Filming Mitrata's Legacy

I have just completed making a third video for Mitrata. The first one is about how Mitrata came to be, an introduction video. The second—is about sponsorship, while the latest is about Mitrata’s sustainability—LEGACIES: Creating our Future. It was such an honor to make. 

As a freelance filmmaker,  my main job is making videos for NGOs, institutions, and businesses. I put my heart into this work. But with Mitrata, my passion goes beyond my professional norm.  I LOVE helping to tell Mitrata’s stories. Mitrata is like family. My family that understands a part of my life that many do not—the connection I have with a family in Nepal—The Darnals.

Darnal Family.jpg

My husband, Scott, and I met The Darnals in 2008 while making a promotional film for an California-run NGO that sponsored the oldest unmarried girl in the family, Shanta. When Shanta took her own life due to deep depression, the NGO stopped their contact with the family. They didn’t know what to do. And, I think they were scared. Scott and I were shocked that this organization for whom we made a video failed so miserably in helping the Darnals during an extremely dark time. We became quite cynical about international development after this. And, at the same time, we knew we needed to make sure the Darnal kids went to school—so we started ’sponsoring’ them on our own. We sent money to them through Nepali friends, but this was messy and unsustainable. It meant asking favors of friends in Kathmandu—to run tuition payment errands for us, checking out schools when the family moved due to rising Kathmandu rents, and various principals writing to ask if we would help out other kids in the school. It got complicated.

And then, we met Mitrata. They invited us to screen the documentary we made about The Darnals, Drawing the Tiger, in St. Louis for their board and sponsors. On this same trip, I got to attend a sponsor celebration event. The way the Mitrata sponsors talked about their sponsees—the way they expressed their excitement about the letters they receive, the accounts of visiting the kids they sponsor in Nepal, the overall warmth between the people in the room—made it clear to me this was so much more than a sponsorship organization. No one was saving anyone, or talking in terms of ’those poor kids over there’—it was different. It was about connection, growth, friendship, determination, humility. 

It felt like a family! And I wanted to be a part of it. Moreover, I wanted the Darnal kids to be a part of it. And now they are.

Sarita and Rashmita getting ready to move into the dorm and start the Social Mobilization Course.

Sarita and Rashmita getting ready to move into the dorm and start the Social Mobilization Course.

Mitrata integrated the Darnals into their program even though the older Darnal kids were tough to place because they are from the village and have very little English. In 2017, five of the Darnal kids became part of Mitrata.  Pawan and Purnima Darnal are now in grades 6 and 7 in a boarding school and doing really well. Sarita and Rashmita Darnal are graduating in November from a Social Mobilization course that rocked their world! They have so many plans for their future! This is not the case for many young women I have met there.  Ram Kumar Darnal, assisted by BSF/Mitrata, found vocational training which has put him on the path to becoming a police officer where he will get paid more than anyone in his family ever has. 

These kids came from central Nepal where they did math problems using rocks on a blackboard. Their parents cannot read or write. Their home, their only asset, was destroyed in the earthquake. All five of these kids are going places, and I can’t say this would be true if it would have been just Scott and I supporting them with money and our good wishes. It takes more than money and desire.  It takes the BSF staff on the ground in Kathmandu paying attention to each child and the wraparound services they offer—like a counseling, doctor check-ups, and regular check-ins about how they are doing/feeling. When Sarita Darnal went into the hospital with a terrible cyst, BSF staff made sure she went to a quality hospital and let her stay at their little office-dorm until she recovered.

Kumar, Ram Kumar, Pawan, Purnima and their Grandma ready to go to the Mitrata graduation celebration.

Kumar, Ram Kumar, Pawan, Purnima and their Grandma ready to go to the Mitrata graduation celebration.

This organization knows their children. They know their families. They know there is no one formula for the success of a child. 

Mitrata and their partner, BSF, are doing outstanding work. They see the big picture while never losing sight of the how and the why they started. My personal history as a sponsor means that I understand how well Mitrata’s program works and also how hard it is to accomplish the same things without them. This is why I was excited to have the opportunity to tell the story of Mitrata’s future through filmmaking.

This video tells the story of Mitrata’s sustainability but, even beyond that, of their legacy and of sponsor’s legacy. Humans have a desire to leave a positive mark on the world, and Mitrata is working hard to plan for a future where they can expand their programs and the number of children they serve. Mitrata’s legacy hopes to stretch beyond the present, beyond the children’s current situations, to leave a lasting mark on the education system in Nepal and to provide lasting support and empowerment to their children and their children’s families, even after the child graduates from Mitrata.

Sponsors also make lasting marks through Mitrata, and their legacy will live forever in part through their impact on their children, their children’s families now and in subsequent generations, and on the country of Nepal as a whole. The passion that sponsors have for their sponsored children has been integral to Mitrata’s growth and to making Mitrata the uniquely successful organization that it is today and will continue to be in the future.

While making this latest video, I got the opportunity to interview sponsors with their sponsees in Kathmandu. There was so much giddy excitement and love between them. And it was an honor to capture on camera because I know just how they feel.

Amy Benson
Documentary Filmmaker and Co-Owner, NonfictionMedia

Amy Benson and Scott Squire filming in Nepal

Amy Benson and Scott Squire filming in Nepal