The Anglo-Ethiopian Society
Lecture - Tuesday 4th November 2003
Gemini's street-children grow wings
Given by - A Coggins & D Kingsland
Reviewed by - Paul Salt
This was the intriguing title of an illustrated talk by Andrew Coggins and Deborah Kingsland.
This is the 20th anniversary of the Ethiopian Gemini Trust in Addis Ababa, supported in the UK by Gemini Action International, a registered charity. The Trust strives to combat urban poverty in Ethiopia through support and advocacy on issues affecting the poor, especially women, youth and children (and particularly twins, the original springboard for Gemini). It also seeks to promote a positive image of the young people of Ethiopia by demonstrating their positive potential to promote development through the creative arts.
A selection of films was shown to illustrate the ground-breaking work of Adugna, the young people's community dance company, and GEM TV, a young people's community video company. Andrew began by describing his background in film, his visits to Ethiopia in the 1980s to produce films with Haile Gerima, Mike Appleton and Bob Geldof, and his vision of a possible feature film, Street Symphony, based around street children. Whilst scaled-down by necessity, the results were impressive and truly astonishing.
Adugna described the ground-breaking dance and drama produced under the supervision of Royston Muldoon and Mags Byrne. The theatrical production Carmina Burana was amazingly completed in 18 days, with a cast of 100 youngsters, wearing colourful costumes made by Gemini families. It showed to packed houses of street-children, their families and dignitaries, and the audiences must have been aware that they were witnessing something special in embryo. The film moved on to show very moving sequences of Adugna trainees teaching dance to both young and old, and using dramatic techniques to educate the police in the treatment of street-children.
GEM TV is an Ethiopian production company with a difference. The production staff are all young people from deeply underprivileged backgrounds. Now GEM TV produces award winning films and has a reputation as one of the best production houses in Ethiopia. This incredible success story was not achieved overnight. Between 1996 and 2002 more than 20 UK filmmakers went to Ethiopia to train the 12 GEM TV students. Some of the tutors went for a month, others such as Deborah Kingsland stayed for years. The GEM TV filmmakers have favoured drama documentary as a means of exposing social injustice. GEM TV films have been shown on TV in Ethiopia, UK and at many international forums.
Another Kind of Life and Stolen Childhood, both about forced marriage have won UNICEF awards. Love or Money (2003) exposed child marriage in Kenya. In one short clip, where street-children were acting alongside established actors from Ethiopia's National Theatre, Elizabeth Laird recognized a youngster as the subject of her recent book The Garbage King.
We also saw excerpts from Meteni: 'The Lost One' (2002). The Afar are nomads who move with their herds through the hottest region on earth, in north eastern Ethiopia. Meteni is a young Afar woman with two small children. Her husband lets her move home by herself, while he walks to town to buy chat, a narcotic leaf. Alone, Meteni dismantles the house and moves it and all the family's possessions by camel to a new campsite. She grinds maize by hand, milks the goats and carries water for miles in searing heat. When she becomes pregnant, she continues her punishing workload with disastrous consequences. The film is currently stimulating heated discussion between Afar men and women, but will have a universal message. We were shown passages from pilot episodes of an Ethiopian TV soap opera, which may well develop into a regular series, bringing social issues into the open. The three pilot episodes have proved very popular on TV in Ethiopia.
The evening had been introduced by stating that this is the inspirational voice of Ethiopian youth, supported by Gemini. Very true. Very inspirational. Many thanks to Andrew and Deborah for a great evening.
Further information about Gemini Action International can be found on their website, www.geminiactioninternational.co.uk.