Magdalena from California asks: How can I directly help these young men attain their college dreams? Is there a way to contribute to a college fund set up in their names? I want to let them know that there are people out there that believe in them and know that they will succeed.
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady: Actually, a former Baraka teacher named Daniela Lewy has set up a wonderful charity called the Baraka Youth Empowerment Fund, which you can link to by going to our website www.lokifilms.com. This scholarship fund has been created to help kids in Baltimore that include the kids in our movie. I feel that the best thing to do is to mentor a kid in your own area. A consistent and caring presence cannot be substituted by any dollars. Try the Fresh Air Fund or the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.
Willie from New York asks: Will you make a follow-up film at some point in the future to update your viewers on the lives of young men? We are eager to find out what happens to the boys down the line.
Ewing and Grady: We are eager to find out what happens to the kids in our film as well! We are very in touch with them on a weekly basis and so far, so good. We would love to make another film in 5 years that can track their progress into college or the working world. Only time will tell if the Baraka program made a lasting impact and whether the kids can truly overcome all the obstacles that living in inner city Baltimore presents, and we intend to follow up, both personally and as filmmakers.
Stef from New Jersey asks: I am curious about why the Baraka School was set in Africa instead of somewhere in rural America. Why were there no African or African-American teachers in the school? Did the boys interact with any of the local African boys? How did they relate to being in a country where blacks were in the majority, and did being there contribute to their self-esteem building?
Ewing and Grady: The Abell Foundation, a private educational foundation in Baltimore, was looking for innovative ways to remove boys who were chronically misbehaving — but had exhibited potential — from the school system. The foundation aimed to give these kids an opportunity to start over, while simultaneously giving the students left behind a break from their distracting antics.
The foundation — which eventually got half the funding from the Baltimore public school system — set out to find an economically feasible place set far from Baltimore to build the school. A board member from the Abell foundation had connections to cheap land in Africa, and so it was born. So, the Baraka school was not really set in Africa for any particular reason and was certainly never billed as any "back to Africa" type of experiment.
Of course being in Africa brought up many interesting observations and conversations for the kids.
The interactions with the Kenyans were not that abundant but there were trips to town, visits to the local villages and soccer games with the locals. At first some of the boys enjoyed being considered "rich Americans" by the poor Kenyan kids in town, who often had no shoes and ripped clothing. The Baraka boys sometimes ridiculed the kids "off-brand" clothing and seemed to enjoy not being at the bottom of the totem pole for once. But, happily, this behavior did give way to compassion and empathy by the time the year ended. Much discussion about the wide range of poverty in the world took place in the kids evening "group" sessions. I think these lessons stuck with them.
At the school, half of the teachers were African and half American, same goes for the counselors. The film does not portray this breakdown very well, admittedly. We shot over 300 hours of footage, and much of it does hit the editing room floor.
The real flaw in the Baraka program was that there was only one African American (a female counselor) working at the school. These kids, most of which do not live with or even know their biological fathers, crave African American men in their lives, and the school did not provide that.