Today: July 16, 2024

Small Act, A

The Small Act, an understated documentary, could just be the very ‘spin’ that’s required to breathe life into the Coalition’s Big Society.

The Small Act, an understated documentary, could just be the very ‘spin’ that’s required to breathe life into the Coalition’s Big Society.

A Small Act follows the work of Kenyan philanthropist Chris Mburu, the beneficiary of financial aid as a boy from Hilde Back, a Swedish Holocaust survivor. By contributing roughly $15 a month, she was able to finance Chris’ education, ultimately enabling him to graduate from Harvard Law School and go on to become a United Nations Human Rights Commissioner. Chris never forgot that small gesture from a woman he had never met, so he created and named a educational fund after her, that awards scholarships in his homeland, where pupils can rarely afford to continue their education beyond the primary school level, given their inability to pay the small tuition fee.

Striking a parallel with the British government’s misplaced and politically-motivated flagship Big Society policy which seeks to increase volunteering by mobilising community-led initiatives, A Small Act, quite unusual for a documentary of this ilk, is less about self-righteous “do-gooding” and more about the impoverished who are not touched by the hand of fate. Against a backdrop of Kenya’s campaign of ethnic cleansing following the disputed 2007 presidential election, the documentary celebrates the power of education, citing ignorance and gullibility as fuels to such violence; and the dramatic way an individual act can touch so many and create far reaching change.

Of course, Chris cannot help everyone. The modest fund can only finance 8 – 10 students, each year, their entrance determined by their performance on a nationwide test. Director Jennifer merely wishes to show that but he’s doing the best he can. Back is astonished to learn her small contribution enabled Mburu to go so far, growing up to fight genocide himself and now enabling the future generations of Kenyan children too.

It is impossible to see the film and not want to do your own small act to help wherever you see a pressing need and audiences are obliging in droves making donations. Whilst household budgets remain tight, fans of A Small Act proves that you do not have to be a millionaire to make a difference in their community or halfway around the globe.

Unlike the Big Society, the Hilde Back Fund is a real project that demonstrates how giving money to charities, and volunteering our services, need no longer feel like pouring guilt down a deep well. That’s not to say that people will be jumping on the government bandwagon anytime soon – quite opposite. Dr Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government Programme and co-author of the report, believes that to have any chance of success in engaging citizens in inspired action to work together on behalf of their communities the Big Society must be seen as non political. The act of charity is far from dead but the Coalition’s vision of voluntarism functioning in isolation from the state is somewhat short-sighted. Even the Kenyan government, when they got wind of Mburu’s efforts had to shamefully dig deep into their coffers.

As the Big Society continues to unravel, Cameron might do well to take note that when former Prime Minister Blair’s own spin began to falter his answer was to hold parties for minor, and often bewildered, celebrities to add glamour to the Labour Party. Who can forget Oasis’ Noel Gallagher having a bevvy at No10? Should a similar invitation be extended to Chris Mburu, the philanthropist just might oblige Cameron with a small act. Let’s face it, Cammy, if anyone, could do with a helping hand.

As for the kids of Kenya? With the closing credits of the film revealing that the production team went on
to sponsor the education of the profiled students who failed to gain an
HBF scholarship, it’s clear, the vast majority of
the children left behind are destined to a life of poverty. A heartening documentary.

A Small Act is out on DVD on 20 Jun can be ordered here.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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