Kenyan-made Film Puts the Spotlight on Cerebral Palsy

The 2017 World Cerebral Palsy Day Public Awareness Award winner, Purple Field Production’s film titled Lisilojulikana (The Unknown), aims to combat the fear and superstition attached to children with cerebral palsy in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa.

This project was a World Cerebral Palsy Day Award winner in 2017.

The project

Released in 2016, Lisilojulikana tells the story of Grace, played by 15-year-old Vanessa, who has cerebral palsy herself and is severely physically disabled.

The 70-minute dramatic film is designed to not only educate, but to also inspire and drive attitudinal change towards children with cerebral palsy.

Film was chosen as the best medium to convey this message for a number of reasons: by telling stories people can relate to, drama has the ability to attract large audiences, to be easily understood regardless of literacy or education, and is very effective at evoking empathy and inspiring discussion.

The plan

Extensive consultation took place to develop the script of Lisilojulikana. The scriptwriter traveled through Kenya meeting children living with cerebral palsy and their families to hear their experiences. Consequently, the script was inspired by real life stories and circumstances.

Identifying the actors, support crew and location for making the film was also a challenge facing the project team and Saint Martin Catholic Social Apostolate (a religious grassroots organisation in Nyahururu), who they worked with to develop the production.

Kenyan film director, Aggie Nyagari, translated the script written by Elspeth Waldie, to ensure the film was true to local culture.

Filming was done on location in Nyahururu. With a rough-cut being made in Kenya and test-screened with a sample audience, it was then sent on to the UK for final post-production work.

Distributing the film was always going to be a key factor to the success of the project and came with challenges of its own. So the film could be shown in communities without electricity, a solar-powered, backpack cinema kit was developed.

Then an itinerary was created and a health worker was trained to use the kit and lead discussion. NGOs, government agencies and TV companies were also targeted as part of the plan to get the film out across the country.

Working together

From development to filming, then distribution, Purple Field Productions (PFP) Founder and scriptwriter Elspeth Waldie maintains the success of Lisilojulikana has been dependent on partnership – both with individuals and with organisations.

“We could never have done anything like this on our own, and we are enormously grateful to everyone involved. The vast majority of people concerned have been volunteers,” asserts Elspeth.

Organisations such as Cerebal Palsy Africa; The Educational, Assessment and Resource Centre (EARC); Mumias; Association for Physically Disabled Kenya (APDK); and Yellow House Children’s Services are just some of the key partners that have been involved at various stages of the project.

Many others helped raise funds or volunteered their time and skills to get the film produced and distributed. Local Chiefs also played a crucial role by giving permission to hold the screenings.

Recently, Disability Africa became the first Distribution Partner and PFP hopes to make even more partnerships to ensure wider distribution of the film.

Key achievements

With very limited resources, PFP has been showing Lisilojulikana across Kenya throughout 2016 and 2017.

It was shown on K24, a major Kenyan TV channel in its prime slot on Christmas Day to an estimated audience of 300,000 people.

However, the film’s major impact has been in rural communities where the need is the greatest. Using the backpack cinema, the trained facilitator has screened Lisilojulikana in over 170 villages to an estimated audience in excess of 20,000 people.

The film provides the inspiration, but it is the follow-up discussion that reveals its impact.

There are long held beliefs in some communities that having a child with disabilities is a curse or due to some form of witchcraft. Consequently, children with cerebral palsy are often hidden away.

Discussions with the community around the causes and treatments for the condition, as well as raising awareness around disabilities in general, have been highly beneficial in breaking down stigma and superstitious beliefs.

The extensive feedback from the film indicates it is instigating social change.

“The people who hide kids like Grace are many in our community. These kids are wonderful, and I want to urge these people to bring the kids out, we’re ready to accept them.” – Audience member after viewing the film.

These discussions also highlight how desperately carers of disabled children need assistance.

Adding an extra beneficial element to the project is the facilitator, Salome Jordano, who is also a qualified health worker so she is able to then link people with appropriate supports.

“It is well within my observation that the screening of the film was very helpful, educative, enlightening and will have a far reaching positive impact in changing, promoting and developing the treatment, rights and respect for people with disabilities, especially children with cerebral palsy,” she says.

Where to from here

PFP will continue to broaden distribution to reach Kenya’s 48 million people. A new round of tours has begun already, and DVDs are being distributed to video booths. Other organisations are also being approached to do screenings.

A renewed fundraising effort has started in response to requests to take the film to other African countries, including requests for a translation into Chichewa for Malawi.

There is even a young woman with cerebral palsy in Bangladesh who is so impressed and inspired by the film that she has started work on translating it. Her dream would be for Lisilojulikana to be shown in Bangladesh on World Cerebral Palsy Day.


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