Island filmmakers raise Media Voices for children

These four students at Kenyatta University were supported through primary and secondary schooling by Kenyan Schoolhouse, which the Morrises helped found in 2002. — Photo by Len Morris

In Africa, a harambe is a common experience. The Swahili word means “let’s pull together” and the concept is used to initiate projects that require people to work together and pool their resources. Filmmakers Len and Georgia Morris of Galen Films have hosted a number of harambes here on Martha’s Vineyard to raise money for one of their humanitarian initiatives, Kenyan Schoolhouse, and this weekend they are inviting the public to a post-Thanksgiving party to benefit both the Kenyan Schoolhouse and their latest project, Media Voices for Children.

On Saturday, guests of the first World Dinner and Dance Party will be supporting the latter project, an Internet news agency for children’s rights. The evening will include a menu of world foods made by a variety of volunteers, dancing to world music spun by DJ Di and a short showing of videos documenting the Morris’s work in Africa. The Kenyan Schoolhouse, an initiative to provide educational opportunities for impoverished children in one of the poorest areas of the world, will benefit from the sale of Kenyan crafts that will be on display.

The Morrises, veteran filmmakers who spent years making entertainment documentaries for the likes of AMC, TNT, and others, moved to the Vineyard 25 years ago and began putting their talents to use on a series of awareness-raising films. “Stolen Childhoods,” the first documentary by their production company, Galen Films, was released in 2003. Filmed in seven countries, the feature-length documentary spotlights the problem of child labor around the globe. “When we made ‘Stolen Childhoods’ we were introduced to the reality of child labor” Ms. Morris says. “That was a sea change in our work and we have been working with children’s rights issues ever since.”

The Morrises have since released a second film, “Rescuing Emmanuel,” and are currently wrapping up a third film, “The Same Heart,” which will complete a trio focused on children and poverty. The couple’s experiences meeting with underprivileged and exploited children prompted them to launch their two humanitarian organizations.

Kenyan Schoolhouse was founded in 2002 to address the conditions Mr. Morris witnessed while filming at coffee plantations in Kenya. According to the Kenyan Schoolhouse website, “Donations are used to remove children, many of whom are orphaned, from the worst forms of child labor, extreme poverty, and homelessness and provide education, boarding, and medical care.” Since its inception, the nonprofit has helped almost 300 children.

Ms. Morris said that members of the Island community have been very generous in supporting Kenyan Schoolhouse. “It’s a charity that we have started for Vineyarders, and Vineyarders have responded,” she said. Donation cans at local businesses have helped bring in money for the organization, as have previous fundraisers and private donations.

On Saturday, the Morrises will screen some video of the “coffee kids” today. “We want to show the community what they’ve been supporting,” Ms. Morris said. A Kenyan “marketplace” at the event will feature colorful sisal baskets made by Kenyan grandmothers, African fabrics, and friendship bracelets and tin jewelry made by street children.

Saturday’s event also includes the premier of “A Gift,” a new music video produced by Media Voices in collaboration with Motema Records, a jazz/world music label based in New York. The music, both traditional and original, is performed by Geri Allen, an internationally known jazz pianist who has recorded 19 albums. “A Gift” celebrates the children of Kenya, and the holiday season. As they traveled the length and breadth of Kenya, Len and Georgia handed out 650 lollipops to the children they met along the way. These moments, and Geri’s music, form the heart of the video. On viewing the film for the first time, Geri Allen said, ” I am moved and grateful to have my music used in this beautiful film with these beautiful children.”

The Morrises’ second nonprofit organization, Media Voices for Children, was founded in 2009 by Mr. Morris and Petra Lent McCarron from Galen Films, along with Ms. Morris, Chris Mara, and Barbara Dupree. According to the Media Voices website, “The goal of the organization is to raise public awareness about the impact of poverty and globalization on the world’s children via video, interactive media, documentary films, and organizations and journalists around the world.”

Updated daily, the site includes contributions from 160 organizations from “small orphanages to major players,” according to Ms. Morris. Content includes a documents library, a video library, a photo library and opinion pages, along with about four new articles every day. “It’s used by universities and journalists as a resource base to find out what’s happening to children,” Ms. Morris said. “It’s one-stop shopping for information on the state of children and children’s rights all over the world, including the U.S.”

The World Dinner and Dance event will be a vehicle for awareness-raising as well as fundraising. “We want to familiarize people with what Media Voices offers,” Ms. Morris said. “It’s sort of a Huffington Post of information on the plight of children in the world.”

World Dinner and Dance, Saturday, Nov. 26, 5:30 to 9 pm at the Chilmark Community Center. Tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for kids from 6 to 18, or $50 for families. World-food dinner and one non-alcoholic beverage are included in ticket price. Tickets are available for purchase at the door, cash or check only.