By Margaret Nyandeng
Don’t let individuals’ ideas and stereotypes about career aspirations deter you. This is one of my key takeaways from interviewing Amina Ortence Rwimo, an award-winning filmmaker and co-founder of Exile Key Films, a production company run by refugees that highlights inspiring stories of refugees.
Born in the Congo, Amina fled her home as a teenager after she was separated from her whole family during the civil war in the Congo. She became a refugee in the Kakuma camp in Kenya. She faced incredible obstacles: needing to overcome a language barrier and learn English while being alone in a camp with so many diverse cultures. Amina was eventually taken in by a friend to her father who heard she was at the camp. Her future wasn’t clear but she knew she had to always remain strong and she chose to focus on the future. She had a dream of acting since she loved films.
“It was a very difficult decision to make, but very important,” Amina said.
If she listened to others, she wouldn’t have experienced some of her successes. Amina was advised not to do film and that it wouldn’t take her anywhere as a woman. However, she had her mind set on succeeding in this industry. She was the only female student in her film class and ultimately graduated.
“I was ridiculed for working with men; many said I am walking around the community with men carrying cameras, when I am supposed to be at a beauty salon or doing house duties,” she said.
Her hard work, determination and passion fueled her success in the midst of all these challenges. Most notable is her production of the film “It Has Killed My Mother”, a short drama which captures the effects of female genital mutilation (FGM) through a heartfelt love story set in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. It tells the story of a life cut short all because of a procedure forced on a young girl by her loving grandmother.
Most of the time women become victims of gender based violence, sexual harrassment and cultural practices such as FGM. These women always remain silent and hence needed someone to air their grievances. Producing a film that seemed to attack the beliefs and practices of certain cultures was difficult. Many filmmakers fear telling such stories. Amina believes she has been through worse and was ready to face her fears. She found her voice in telling stories through film. Witnessing the effects of FGM made her determined to be a voice for the victims.
“I was working at the International Rescue Committee (IRC),” she said “I was touched by so many stories about women and what they go through. It was frustrating because I didn't know what to do. Eventually, I decided to tell their stories through film.”
Amina received both negative and positive feedback from the community, which was a good sign to her. She believes these reactions made her realize how impactful her film was to the audiences.
Motivated by this experience, Amina wanted to share refugee stories and empower women. She joined the FilmAid media training class to be an actress before shifting to writing and directing. She credits FilmAid Kenya for giving her the skills and knowledge about film. She feels like FilmAid has been like a family that has provided massive support.
Amina together with some of her colleagues from the class created a product group which ultimately resulted in Exile Key Films. The company produces films of all types and does graphic design, website design and development, photography and video editing.
Keys to Success
I asked Amina about what were the keys to her success and her advice for young people like me. She shared the following:
Have a vision for a better future. Believe in your strengths and imagine the possibilities to bring about change. Be open-minded to new ideas and show kindness to people who have already achieved great things before you.
Be resilient. “You will find so many challenges that can put you down and make you feel like you don't want to go on and that it would be better to do something else,” she said. “Identify your dream and it will enable you to push forward.”
Be optimistic. Focus on your dreams over money.
Educate yourself. Learn continually and surround yourself with people who have something educational to contribute. Always take time to do research and keep up with what is happening around you.
Amina has quite an inspiring story. Having a refugee status is not bound to limitations. Refugees have the capacity to tell their own stories and change the perspective that is labelled on them.
As someone aspiring to work in communications, I have appreciation for her view on the innovative culture among refugee filmmakers. I always believe in ‘refugee stories' told by non-refugees, but having interviewed Amina, I am encouraged that refugees can and are capable of achieving all despite the challenges and experiences they go through. As a refugee, it is important to be the game changer when it comes to issues concerning refugees since we have the first-hand experience. Being a refugee, we interact with people from different nations with diverse cultural backgrounds and life experiences. This is a chance for us to generate stories to tell the world.
Also, I appreciate how she wasn’t deterred by the naysayers who said she couldn’t work in film as a woman. Someone’s opinion is just their opinion; we have to make a choice when it comes to pursuing our goals.
As a young refugee who has a similar vision as Amina, I will overcome all the challenges and do what it takes to achieve my dream. Amina has set a standard for us refugees to follow and how to overcome job stereotyping. I have a chance to follow my passion as a woman without any fear of rejection from the community because they are able to see Amina’s success.