We Are Together (Thina Simunye)

Singing for their orphanage – all human life is here.

The title of this documentary gets it exactly right. At the Agape Orphanage, in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, the children have their own choir and sing beautifully together. It’s a delight to listen to. But what’s really striking about these children, whatever they’re doing – singing, walking to school, doing their chores – is that they are not only ‘together’ musically, but also socially.

The parents of most of the children have died of AIDS. Slindile regularly walks to her former home nearby where her eldest brother Sifiso is very unwell, and declining. Eventually he discovers he has AIDS too, and dies. The film focuses on Slindile more than any other child, and she has a co-writing credit with director Taylor. She’s a very emotionally mature 12-year-old, who misses her mother terribly, and the hurt when she loses her brother is palpable. Even though she’s still a child, with a child’s innocence, she has to keep on. Her simple strength, stoicism and generosity is impressive and touching.

A limitation of documentary filmmaking is that you can’t invent scenes. You film what’s there, and if you’re not there, you can’t. The most significant event in these kids’ lives happens off-camera: the orphanage burns down because of faulty electrical wiring. It eventually leads to the choir's meeting American musicians Paul Simon and Alicia Keys. What does it mean to them? Yes, they’re thrilled and impressed, but what really matters is that it can help them rebuild and expand the orphanage.

All human life is here. There’s enough sorrow for anyone’s lifetime; but what stays with you is the simple everyday joys and laughter, the togetherness, generosity and humanity.


mag cover This article is from the April 2008 issue of New Internationalist.
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