The Return Trip to Dadaab
to Film Brave Girl Rising
by Richard E. Robbins
Girl Rising has partnered with the International Rescue Committee, Citi, HP and Amplifier to create a film and campaign around the story of one brave young woman named Nasro. Brave Girl Rising, to be released this March on International Women’s Day, is written by the poet laureate Warsan Shire and narrated by actress Tessa Thompson (Selma, Creed, Thor and the upcoming Men in Black International). In our previous blog posts, we explored the refugee crisis and introduced you to Warsan Shire and Girl Rising. Today’s blog takes us to Dadaab Refugee Camp, as Richard Robbins, who directed the film with Martha Adams, discuss what it was like to film the story.
Getting to Dadaab takes a long time. Nasro made the trip from Somalia with her grandparents when she was seven. Some of it was travelled on foot. Some in busses. It took nineteen days.
First impressions are misleading, as the things you see don’t tell you the story of this place. There is no fence keeping people here. It’s only the geography and periodic check points that makes this place nearly impossible to leave. The place itself is less bleak visually than I had expected. A few splashes of rain at the start of the rainy season in October, had given the landscape an unexpected injection of lush green. Above the reddish earth that permeates everything (including nose and ears) is a sky that is blindingly blue with bright white clouds. The place is not quite beautiful, but it is often very striking.
Too much space
Everyone lives in little mini-compounds each encased in six-foot tall rows of woven sticks. In an odd way, there is a lot of space; it didn’t feel cramped the way refugee camps I’d visited in Haiti or Pakistan did. I suppose the one thing in abundance there (aside from aforementioned red dirt) was space. The only reasons to stay clustered together were safety and proximity to water pumps. But in a place mostly behind fences, the red dirt streets can often feel deserted. Which, of course, makes everyone feel a little spooked and vulnerable—like you’ve constantly made a wrong turn into someplace you’re not supposed to be.
The truth is that most of the time we couldn’t allow ourselves too much space to think very deeply about the human tragedy that we were surrounded by. I feared that if I really let my mind take it all in, I’d be paralyzed by the scale of the suffering and the relative hopelessness of the lives unfolding here. If we think of freedom as the basic right to pursue your own life choices then it’s hard to deny that these people, hundreds of thousands of them, are not free. And maybe the girls are the least free of all. That’s a tough thing to accept. But it kept us working especially hard to tell a story about a girl who thrives and fights and dreams.