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Affected by AIDS Share their Lives
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Shooting back

Neal Baer
M.D. / Filmmaker

Posted 9:45AM on Tuesday, August 07, 2007 Pacific Time

Eighteen children orphaned by AIDS are pointing their cameras with aplomb and shooting images of their lives: stark, compelling, lively, hopeful. They range in age from twelve to sixteen, and they've got a lot to say through their images about living without their parents, most often in small shacks by themselves. That's the harsh truth about AIDS in Africa. Millions of children are growing up alone, a generation without the guidance or love of parents. But there is hope, because of organizations like Reencontro, which make sure that children orphaned by AIDS have food, schooling and a place to live -- even if it's without adult supervision. There are too many children orphaned by AIDS and no orphanages; no real foster care. Unicef estimates that there will be 20 million children orphaned by AIDS in Africa by 2010, so we must speak out now for more financial aid to Africa. These children are Africa's future and they deserve the same opportunities to fulfill their passions and dreams as our children have.

Soon on our website you will see the photographs the children of Reencontro have taken that document their own lives. I can tell you from being with them today that you will be moved by their images and stories. Over the past two days, the children, along with six teen activists from UNICEF-Mozambique, have been learning the fundamentals of photography from our talented mentors. Yesterday was spent taking portraits of one another; today was down and dirty in the streets of Maputo, practicing their craft. Tomorrow, their lives at home.

The second part of our project involves making a documentary. Following the same philosophy as "The House Is Small," this film will not be made by an adult, but by one of the children of Reencontro. Today, Chris Zalla, a writer and film director who won the Grand Prize at Sundance this year, and I chose Alcides Soares to make the film. Chris and Zego, a Mozambican documentary filmmaker, taught Alcides the basics of filming. We selected him because of his passion for storytelling, his wry sense of humor, his great eye, and his drive. He's sixteen, he wants to be an engineer (and now a photographer) and he wants "to tell stories about hunger." We took him and all the kids to a restaurant yesterday. I asked Alcides if he'd ever been to a restaurant. "Never," he said firmly, but then smiled, "this is a very good start."

Yes it is. Alcides will take us to his home, where he lives with his younger sister and an elderly woman in a wheelchair. She gives him a small place to live and he cares for her, cooks for her, cleans for her -- and goes to school. Alcides will tell his what his life is like, through his movie, in a way an outsider couldn't.

The movie is being supported by ByKids, an inspiring organization headed by Holly Carter. Check out the website at www.ByKids.org. Alcides's film will be part of five documentaries made by kids and mentored by renowned filmmakers.

And this documentary would not have been possible without the support of my dear friends from SVU: Mariska Hargitay, Chris Meloni, Dawn DeNoon, Jon Greene, Amanda Greene, Mark Goffman, Josh Singer, Paul Grellong, Kam Miller and Ken Storer. They bought the Canon high-def camera Alcides is using. I am so grateful.

Please keep following our adventure.

All my best,

Neal

comments from website visitors:

It is wonderful that a teen from Reencontro will be sharing his story. It is hard to understand how great the gap between worlds can be, and at the same time, how people from different places but the same world can touch each other in unexpected ways. Keep up the good work.
Beth
NYC
Posted Wednesday, August 15, 2007 6:06AM

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I want to be seen beyond my status. I am more than HIV positive.
Funeka Nceke
Cape Town project participant


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