A Small Act is the inspiring true story of how a small monthly donation from Hilde Back, a Jewish refugee living in Sweden, enabled bright but poor Kenyan student Chris Mburu to attend secondary school. He went on to study at Harvard and became a human rights lawyer for the United Nations, eventually setting up his own scholarship fund for Kenyan children in Hilde Back’s name, continuing the help that his benefactor provided.
The film combines Hilde and Chris’s story with the story of the new generation of pupils at Mukubu Primary School, particularly following the lives of the top three students – Kimani, Ruth and Caroline, who are preparing for their national KCPE exams. The results of these exams determine whether the students are eligible for a Hilde Back Education Fund Scholarship to attend secondary school. The film follows the children’s hard work, anticipation, disappointment and happiness throughout the exam period – stages which all former students can relate to!
The consequences of disappointing results, however, are far more severe for these pupils. For the vast majority of the pupils at Mukubu Primary, failing to obtain a scholarship rules out the possibility of attending secondary school. This means that many of these students, particularly girls, fall into what Chris’s cousin Jane, calls “the same vicious cycle of poverty”.
The film poignantly captures the chronic disappointment of those left behind, and raises the question of what will follow the attainment of the second Millennium Development Goal – achieving universal primary education. Is the next step ensuring secondary education for all?
Startling links between the lives of Chris and Hilde Back make this story even more powerful. As a Jewish child, Hilde was forced to flee the genocide in Nazi Germany and start a new life in Sweden. Her parents, however, were not so lucky and perished under the Nazis. Chris, her beneficiary, now fights this kind of genocide in his job as a human rights lawyer.
The strongest message in the film, however, is the need for and the possible effect of a small act. The incredible story of Hilde and Chris clearly demonstrates the real-life ripple effect of a single act of kindness and inspires us to make similar gestures in our own lives.
The numerous children who have not been selected for a scholarship remind us at the end of the film that there is a chronic need for many more small gestures on the part of those who are able to do something. In the words of Chris Mburu:
“You have to do something. You have to say, ‘I know that I cannot provide support, relief and help to all the suffering that is around me. But I want to do one thing; I want to take one action that will work towards relieving that situation.”
Each of us can do something; each of us can make a small gesture – and it’s not just about financial donations. This is what we at the Global Poverty Project are all about: we have written extensively about what each of us can do, what small gesture we can make, in order to make a difference and do our bit in the fight against extreme poverty.
Imagine the ripple effect if each of us made one small act today.
A Small Act was released on DVD on 20 June 2011. You can view the trailer here.