Q&A with the Director

Documentary Q&A with the Director, Toluwalola Kasali

Why is this an important story to tell?

Internal displacement is a global humanitarian crisis – every day, people are forced to flee conflict, persecution, and disaster, and they become displaced within their own countries. Fifty-five million people worldwide live in internal displacement in countries like Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Nigeria, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. Many of them have lost their loved ones, homes, and livelihood. Fifty-five million is not just a number; they are real people like you and me. They need sustainable humanitarian and development support to survive and rebuild their lives with dignity. It is, therefore, an important story to tell because it is a story about our shared humanity.

Tell us about the documentary?

Without giving too much away, the documentary aims to educate and create awareness about the plight of some of the people who have been forced to flee their homes due to armed conflict by Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East of Nigeria. It highlights some of their experiences living in camps and host communities – you get to see some of the people behind the numbers, you get to hear their stories, and you get to view the world through their eyes. The documentary also shows their strength and resilience through the process of trying to rebuild their lives with dignity. It demonstrates solutions that empower displaced people to improve their state of mind, earn a living, and end their protracted displacement.

What does this project mean to you?

This project means everything to me. I am passionate about making an impact with my work – improving people’s lives and moving the needle. I believe that I can play my part, no matter how little, in making a difference in the world, and that is all I am trying to do.

You published a book about Internally Displaced Persons, and now you have made a documentary. What made you want to share this story in the form of a film?

Creating this documentary for me was about finding a different form of expression that is visual and can capture the interest of an audience to achieve the same objective of educating and creating awareness about the plight of internally displaced people. I published the book, My Name is Aisha, in 2019 but not everybody likes to read books, so it was important for me to create a different form of expression that includes as many people as possible.

What surprised you about the process of telling this story, and what did you learn?

The range of emotions. The emotions expressed in telling the story range from sadness to despair and then glimpses of hope as you watch their strength and resilience. The story is all about the people, and they tell their own stories. A lesson that was reinforced for me was the power of allowing people to tell their stories – their voices matter and their voices are powerful – we should never forget that.

As people watch your documentary, what kind of social impact do you hope the film will have?

I want it to inform people’s understanding of what it means to be displaced in your own country and how that affects their state of mind, dignity, and ability to rebuild their lives. I believe that when people see the individuals behind the numbers and hear their stories, they will be more empathetic and willing to support them through advocacy, supporting policies and laws that incorporate the needs of displaced persons into national plans, and pushing for the right kind of development assistance.

What can people take into their daily lives?

As we go about our daily lives, we need to strive towards justice, fairness, and equity. We live in an increasingly hostile world in the way we treat each other and the way we think about each other. If we all try to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and internalise what they feel in our own tiny spaces, we will become more empathetic and work towards healing each other and making the world a safe and just place for all.

What changes would you like to see in filmmaking?

For me, making a change would mean telling more stories that focus on our shared humanity – telling the untold stories and putting more resources behind underrepresented and under-supported people.

How did you find solutions that transitioned away from aid dependence towards self-sustainability through your research and work?

In summary, the solutions came from the people. I am big on the fact that our solutions must come from the perspective of the people that we are trying to help. Taking a step back, it is important to understand that internal displacement is multifaceted; displaced people have suffered a great deal witnessing the death of loved ones, destruction of their livelihoods and property. They now live in camps and host communities and are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

By spending time with IDPs across camps and host communities in Abuja, I observed their ongoing vulnerabilities arising from their prolonged displacement. They shared their pain and trauma from what they experienced during the conflict; how the uncertainty about their future affects their state of mind; how they worry about feeding their children or where their next meal will come from; how the girls and women feel vulnerable when they need personal and menstrual hygiene items.

So, it was clear that the focus on humanitarian aid alone was creating a gap because the IDPs were not empowered and supported mentally, socially, and economically to become self-reliant and leave the camp. So, solutions were built around using self-reliance as a bridge to close the gap through a combination of psychosocial support, skills training, business grants, access to resources, and people outside the camp. The objective is to improve their state of mind, help them earn a living, end their protracted displacement and ease their reintegration into society.

Can you share an example of how it helped?

For example, a young lady called Rashida was 26 years old at the time and had been living in the camp for more than five years – she participated in the counseling sessions and got trained in hairdressing, and received a business start-up grant. About two years after the programme, she has moved from a home-based salon to a hairdressing salon that she shares with her friend. Rashida has also moved out of the camp – she built a small house in a neighbouring community near the camp. She earns a living and can take care of her family.

That is the impact – it is all about changing the story, one person at a time.

What is next for you?

My goal is to focus on driving policy-based responses to internal displacement issues towards achieving self-reliance and ending protracted displacement.

Should we watch the documentary?

Yes! This documentary is a story about our shared humanity, and not only will you find it enlightening – you will also not regret watching it.

How long is the documentary?

The documentary is approximately 33mins long.

When will it be available online?

The documentary will be showcased at International Film Festivals between September and October 2021. It will be available to watch online (free) following the showing at film festivals.

Thank you!