Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Monday, October 06, 2008

In Her Footsteps

I've been busier than ever at work recently, and I'm not the only one. Opportunity has been very busy working on some exciting projects. And, there’s one big first that Opportunity wants to tell everyone about!

On Wednesday 1st October, “In Her Footsteps”, received its world premiere at the Dendy Cinema Opera Quays, in front of an enthusiastic audience of about 250 people from Sydney’s business and entertainment world.

In Her Footsteps is a feature-length documentary about a group of women from Australia who travelled to India in early 2008 to experience the reality of poverty in the developing world and the potential of microfinance as a solution to the indignity of poverty.

After the very warmly received premiere, the film was shown again the following night, and another 200 people, including myself, had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what represents a pretty interesting and novel departure for OIA.

First off, though I’m bound to be biased, you can take it from me that the film is a real triumph. It’s very professionally done, it holds the attention throughout, and it does exactly what – I presume – was the intention: to show the depths of poverty in India and how unsolvable these situations can appear, and then to show how Opportunity’s partners are helping the poor to help themselves out of poverty with the aid of microfinance.

After getting over the shock of seeing my big head on screen – in a mercifully brief non-speaking role at the start – I settled into the story of the group of women travelling from Australia to India. Told in the words of the women themselves (and those of Anita, the Opportunity tour-leader), we saw poverty through their eyes, and heard them describe in very personal terms their impressions on being confronted with the slums of Delhi.

What comes across in the first half of the film, as we follow the women on a day trip to one particularly deprived area is that these trips can have a profound impact on both staff and participants. Being confronted by the squalor that some people live in, by simple consequence of where they are born, gives rise to feelings of anger and disgust. That people – who are patently very much like us – have to live with so little in conditions we wouldn’t consider fit for our pets, is inhumane. For many people, seeing extreme poverty first hand brings out a personal determination to do something to make a change.

The first half of the film can be difficult to watch, focusing as it does on the extremes of poor peoples' lives, but it’s when the women visit one of Opportunity’s partners and meet Indian women who are using microfinance to transform their lives that the film really grips us, and gets across the message that we are powerful, we each can – and should – do something about poverty.

I’m sure everyone will be personally touched by something in the film. For me, I was reminded how easy it is to assume that poverty is “too big a problem for me to do something about”. Before I first tried doing some charity work in Belize in 2006, I did very little to help with poverty, believing I couldn’t have any impact. There was a real personal growth for me when I turned that idea on its head. Today I make my own very modest contribution. More importantly, I can’t imagine ever again not doing something. I know the women in the film now have the same feeling.

In Her Footsteps will be shown again in Brisbane on , 29th October and – I hope – many more times after that. I hope this film becomes another powerful medium for the message of microfinance. My big head notwithstanding.

I wore a suit for the premiere, and at some cost to my personal comfort! Sydney is experiencing some exceptionally unseasonable weather at the moment. On Thursday, the temperature hit 30C, an incredible temperature considering that we are still closer to winter than summer. This was only to be outdone the next day, with Friday’s high reaching 35C by some accounts, 38C by others. That’s at least 15 degrees hotter than the October average. I am going to be very careful with my skin this year.

For once though, the good weather couldn’t hold out over the weekend. With the Parklife music festival to go to, and the biggest racing day of the Spring Carnival, I would have paid good money for sun over the weekend. Instead I was shelling out for an umbrella. Still a great weekend though and photos of Goldfrapp, Dizzee Rascal and Keith and I in our Sunday finest will appear shortly.