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Graceland girls choose education

by Asta Tall / Beacon Correspondent • October 31, 2012

Arts_kenya
The girls are pressured to do well on their exams in order to advance and receive a college education.
Courtesy of Jordan Salvatoriello
The girls are pressured to do well on their exams in order to advance and receive a college education.
Courtesy of Jordan Salvatoriello

All Masters of Fine Arts ‘12 graduates at Emerson College construct a master thesis; Jordan Salvatoriello’s took her to Kenya.  

Salvatoriello knew she wanted her master thesis film to be about an important mission. Her drive was there, but she couldn’t seem to pin point a cause. 

“I thought that I wanted to do more social issue work,” said Salvatoriello. “I’ve always been interested in documentary so I thought, ‘How can I bring my creative side and social issue that I would like to do as a career?’” 

She said she met with a friend, a teacher in Brookline, who told her that she was considering accepting a teaching position at an all-girls school in Kenya. 

Salvatoriello responded, “If you go, I’ll go with you.” 

After researching the topic of education in Kenya and the apparent disparity between boys and girls with access to schools in the country, Salvatoriello’s awareness and passion for the subject grew. 

True to her word, Salvatoriello followed her friend to Africa. She said she stands behind the notion that educating a woman means supporting a community.

“The Kenyan government in 2003 had just agreed to pay for primary school education. So before that, many women weren’t able to finish primary school, much less high school,” Salvatoriello said. “So how would they have a chance of contributing to their economy and breaking the cycle of poverty?” 

Salvatoriello, with the help of Emerson College, raised money so she could bring 25 cameras with her. She wanted to not only teach the girls photography skills, but ensure they were able to tell their own stories. The documentary is told through the eyes of the students attending Graceland High School. 

“I wanted to teach photography because I wanted to contribute something, number one.,” said Salvatoriello. “Number two, I wanted to be sure to give them tools for them to tell their own story so it  just wasn’t just me being a mouthpiece,” Salvatoriello said. 

In the film, the girls discuss the pressure of exams, which any student can relate to. But for the Graceland girls, the weight is doubled: passing an exam can mean receiving government funding to go to college. College education gives students the opportunities to receive jobs and support their families in the future.

The film not only addresses economic issues, but social problems as well. Many of the girls come from rural communities where early marriage is the norm. By placing education as their first priority over marriage, they go against their community’s traditional beliefs. 

Micheal Mutie, the principal of Graceland, said in the film, “It’s the girl that becomes the mother, and the mother that raises the kid and teaches what’s important in life, so if you educate that woman it has such a ripple effect.”

Although Salvatoriello has finished her documentary, she remains involved in her cause. During her visit, Salvatoriello met two other students from a primary school near Graceland High School. According to her, the best chance the girl have of escaping poverty is to attend Graceland. Although the two students do not have enough money to pay the tuition, Salvatoriello will sponsor them so they have a chance to attend the school. 

Now back in the states, Salvatoriello said she hopes to involve Boston high school students in fundraising so they too can share her passion and support the young women of Kenya.