The Mathare Project

by Randy Bell

Expected Completion January 2015

We had a fantastically succesful Kickstarter campaign and raised over $30,000 that will go towards finishing the film. Of course, we are always trying to raise additional funds. To make a tax-deductible contribution, make a check ou to "Documentary Educational Resources" and put "The Mathare Project" in the memo. Mail it to:

Documentary Educational Resources

101 Morse Street

Watertown, MA 02472


I spent the better part of a decade traveling back and forth to Kenya to film a group of children growing up at the Good Samaritan Children’s Home, an orphanage in Nairobi’s Mathare slum. I am now finishing the film, tentatively titled The Mathare Project, and I launched this campaign to help me get to the next stage in the post-production process.

I first filmed at Good Samaritan in 2001 and made a documentary called Orphans of Mathare. From 2003-2008, I filmed in Kenya four times per year, following the same group of kids I met in 2001 from their early teenage years to young-adulthood. I wanted to show how poverty, disease, violence, and bad governance affected these kids’ lives over many years.

I also filmed the woman who started the orphanage, Mercy "Auntie" Thuo, as she worked to help hundreds -- probably thousands -- of children in the slums get shelter, clothing, food, and education. She was tireless and had minimal help from anyone outside Mathare, Kenyans and foreigners alike.

Some of the children in the film made it through high school but could not afford college. Two boys joined up with gun and drug dealers because they couldn’t get better jobs. One of the girls never finished high school because she got pregnant. She had three children before she was twenty-one. Most months she couldn’t afford electricity because she had to pay for food for her children. All of the people in the film lived through unspeakable ethnic violence triggered by greedy politicians fighting for control of the government during rigged elections.

Despite all these challenges, somehow Auntie helped these children and young adults survive and kept them hopeful for a better future.

I filmed all of these stories and more. You can see a sample by watching the trailer. As best as I know, there is no other documentary that explores poverty in Kenya – and probably Africa -- quite like this one. The Mathare Project is an extended study of the complex lives of children living through some of the most intractable issues of our time and of the one woman who tries to help them.

It has been five years since I last filmed at Good Samaritan. I stopped filming because, despite raising a significant amount of money to pay for school for the orphans (you can still help pay for school here), the children in the film got frustrated that I could not do more to support them. Filming, and the project itself, became untenable.

I have since gone to graduate school in international affairs, finished another film, and gotten a “real job.” I have also been back to Kenya twice to visit Good Samaritan, most recently in April, and reconnected with the people in the film. The emotional distance I have from five years not filming will help me, I think, tell a clearer, more powerful story. My study and work in international affairs has given me a sharper understanding of the issues at play.