connect.