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Orphans of Mathare

Orphans of Mathare - Image Produced by Randy Bell,Pacho Velez.
60 min. Color. 2003.
Available as: VHS and DVD
Captioned: No
Catalog #: 0090
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Sale Price: $250.00 Buy VHS Buy DVD

This powerful documentary examines the lives of former street children now living at the Good Samaritan Children's Home, an orphanage and school in the sprawling Mathare slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

These children, many orphaned by HIV/AIDS, slipped through the fraying net of Kenyan family structures and social services and ended up on the streets of Nairobi. They sniffed glue, scoured trash bins for food, and slept under cars until they were brought to the Home.

The film depicts the lives of several of these children as they go to school, struggle with the poverty, disease, and violence that surround them, and reflect on their present and former lives.

"Orphans of Mathare" demonstrates that the grim reality of Mathare is not only medical in nature, but social and cultural as well. The HIV/AIDS epidemic threatens to create a generation of children without parents or homes, growing up to be drug addicts and thugs, alienated from their traditional family structure, their culture, and their history.

The film is not simply about a medical epidemic; it is about an entire culture in crisis. Although it focuses on one orphanage in Mathare, the film lays bare the complicated relationship between poverty, violence, disease, Christianity, tradition, and the orphan crisis in Kenya and throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

"Orphans of Mathare" will provoke thought and discussion in an array of courses in African studies, development studies, Third-World studies, and cultural anthropology. It was produced by Randy Bell and Pacho Velez.


"Explores not only the AIDS crisis in Kenya, but also the complex confluence of various traditions -- tribal, colonial, Christian -- that the teacher/caretakers of the Good Samaritan Children's Home summon to do their exhausting work. The school is a microcosm of a nation in search of an identity, an identity which will enable it to deal with its complex crisis. This courageous film reveals a flickering possibility of hope in the lives of the children who may survive into adulthood, if the world wakes up in time to help them." -- Ross McElwee, Lecturer in Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University

"Offers a unique and powerful perspective on the AIDS calamity that is engulfing Africa and spreading to other parts of the world. The Kenyan children caught in this maelstrom are brave, compassionate, vulnerable, and trapped by this deadly pandemic. For all of their soaring human spirit, they receive tragically little help in the face of their predicament. This effective film should open the eyes of the world to the unmet global responsibilities to help Africans fight this scourge." -- Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director, Earth Institute of Columbia University, Quetlet Prof. of Sustainable Development, and Prof. of Health Policy and Management

"An incredibly powerful film that gives us a privileged view of an orphanage and school in the slums of Nairobi. Through articulate voices, expressive faces, and very personal stories, we look into a world that few of us can imagine and far fewer still have experienced. But for the residents of Mathare, this world is their everyday reality, a reality shaped by politics, poverty, disease, violence, religion and history. This will be an excellent resource in classrooms across many areas of the curriculum. Certainly many courses in African studies, economics, public health, anthropology, religion, or sociology would be greatly enhanced by viewing this film. I look forward to using this film in my course on childhood. It will do what an excellent documentary film should do; it will bring the world into my classroom." -- George Burns, Instructor in Child Development, New York University

"Brings to life the stark reality and the deep humanity of the HIV story in Africa. This is a film everyone who cares about children and young people should see." -- Judith Palfrey, T. Berry Brazelton Prof., Harvard Medical School


  • African Studies Assn. honoree
  • New England Film and Video Festival Award
  • Cambridge (England) African Film Festival honoree
  • American Film Institute Silver Docs Film Festival honoree
  • Telluride IndieFest honoree



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