After seeing Please Give, my friend Liz asked an almost impossible question: is there any good in this world?

This documentary offers an answer that yes, there is some good in this world.

Hilde Back, a Jewish woman living in Sweden after fleeing Germany during the start of World War II, makes a small monthly donation through a program at the elementary school she teaches at to a student in Kenya, Chris Mburu. Chris is at the top of his class, but he can’t attend secondary school on a regular basis because his family is too poor to send him there. The money – only $15 a month – got Chris through school and off to university. He gets his law degree in Kenya.  He goes to Harvard and gets his masters.  He works for the United Nations. He goes back home and decides to start a fund to help other kids to get through school.  The fund would become the Hilde Back Education Fund.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t heard from her in the form of donations in over twenty years.  He decides to track her down through the help of the United Nations.  She is flown to Chris’ home village and a day is dedicated to her.  She is speechless and amazed.

The scholarship fund is awarded to gifted individuals in Kenya in order for them to attend secondary school.  A $40 scholarship, as explained, would be enough for a year of school.  If the the students can get to secondary school, they’re almost guaranteed to get to a university (the University of Nairobi, at least when Chris went to college, was free), but if not, the chances of them being able to escape the poverty they live in becomes almost nothing.  Boys become drug runners and guerrilla soldiers.  Girls are married off and are have an average of 3-4 children, with no possible way to be able to feed so many mouths.  Lack of education would only add to the vicious cycle of violence and poverty, and Chris looks to change that, at least for as many as he can.

The documentary follows three kids: Kiami, Ruth and Caroline.  All three live in poor conditions.  Caroline seems to have it the worst, simply because her family lives on the school property (she is constantly ridiculed for her family having no land).  All three though are brilliant, constantly in the top three of their class, hardly letting their poverty bring them down.  They have nothing, and yet, they have everything.

Their ranking, it would seem, wouldn’t matter when it came to the national achievement tests.  Chris uses a high standard – 380 marks – to determine who would receive the scholarship.  The year will be difficult: presidential elections are looming, and tensions are high between ethnic groups.  The tests look impossible: some of the questions, a mix of English, math, history, and geography, confused me greatly.  Yet this kids are required to know them at twelve and thirteen years old.

Every person in this film touched me in some profound way.  Hilde gave her money (and at 85 years old, continues to do so).  Chris contributed his efforts to bring peace, not just to Kenya, but to everyone around the world.  The kids saddened me, and yet made me hopeful in their drive to succeed.  I won’t give away the ending to the documentary, but is again both sad and hopeful in the same perspective: there is not enough money to send kids to secondary school, but even a small amount will help in getting more and more students the education they need.

This documentary proves the obvious: a small and simple act can have the greatest of consequences for many people.

(While writing this review, I went through the Kristof and Wu Dunn book “Half the Sky” to see if they had anything regarding the Hilde Back Fund.  They didn’t, I would think because of everything else they had to put in their book.  I do plan on sending a tweet to Kristof about this film – hopefully he’ll get it – and he can spread the word to get other people to watch this film (currently on HBO On Demand through September I believe), more so than I can with the few people who read/listen to me.  In the meantime, I found the fund online – http://www.hildebackeducationfund.com/about-us.html – so you can go there and decide for yourself what you want to do.)

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