Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wouldn't want to tackle the KCPE.
"Sometimes you wonder: does it help?"—Hilde Back
In A Small Act, viewers get to see the first class of a program to provide scholarships for students in Kenya. It's a program that was inspired by Hilde Back, although she didn't realize that when she donated money to help a student through school. Chris Mburu went on to Harvard, and went on to work for the United Nations, investigating genocide. He decided to give back to Kenya by starting a foundation to pay secondary tuition and named it the Hilde Back Education Fund Group.
The movie touches on the friendship between Back and Mburu, started by the small act of the title. However, it spends more time on the students taking Kenya's KCPE exam. This is where it gets interesting.
The KCPE exam is the tool used by the fund to decide which students will get the money to go on to secondary school. They select a pool of top students, take applications, and wait for the test scores. Viewers see questions from the KCPE flash on the screen, and they look tough; I was stumped, at least immediately, and I'm sure many of you will be stumped as well. You know it's important generally, because the test is distributed around the country by the police to prevent cheating, and it's a big story on the radio when the results come out. To the students in the fund's pool, it'll likely make the difference between dreams of being doctors or professors and a subsistence reality.
Yes, we do have SATs in the United States, but it appears these kids are around twelve (not sixteen or seventeen), they don't get to retake it if they fail, and their education could be stopped completely. When you realize the pressure they're under at a relatively early age, it'll stick with you. The students occasionally cry or acknowledge their fear, but they handle it surprisingly well. If you think back to yourself at twelve, you'll be impressed.
The footage is apparently shot in mostly natural light, but it's clear and easily readable. The extras include deleted scenes and a visit to the Kenyan premiere of A Small Act. These offer more glimpses of Kenyan life. The director's bio and two trailers are also included.
There is some footage of violence and its aftermath in Kenya and elsewhere to illustrate Mburu's work. It's graphic enough that you won't want to show the documentary to small kids.
A Small Act turns out to be both joyous and sad, because you know that while the fund does make a difference, not everyone can be helped. Director Jennifer Arnold sponsored two students herself after the scholarships were announced.
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