12-minute film has desired impact in fight against violence

A cross-section of the stakeholder at Cara Lodge for the premier of Rebecca’s Story

TWO young children who have been dropped off at their grandmother’s say goodbye to their parents, and with the touching exchange of ‘I love yous’ tinged by a tangible level of apprehension, you know something is about to go tragically wrong.

Margaret Clemons, founder of the Margaret Clemons Foundation, which supports the community youth initiative, the Witness Project (Photos by Cullen Bess-Nelson)
Margaret Clemons, founder of the Margaret Clemons Foundation, which supports the community youth initiative, the Witness Project (Photos by Cullen Bess-Nelson)

This is how the 12-minute film, Rebecca’s Story, began as it premiered last evening at Cara Lodge.

Set in a Georgetown suburb, the story of bravery – standing up for change to fight gender and child violence – made its mark on the many stakeholders gathered to view the most recent advocacy tool. The tale that unfolds tells of the struggle of a teenage girl and her young brother, two orphans, now permanent guests of their grandmother, who is an alcoholic with a violent streak.

The children endure physical and verbal abuse at her hands until a neighbour, a young boy, takes notice. Bravely, he uses an educational opportunity, an invitation to a reading class, as a means to bring some change to the children’s lives.

Although ignored by the old woman, Rebecca reciprocates the brave gesture with one of her own, and indicates her willingness to participate in the class.

Referring to her grandmother as a “jaguar” in the brief narrations that were interspersed in the 12 minutes of depiction, Rebecca finds out that the seemingly indomitable beast, like most everything, is vulnerable.

Flashbacks of the old woman’s teenage years reflect her own history of abuse.

Soon enough, Rebecca’s bravery is once more evidenced as she recognizes the vulnerability of the “jaguar” in her life, and bravely approaches her grandmother, who it turns out is illiterate, with a promise of support.

One brave act led to another, and soon enough her grandmother acquiesces when Rebecca asks her to consent to her participation in the reading class.
The next time the young neighbour came calling, his reception was different.

The story, albeit short, is impacting as it evidences the impacts of bravery and its consequential benefits.

Rebecca’s story is undeniably one of life-changing transformation through empowerment, courage and determination.

However, the end is not really the end; rather, it is the first filmmaking exercise by Guyanese youth involved in the Witness Project, a community youth initiative supported by the Margaret Clemons Foundation (MCF), which is a New York-based non-governmental organization (NGO).

It is the group’s most recent effort to use the arts to change the culture of violence in Guyana.

Under the motto, ‘What we see changes who we are’, the Witness Project has been making waves in civil society, and boasts a membership of 25 young people who were responsible for making the film.

Programme Director of the Witness Project, Guyana, Rosheni Takechandra, told the Guyana Chronicle that the group was established in 2011, and Rebecca’s film is the third major activity to advance change in Guyana with support from partners. The other two include participation in the worldwide ‘Inside Out’ campaign and a weekly page in the local press.

“We are partnering with the Ministry of Education, Help and Shelter and other likeminded organisations which support training and capacity building,” she said.

According to her, in making Rebecca’s Story, the Project’s members benefited from skills training.

Asked what would be the next move for the short film, Takechandra said it is expected to be aired on the Education Channel and in schools. “We also hope to submit it to the Caribbean Film Festival this year,” she said.

The Programme Director added that all of the activities of the Witness Project are intended to send a clear message, a call for change.

Education Minister Priya Manickchand also attended the screening of the film. According to her, the level of violence is higher than “any reasonable” person should be comfortable with.

She acknowledged the role of NGOs in the fight against gender and child violence, and in moving Guyana to the place it is now, although there is still some way to go.

The minister noted that the kind of advocacy being done by the Witness Project is laudable, and she thanked the commitment of Margaret Clemons, who inspired the creation of the witness project.

Clemons, in a brief statement, noted that no one group can make a difference by itself; rather, it must be through partnerships.
Funding for the activities of the local Witness Project, in addition to support from partners, is secured through fundraising activities.

Clemons’s Foundation acknowledges the toll violence against women and abuse of children have exacted on communities worldwide, as well as its continued impact on all aspects of society.

The MCF supports programming that creates sustainable change through creative and integrated learning, expressive therapy, and community art initiatives. Changing attitudes and social practices that currently contribute to violence and aggression calls for innovative programmes designed to make a lasting difference.
Written By Vanessa Narine