I Am Because We Are is a 2008 documentary made by Madonna about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Malawi. The film has some raw footage, but presents a balanced perspective on finding solutions to HIV/AIDS crisis. Notable interviewees include Desmond M Tutu, President Bill Clinton, Prof. Jeffry Sachs, and Dr. Paul Farmer. You can watch is for free on www.hulu.com.
I watched the film late last night as I am preparing for my return to Malawi this coming June and July. The film started off with the typical cliches about impoverished and disease stricken Africa. I was skeptical. After the introduction, the film was divided into two parts: a detailed look into the challneging HIV/AIDS and resulting orphans crisises, and reflections on the beauty of the Malawian spirit and positive solutions moving forward.
It is dificult to see the raw footage one after another of dying mothers, children, and shocking traditional practices that spread the disease. I nearly turned off the film half way through because this part went on a bit long, seemingly without a glimer of hope. Maybe this was intentional.
Thankfully, toughing it out paid worthwhile as the second half of the story presented a brighter picture. The film commented on many of the observations my husband and I made while living in Malawi for the year in 2006. Are there any people in the world more joyful, hospitable and grateful than the people of Malawi? And this, in the midst of the health, economic and social challenges they face, is remarkable. The deep understanding of community and support puts us to shame in the West.
Ultimately, the biggest challenge presented was how to care for a young generation, that is overwhelmingly orphaned, who will soon be the leaders of Malawi. Specifically, how do you combat the victim mentality and dependency on others to solve these problems? The film highlighted Spirituality For Kids (SFK) a non-profit that conducts leadership and character development classes for kids in developing countries. I was impressed with the message the film captured with SFK. When people feel like victims and expect others to come in to fix their problems (as we all too often do) no forward progress has been made. In my opinion, teaching problem solving skills and empowering people to know that they are capable of producing change in their own lives is the only solution to the complex challenges that Malawi and other developing countries face. I was encouraged to see the work the SFK is doing.
I do recommend Madonna's film. Prepare yourself for the first half of the film where you are presented with the worst of the HIV/AIDS crisis and Malawian culture all at once. And please, be patient and watch the second half where you will see the light and hope that lies at the heart of Malawi.