From London to build multimedia shelter for former street children


Filmmakers Sandra Creighton & Amrish Shah. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU

Amrish Shah, a fourth generation Kenyan based in London and Sandra Creighton, an Afro-Irish Canadian based in Toronto both have specialised skills in transmedia. It is those skills and a children’s shelter in Ngong that brought them to Kenya where they’re designing a multi-media (or transmedia) platform to assist the home.

Transmedia, Amrish explains, refers to everything from virtual reality and podcasts to websites and sound bites for radio, video clips for Vevo, YouTube and cable, and even the ‘old fashioned’ print media. “Although the print that will be part of the project,” says Sandra, “will be digitalised and also voiced over by the children themselves so that all kinds of viewers [and listeners] can access the information we are creating for the shelter.”

The shelter Sandra refers to is the Hadung Cradle of Hope which she first heard about from Canadian friends who knew the young Kenyan, John Machio, who founded it 17 years ago.

“He had already started a feeding centre for street children in Ngong, when a Canadian family gave him $10,000 (Sh1m) to start the shelter,” says Sondra who met Machio in Toronto and was impressed with him. In part, she says, because he was once a street boy himself; but he taught himself Taekwondo. After that, he went on to win top awards in the sport.

Now based in Canada where he works three jobs so he can send funds back to Kenya every month, Machio supports 16 children, ages 10 to 22, and pays school fees for eight more whom he managed to relocate to their families.

Sandra normally designs transmedia projects for a living. But as a creative producer and director, she prefers working on projects that have social impact like the one she’s doing with Amrish.

“We first met in Cape Town when we were both working on a music video for the South African jazz singer, Auriol Hays,” says Sandra, who had needed a cinematographer and camera equipment, and Amrish had all that.

“We got along well and as I recalled his family lives here, I called him from Toronto and asked him to work with me.”

Adding that what she also liked about Amrish was his attitude, his insistence on not producing anything like ‘poverty porn’. “That’s the media that makes Africans look like impoverished beggars,” he says.

Nonetheless, since they both agreed to do the project pro bono, they had to figure out how to cover their costs, namely transport, food and accommodation, including airfare, he from London, her from Toronto.

“So I set up a ‘go fund me’ account online,” he says.

On it, they calculated their costs and set a goal. That account helped them fly here with their equipment, stay at Airbnb’s and travel back and forth daily to the shelter.

“We took care not to interview the children on camera,” says Sandra who has no intention of looking like exploitative voyeurs.

“We only take shots of them playing with the two Canadian volunteers who came with us,” she adds.

“The virtual reality shots are meant to provide an immersion experience so viewers can see where and how the children live, and where the funds people give are going,” says Amrish who studied English Literature at University of Kent in UK.

“But once I assembled a [multimedia] portfolio to commemorate my family’s 100 years in business in Kenya, I realised how much I’d always loved storytelling. So I went back to film school in South Africa and eventually started a business there, providing equipment and services in film and virtual reality production.”

The ‘social impact’ that Sandra says she and Amrish aim to achieve with their project is economic empowerment of the children’s shelter.

Noting that Machio’s monthly remittances are ‘stretched’, Amrish says those funds have to cover the costs of rent, food and salaries for staff, including the cook, laundress and Matron who Sandra describes as a mother-figure to the children, while John is like a dad.

“In addition to covering all that and the children’s school fees (including uniforms and books), it also pays for one child in boarding school and one at university,” says Sandra who hopes the new website and all the other digital components they’re in the process of creating will enable the shelter to grow and Machio to have more support.

“Right now, the man hardly sleeps,” she adds.