Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Every dog has his day

By Ololade Adewuyi

Coming in the tradition of small films hitting it big on Oscar night, Slumdog Millionaire cemented for itself a place in Hollywood history by taking eight awards (including the most coveted Best Picture and Best Director) on Oscar night, Sunday February 23. Like many unheralded small budget films that went on to become big (think of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Driving Miss Daisy, etc), Slumdog is the story of love, hope and redemption in a crazy world such as the one we live in.

It is the story of the lucky underdog going to become the centre of attraction akin to the rejected stone turning to be the cornerstone of a building. It’s a typical rags to riches story from the many slums that dot the world’s major cities, Rio to Cairo and Lagos to Jo’burg. A boy rises from out of the dust and finds love even though it takes a lifetime for him to be able to hold his loved one in his arms; his hope for a better tomorrow is always dogged by misfortune and loss until he hits it big by playing the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And just when he thinks he’s got a lucky break, he gets arrested out of suspicion of being a fraud.

Jamal Malik and his elder brother Salim, two Mumbai rats that refer to themselves as the musketeers have had to fend for themselves from a tender age. They lose their mother in a carnage which erupts from the ever present sectarian crises, an ugly underbelly of the Indian nation. Their slum is attacked by a group of Hindu rioters who strike their mother dead in a public wash pool. In the ensuing melee and escape to a new life under the harsh weather elements, they meet Latika, an orphaned girl just like them who becomes their “third musketeer”. They are abducted by a group of men posing as saintly orphanage managers who then turn them into street beggars.

Life couldn’t be worse when the boys realize that the singing lessons they have been getting is meant to prepare them for life as blind minstrels because as they say in Mumbai, “(singing) blind beggars earn more than normal beggars”. They escape again and head on a cross country trip which takes them to the Taj Mahal where they become tour guides while robbing unsuspecting western tourists.

Through a series of flashbacks, the story of Slumdog unfolds. It is a gripping tale of horror, hope, love, redemption, humour, pain and suffering in the midst of plenty because Mumbai is one of the richest cities in the world; of adversary and belief in the human capacity to reach for the stars out of the deepest shithole in which one might have jumped into. It’s the tale of waiting for love when everything around us questions the sanity thereof. It’s a story of how life can be the best teacher when one has never been through much of academic learning.

Slumdog is a story of doubt and trusting in one’s instincts. It is a story for all of us in that when the chips are down, we can only look up to follow the trail of the stars to find the next meal and succuor. In this time of massive recession the world over, it is no wonder that Slumdog has become a feel good movie for many who see great hope in its storyline. Just like Forrest Gump, it makes you want to cry, laugh and hug someone close by as the final credits role. It is a great escape from a world filled with saintly monsters and the really bad guys who are waiting to take advantage of the helpless.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Desailly’s charitable joy

Marcel Desailly tests the new water pump he just commissioned.

Former footballer Marcel Desailly helps out on charity work in a remote village in Ghana’s mountainous Eastern region.


Agajajeter is an almost forgotten town on the banks of the Volta Lake, in Upper Manya Krobo district of Ghana’s Eastern Region. Tucked away inside a place where the last access roads were said to have been built under the regime of Kwame Nkrumah in the early 1960s, its people have little or no contact with the world. A single beat up taxi cab operates between the village and its neighbours. Its children have to walk 45 minutes to the next village on its hill top side every morning to attend the only school in a 100 mile radius as the single taxi cab cannot serve everybody.

Likewise for its pregnant women whose mortality rate has increased due to the lack of a health centre in the village. The name Agajajeter in the Krobo tongue literally means the crab is the stone. The town was founded as a resettlement after its people were displaced by the creation of the Volta Dam under Nkrumah in the early 60s. It is said that there were crabs everywhere when the people first arrived there that if one needed to throw a stone all one needed was to pick a crab on the ground and use as stone.

Two years ago, a group of housewives in Accra led by Emma Moisan felt they needed to use their spare time to assist less privileged people in the society. Perceiving that there was too much concentration of efforts of non-governmental humanitarian organizations on the city area, they decided to look for a remote village where their impact will be better felt. Hence the discovery of the long forgotten Agajajeter village by the Ena Charity Foundation has brought a new lease of life to the village. The foundation raised funds among friends and family and found great help in Marcel Desailly, former France defender and World Cup winner who became patron of the foundation and helped raised money from among his influential football circles. Desailly who was born by Ghanaian parents but moved to France when he was four after his mother remarried went on to play for France winning its first Mundial in 1998 as well as the Euro in 2000. Having made Ghana home since his retirement in 2005, Desailly who is a UNICEF ambassador has increasingly found time for business and charity work.

“I am a businessman and luckily because of the fame of football I’ve met so many people who are in different social levels” Desailly says “and I’ve realized that I’m high up there because as a footballer everybody can get access to you and I’m all the time conscientious about the reality of life”. He cut the ceremonial ribbon for the commissioning of a borehole, a gari processing and packaging factory, sewing and training workshop as well as present gifts to pupils of the lone school in the village that Ena helped finance and train its teachers.

Interestingly, it was Desailly’s first time of seeing how gari is made at the processing factory. “I know gari but I’ve never seen it made before because I grew up in Europe” he said in his French-laced English as he moved around the women who were behind the hearth frying gari for packaging in plastic cans for sale in the nearby cities of Koforidua and Accra. The foundation hopes that all the facilities provided for the community will be used to create economic empowerment for the villagers. The creation of income generating activities and alternative livelihood is meant to help the community become self sustaining.

In Agajajeter, parents believe in sending their children to the farm rather than to school because the returns are more readily seen. “There should be a good balance between sending children to the farm and access to education” says Desailly. “We hope to be able to help the village bridge that gap and ensure that it can better sustain itself with the new tools of economic activity that has been handed to its people”.

Does he miss football one would wonder? “No, I don’t” he says matter of fact. “I played it for 20 years what’s there to miss”. But trust him to hand out footballs to the children of the town who soon get on the field to start kicking around their new found pleasures. “To feel the smile on the faces of the children that they’re happy and not worrying, it’s the motivation about the job” he says. Who knows, maybe there’s a future World Cup winning player on that dusty pitch up there in the mountains of Upper Manya Krobo.