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Film Update

Filmmaker Landon Van Soest returns to Kibera and the Yala Swamp for an update on the lives of Jackson and Silva, two community leaders featured in Good Fortune. See photos from Van Soest's trip in Photo Gallery: An Update From Kenya. Van Soest also shares what he and producer Jeremy Levine are working on next.

  • June 22, 2010

Kibera

At the end of the film, Silva Adhiambo resolved to leave Kibera and resettle with her family on her husband’s rural homestead. What the film doesn’t mention is that her husband’s rural home was burnt to the ground during post-election violence, so Adhiambo was planning to use her savings to purchase a piece of land where she would then re-settle with her family. Unfortunately these plans were soon derailed.

Good Fortune: Silva and her child in Kibera home

Not long after we wrapped production, Adhiambo gave birth to a daughter, and following the birth she experienced a series of health complications that landed her in the hospital for several months. It was ultimately concluded that Adhiambo had had a stroke. She was left partially paralyzed in her right side and lost almost all motor skills in her right arm. Without the use of her arm, Adhiambo was unable to continue her midwifery or take up farming in the rural area.

Most of the funds that the family was planning to use to resettle in the countryside went to Adhiambo’s hospital bills, and the family was forced to stay in Kibera longer than expected. To make matters worse, Adhiambo’s husband, Fred Odhiambo, lost his job as a night watchman in a wealthy suburb of Nairobi, putting an even greater financial burden on the family. Adhiambo and Odhiambo are currently back in their home in Kibera, relying on the goodwill of friends and family for their daily needs.

The family members did have one lucky break, however, as their home was spared from demolition in this phase of the upgrading project. The engineers building the road that threatened to absorb the home were able literally to cut the building in half, meaning that the family in the unit immediately adjacent to theirs were evicted, but Adhiambo’s unit was spared. What was once a wall dividing Adhiambo from her neighbors is now the back wall of the building. See photos of Silva and the upgrading of Kibera.

The upgrading project in Kibera is continuing to move forward, albeit a bit more slowly than anticipated. In September 2009, the project hit a landmark by relocating some 1,500 residents to a temporary housing site where 300 modern apartments had been constructed.

There is no doubt that this housing is a dream for most residents, with its concrete construction, electricity, running water, toilets and so on, but several residents still registered complaints. Michael Wanjohi, one of our key translators for Good Fortune, was among those relocated to temporary housing. Wanjohi reported that he has been unable to pay rent in the new housing for over five months. Wanjohi claimed to be paying 3,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $38) per month for the new housing, as opposed to the 700 Kenyan shillings (approximately $9) he paid in Kibera. He says that he spends most of his time in Kibera, trying to avoid his landlord. See photos of the temporary housing.


Yala Swamp

Jackson Omondi and his family have remained on their land and continued to farm for nearly two years since the flooding incident in Good Fortune. Omondi’s wife recently gave birth to a daughter, and they named the baby Michelle, in honor of Michelle Obama. (President Barack Obama’s grandmother lives in an area along the north side of the Yala Swamp.)

Good Fortune: Jackson stands by swamp with son

Dominion Farms promptly re-built its dam, creating larger gates for greater control over water capacity, but Omondi’s community remained relatively unaffected until recently. At the time of my visit in June, however, water levels had risen nearly to Omondi’s doorstep again. Omondi showed me the waterline on the base of his new home where the water had recently submerged his homestead and said the water had been standing at its current level for about one month.

Omondi listed a litany of complaints about the water, including the loss of grazing land, the submersion of his vegetable garden, inhibited transportation, increase in malaria from mosquitoes in the standing water and even hippos and alligators emerging from the water onto his land. Omondi said the company has had even less interaction with the community than previously, and he has continued to advocate against the encroachment, bringing his complaints to local government, Kenya’s environmental protection agency and several non-governmental organizations. He is currently seeking legal support from international organizations. See photos of Jackson and the high water levels near his home.

Despite a number of setbacks and a good deal of criticism, Calvin Burgess and Dominion Farms are making strides to achieve full capacity rice production. Graham Vetch, who appeared in the film in his role as country director of Dominion Farms, was let go from the company about halfway through production and I was unsuccessful in tracking him down. Burgess declined to answer questions about the circumstances of Vetch’s departure.


What's Next for the Filmmakers

At the moment we're trying to complete a short film currently called The Captain about a polygamous family on Lake Victoria that I was following throughout the production of Good Fortune. Okech, the patriarch of the family, is a fisherman who uses illegal, environmentally destructive fishing nets to provide for the family while World Bank funded patrols strive to eradicate illegal fishing and protect the lake's ecology. We go a bit deeper into the family dynamics with this story, as Okech's wives Rose and Parez grapple with alcoholism, infidelity and HIV. The film is meant to be a holistic view of modern poverty that spans the environment, health and personal responsibility.

We are working hard to cover the rest of the production budget and would greatly appreciate support, no matter how small. You can learn more about the project and see a sample video on our Kickstarter page for the film.





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It’s important that we, as Western citizens, do what we can to combat extreme poverty. I hope this film can be the beginning of a discussion, and I hope that the way we administer aid in the future can change as a result.”

— Landon Van Soest, Filmmaker

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