The Beginnings of The REEL Project
(In the words of TRP founder, Krista Barnes)
I graduated from UCLA in 2004 with a BA in International Development Studies and Cultural Anthropology. I was 25 years old. Between the highs of graduating and the lows of not finding a job in my field, I searched for passion. A professor at UCLA was my guide, and a few years post my BA degree, I received an email flyer to work for a charity organization in Africa. Professor Apter suggested I ‘try it out’. So I did. After a few submissions, classes, meetings and project proposals later I found myself raising money to go to Zambia to work in a refugee camp for a month.
That month was the catalyst for my inspiration to start The REEL Project.
I was so taken aback by the tremendous stories, people, attitudes and poverty stricken-yet-happy souls that surrounded me, I wanted to give more, do more. I returned to the US only with a newfound passion: to create something that gave more, took less and wasn’t so BIG – just simple, give and let them give. See, I realized that poverty is just so extreme. Not wanting to assume or quantify the possibility of needs (as it just wasn’t feasible in the environment), there was always going to be a need. And, I knew endless amounts of people that would always want to give. So, why not create an organization that was responsive to immediate needs and people’s readiness to help?
Thus, The REEL Project was created – from my continuing journey of working with others, giving to others, and connecting with others. TRP is about finding out what is needed then and there. We raise money post-visit, and then deliver.
In 2008, The REEL Project was established as a 501(c)3 not for profit organization. Harder than any class I’ve ever taken, any paper ever written – but worth every tear. Our first trip was to return to the refugee camp we had initially worked in. Re-establishing our connection with the people there solidified our mission and trust. After weeks of research, funerals, school fees and filming, we returned to California and hit the ground running.
TRP’s First Humanitarian Film, “Today We Pack, Tomorrow We Settle”
When I was in the Kala refugee camp in the Kawambwa Province of Zambia, I met Willy Baanza – someone I will NEVER forget. He taught me, amazed me, with his understanding of life. Willy was ‘assigned’ as my official translator when I first visited the Zambian refugee camp. Every day, despite the sickness or the weather or the exhaustion, Willy – with his smile – was ready to go. It was always, “daKrista (da is short for ‘dada’ which means ‘sister’ in KiSwahili), what is our program today?” On our last day, I promised him that I would return. Willy laughed at me, saying, he appreciated the thought but, “They all say that.” Because, despite wanting to return; no one ever does.
Willy was a refugee. And, he has lived quite the life. Being chased from his home and his village. Losing his wife to soldiers. Taking in 3 orphan refugees to whom he only wanted to be the best father and example to them. Willy was a tall man, a former basketball player – and educated. Through a program offered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Willy earned himself a degree at the University of Lusaka, Zambia. He spoke more than 4 languages and 6 dialects.
Less than a year later, I returned.
I went straight back to Willy’s house where I was greeted with open arms, tears and much food. Willy’s life changed that day, and so did mine. In the following hours, weeks, months; we discussed a lot, we cried, we shared, we pondered and we sulked, but most importantly, we made work happen. With the honor of having Professor Apter among us, we documented these works, these talks, and came to understandings and conclusions that solidified our intentions.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others. – African Proverb
Having arrived in Zambia with the thought, not the direction, of exactly where we were going, we relied mostly on the assistance of friends/colleagues we met along the way. Anything from a blanket, to petrol, a ride to a phone call – even a helicopter gave us a lift once. It is quite impossible to get anything done in Africa, alone. Together, we went far. With the support of others, stemming from the UNHCR, IOM, World Vision, SFCG, UNHAS, MONUC, ACTED, WFP (the list goes on and on)…we were able to complete a film that changed lives beyond our own.
How did this film change lives within the refugee camps? Within 6 months since the initial screening of our film, almost half of the Kala Refugee camp signed up for repatriation.
Willy told me of the constant packing and settling in the life of a refugee, “It was always packing, and going, and then tomorrow we will settle; never today.” Our first humanitarian film was made to inspire a settle – a one last pack. And so, with that, we called our film, “Today We Pack, Tomorrow We Settle”.