March 9, 2011

New York Based Filmmaker Shares His Thoughts on AGYA, Uganda

My trip to Africa was birthed out of a desire to go to a place where I had never been before and do something that I never dreamed possible.

I came to know AGYA Co-Founders, Divinity and Abraham through USC student Hayley Pappas. Hayley had been interning for Joey Borgogna at Creative Visions Foundation, which is sponsoring the documentary. She had nothing but great things to say about Divinity, Abraham, and AGYA.

I had no idea what to expect in Africa. I remember stepping off the plane and thinking to myself I’m in the motherland, the cradle of civilization. As an African-American man I was dazed and confused the first few days. The idea that I was on the same continent that some of my ancestors lived on was hard for me to wrap my head around for about a week.

We were picked up from the airport by Abraham and a few youth leaders from AGYA. We drove about an hour before we arrived at the slums. I was amazed at how so many people could live crammed onto such a small piece of land.

The first day at AGYA’s Community Center was wild! It seemed as if the whole village descended upon AGYA to greet us. It was definitely a great way to be introduced to everyone. We were teamed up with Happy Namutebi who served as our interpreter for the teen mothers who participated in the documentary film. Happy was amazing! She had such a powerful story and, as we got to know one another better, I let her take the helm when it came to the interviews we conducted in Luganda. She knew exactly what I was looking for and was a very integral part in helping me and the rest of the film crew communicate with the young women we interviewed.

The hospitality shown to us by everyone was overwhelming. People were very keen on getting to know us and it felt good for me that my team and I were able to lead some filmmaking workshops so that we could pass on our skills to the kids of AGYA.

It took me a while to adjust to no longer being a minority amongst others. In Uganda, there were people who looked like me everywhere although we did not share the same culture or language. Interestingly enough, most people assumed I was Ethiopian! Everywhere I went people greeted me with a smile and a “how are you?” It was a lot to soak in and I think it will take me a month or so to process the experience. Like other African-Americans in the United States, having a sense of belonging eluded me for most of my life. I am a mixture of multiple ethnicities and do possess a desire to seek out my ancestors from the multiple countries they came from, but because my skin color is brown, I am viewed a particular way in the United States. This has made me want to connect more with my African heritage than any other heritage I may be made up from.

I told most of the kids that whether they realized it or not they had something that many people in the United States didn’t have. They had joy and hope. It didn’t matter what their circumstance were like. I also told them that for the first time in my adult life I felt stress free. I’m not sure if many of them understood what I was trying to articulate, but I felt a freedom in being in Uganda that I have yet to feel in the States.

During the 2 weeks I spent in Uganda, I was on a rollercoaster of emotions. On my last day in the country, when I told everyone at AGYA that I was leaving a piece of my heart behind with all the children and youth, I was sincere. It will take me a while to understand everything that happened to me while I was in Uganda and somehow I have to find a way to reconnect to my world in the U.S. which now seems so different. But I know that no matter what happens, I now have a new family in Uganda and for that I’m truly grateful.


The above piece was written by Skinner Myers, a documentary filmmaker from New York whose film “This Woman’s Work” focuses on the challenges and triumphs of teen mothers in Uganda. Skinner and his film crew spent 2 weeks at AGYA where they filmed their documentary and taught a film workshop with 15 Ugandan youth. In addition to raising awareness about teenage pregnancy in Uganda, the film crew responsible for "This Woman's Work" will work collaboratively with AGYA to establish a fund for the girls featured in the film. The fund will be managed by AGYA and will help the mothers send their children to school and provide support for nutritional and medical needs.

Above: Skinner with Aisha and here baby, Shakira.

Above: Aisha, one of the teen mothers featured in "This Woman's Work" holds her baby, Shakira after a long day of filming.

Above: AGYA Co-Founder, Divinity Barkley Matovu, being interviewed by Skinner and his film crew in Uganda.

Above: Skinner looks on as AGYA youth member Shamirah Nansubuga practices filming during a film workshop at AGYA's Community Center.

Here is a short video clip featuring Skinner and some members of his crew during their time in Uganda:

You can learn more about “This Woman’s Work” here