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There's little to do in a refugee camp. So these teens picked up an unexpected hobby.

Too many of the 185,000 souls here have given up hope of rebuilding their lives. But these kids are just getting started.

There's little to do in a refugee camp. So these teens picked up an unexpected hobby.

The young boy cradles his head, emitting a low moan as blood drips through his fingers and soaks the soil beneath him.

His friend uneasily makes his way through the shrubs to examine the injury he has caused. Upon seeing the blood, he gasps theatrically and stumbles backwards. Frightened, he tucks a slingshot into his trousers and runs away.

“Cut!”


Throwing his arms in the air in exasperation, a lanky 20-year-old yells out and everything stops.

Fidele is directing this film, and he isn’t happy. He wants more emotion from his cast, more feeling.

Regan, the boy with the bleeding head, gets up from the floor and wipes some of the sticky red liquid from his cheek, a smile spreading across his face. The kid in the yellow T-shirt, Pasyan, saunters back into the shade beneath the trees. They watch as Fidele re-enacts the scene, crouching down, holding his head, moaning dramatically, showing them how it’s done.

All photos courtesy of Rachel Reed, used with permission.

All of the kids in the film’s cast and crew live in a remote refugee camp in Northern Kenya.

They are waiting, along with 185,000 others, to be resettled in the U.S., Australia, Canada, or Europe, or for peace and security to return to their respective counties so that they can go home.

The camp, a sprawling collection of tents and crumbling mud and corrugated iron huts, is not an easy place to live. There is little to do. In the morning, most kids cram into airless classrooms with up to 200 other children. After school, some help their families by going to fetch water or firewood.

Mostly, children idle away their time, hanging out in the narrow alleyways between huts, finding creative ways to play with whatever they get their hands on. Some have never known life outside the camp; many will wait years or even decades to be resettled.

In 2011, a 19-year-old Congolese refugee named Batakane Jean-Michel returned to the camp after studying at the East African Media Institute in Nairobi.

Jean-Michel was determined to put his new skills to use and provide something for the kids living in the camp.

“I moved back after realizing that a multitude of people like myself were anxious to learn,” says Jean-Michel. Using his pocket money, a small camcorder, and a laptop he was given as a gift, Jean-Michel started Season of the Time Media Productions (STMP), running yearlong courses for children who wanted to learn about film production.

Tucked behind a small Congolese café inside the camp, STMP’s office is a tiny, unassuming room. A piece of paper hanging on the outside wall reads: “Notice! Notice! Notice! STMP Studio. Kick out boredom, idleness, and cluelessness. Get busy and know more on what’s popping in the outside world.”

Inside, kids take turns using a computer with a broken screen, teaching themselves how to use programs like Photoshop and Fruity Loops, a music production program. The power cuts out frequently, but when it does, they just wait, knowing that sooner or later it will start up again. Then they go out around the camp and make their own films and music videos.

As STMP’s assistant cameraman, 15-year-old Kito is no stranger to the stop-and-start pace of film production.

He has been with STMP since 2013, when a friend connected him to Jean-Michel. Kito arrived in Kakuma five years ago, after his family fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“When I first arrived, I used to stay at home from morning until evening,” recalls Kito. “I was so bored.” But then Kito heard about STMP and started developing his skills as a camera operator.

In addition to making movies and music videos, Kito and the other children earn a little money by filming weddings, birthday parties, and other celebrations for camp residents who have no other way to immortalize previous memories. They charge around $10 an hour, and shoots can go on for about six or seven hours.

50% of the proceeds are put aside to fund STMP’s productions, while the remaining half is shared among the crew members.

“At the end, the amount of money we get is very small for the work we do. It is just pocket money to buy basic things,” says Fidele. “But we do it to help the communities.”

In December, children sign up for the yearlong course led by Fidele.

Three times a week, under the shade of acacia trees, the older kids — Fidele, Kito, and 17-year-old cameraman Olivier — take turns teaching film and music skills to younger children. For them, it's a way of giving back what they were taught by Jean-Michel, who, after eight years in the camp, resettled in Australia last year and now raises money for STMP from afar.

“He showed me that I can do whatever I want in my life,” explains Olivier, who says he always wanted to be a filmmaker. “Now I try to help some other kids so they can be even better than me.”

Throughout the year, the kids learn to use a computer, shoot and edit short movies, and produce music. At the end of the course, children pair off and produce their own movies, and the older kids name one as the best of the year.

Most of the children have never held a camera in their hand or used a computer before joining STMP, but many now dream of becoming editors, scriptwriters, and producers.

Back on set, Fidele and Paluku, a 14-year-old scriptwriter, carry a bag full of  old shirts, hats, and frilly dresses to use as costumes.

10-year-old Angelina gets out her tools — a little mirror, a powder and eye shadow palette, a stick of lipstick, and an eye pencil — as her fellow makeup artist Leticia preps beside her. Olivier and Kito check that batteries are charged and the camcorder is working. It stops a few times, but a little knock brings it back to life.

Followed by several curious children, STMP’s cast and crew of 10 walk through the narrow, dusty alleyways between huts and into a small wooded area. They set up their tripod, the actors change into costume, and Fidele gives last-minute advice.

Linelle, a 5-year-old actress and the youngest STMP member, guards the area around set, stopping curious children from getting too close and shouting at them when they got too loud.

There is no time for playing around. STMP is at work.

Check out STMP in action:

Meet the Teenagers Who Started a Film Production Studio From T...

NEW: “The power cuts out frequently, but when it does they sit and wait, knowing that sooner or later it will start up again. Then, they go out around the camp and make their own films and music videos.” Read the full story: http://narr.ly/2zHRijE

Posted by Narratively on Wednesday, November 15, 2017

This story was originally published on Narratively, a digital publication focused on ordinary people with extraordinary stories, and is reprinted here with permission. Visit Narratively for more stories about Game Changers, Super Subcultures, and Hidden History.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
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It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.

Dr. Duane Mitchell and Mark Hall

Two strangers sat down next to each other at Spurrier's Gridiron Grille in Gainesville, Florida, and had a great conversation that should have been filmed for all of America to see. It all started when Mark Hall of Ocala, Florida, commented on Dr. Duane Mitchell's choice of appetizer: Brussel's sprouts.

"That sounds awful. No, thank you," Hall joked.

Dr. Mitchel told Hall he was a researcher at the University of Florida studying human diseases which kicked off a contentious but friendly conversation about the coronavirus vaccines. Dr. Mitchell had got the vaccine, but Hall had been firmly against it for a year and a half.

"I've been against the shot since the shot was even born," the Ocala resident said in a University of Florida video. "Timelines weren't adding up for me. It seemed like the perfect storm." However, that didn't stop him from wanting to learn more and it made all of the difference.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!