Hearts of Zambia| 28mins
Director: Christine Lesiak | Producer: Christine Lesiak
Focus Years: 2012 | Country: United States
Weâ€™re in a traditional African village of thatched huts, cattle and cornfields. Itâ€™s spring in Zambia, with crisp air and a brilliant sky. A woman watches as her grandchildren pound kernels of corn into maize. With her son at her side, she begins to tell her story. After a few words, she cries and walks away. Her son follows, putting his arm around her as they walk toward her simple house. His gesture says it all.
Hearts of Zambia is a 30-minute documentary journal about the triumph of the human spirit over a powerful but invisible force. It begins in July 2009 when three filmmakers from Nebraska travel 9,000 miles to Zambia in the heart of Africa to tell the story of the HIV/AIDS crisis. In many ways, Zambia reminds us of home. Itâ€™s a landlocked country, a corn and cattle growing country, with a large university in its capital city. But unlike Nebraska, Zambia is in the midst of a devastating plagueâ€”one that has left its mark on almost every family.
Weâ€™re here at the invitation of Dr. Charles Wood, head of the Nebraska Center for Virology in Lincoln, whose clinic is at the cutting edge of HIV/Aids research. In the capital city of Lusaka one out of five people is HIV positive and the poor come to the clinic for free treatment. Together Dr. Wood and his Zambian partner Dr. Chipepo Kankasa are educating mothers about HIV transmission so their children will be born virus free. Dr. Kankasa knows she could make a lot more money by leaving her native Zambia. â€œBut I feel somebody has to remain behind and fight this war.â€
And a war it is. HIV/AIDS has already created 1.8 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Wood tells us that one of his clients has just died and left behind six orphans: â€œI mean you really feel like you want to give the shirt of your back to these people. Whatever you have, you want to give it to them.â€
Over and over, we witness the remarkable resilience of the human spirit. Our driver Finyasi takes us to his home village where he shares his hope for the future at his brotherâ€™s grave. At Our Ladyâ€™s Hospice in Lusaka a woman paints her nails. Hidden beneath the blanket her legs are swollen with an AIDs related cancer. She says she has faith that she will one day get up and walk.
â€œI think that for a long time the story of Africa has been how everybody else has been helping Africa,â€ says our production manager, Nkem Kalu. â€œAnd yet some of our greatest successes have come out of how weâ€™ve helped ourselves.â€ We visit The Red Elephant, where a small group of dedicated Zambians rescue and educate orphansâ€”assigning guardians to each of them until they are able to live on their own. They are as â€œbig as elephantsâ€ in terms of what they can accomplish, says the â€œvision makerâ€ who started it all. At the SOS Childrenâ€™s Village in Lusaka a young woman who grew up an orphan tells us she has a scholarship to medical school in Michiganâ€”where she dreams of finding a cure for AIDS.
Everyone says you shouldnâ€™t leave Zambia without seeing the most spectacular sight of all. We drive south from Lusaka to the town of Livingstone. The next morning we follow a winding path from our hotel towards a thunderous sound. Flowing from the Zambezi River is the largest cascade of falling water in the worldâ€”Victoria Falls. In this peaceful place itâ€™s hard to imagine that Zambia is fighting a war against an invisible enemy. But as weâ€™ve learned on our African journey, itâ€™s not AIDS that defines Zambia. Itâ€™s hope.