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Malayaka House and the Community Spirit

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The documentary Malayaka House, created by Jesse Bradley and Jacqueline Harlow, is a film that reveals the experiences of the children, women and founder of the Ugandan orphanage. Not a work of exploitation, or baseless self-promotion (100 percent of proceeds raised from the film go directly to fund the titular orphanage), but a story of how one man, along with the help of a few, changed the lives of hundreds.

The orphanage was built out of necessity to care for the ill and impoverished children and the women of the region. The film shows how those once rejected and abused, left to die or survive the hardship only to be cast into the sweltering poverty, were saved by the goodness of its founder Robert Fleming and the work done within its gates.

Lying between the urban city of Kampala and the rural villages of Entebbe, the orphanage is contrasted by the lush countryside and the dramatic economic shift from the wealthy areas of Lake Victoria to the limitless poverty that plagues the surrounding landscape.

"Once leaving Malayaka you see just how bad the situation is," Harlow told Art Attack. "You open those gates and the reality of the situation really hits, and for women it's especially miserable. If they weren't there, what are they going to do? How are they going to end up?"

"Traveling through the surrounding villages, seeing the huts made of mud, pieces of metal taped together," she said. "It was very different, they were in complete poverty."

After a trip to Uganda in 2005 to scout locations for a service project called the MOVE program at St. Michael's College, Fleming reached a turning point in his life when he rescued a baby left for dead in a trash can. He took her back to his hotel room where he made the decision to stay, leaving his job and his home behind to raise the child he named Malayaka, translating to "Angel."

Officials began contacting him with other cases of abandoned children, and he took them in. Malayaka House was born.

"Robert is the most amazing person I have ever met," Harlow said. "So passionate about doing right, but so humble..when you ask him if he would quit, it's never gone through his mind."

Malayaka House provides a sustaining community harvested from the land around it -- healthy food, clean water, electricity, education -- giving those who call it home the tools they need to lead independent, joyful lives.

The aim is for the children to become self-sufficient, Fleming told Art Attack, to spread what they learn to the local economy -- attending school, collecting rainwater, producing food, and maintaining the solar panels for electricity -- allowing the community to flourish.

"We want them to do something with meaning, to feel good about what they're doing and move out into the world," Fleming said. "They've got to be creative and know how to work hard...the best thing you can do for anybody is to give them a job...they [the Ugandans] just don't treat each other well, cheap labor keeps them down and we want that to be different for these kids."

It's amazing to see their growth, he said, happy and thriving.

Naiga, 19, recently moved out from the Malayaka House to work nearby, producing pottery and necklaces to sell to local businesses, beginning her transition into independence.

"I appreciate what everyone has done for Malayaka House," Fleming said. "We'd be nowhere without them. I want others to know there's a benefit to helping. It's real. You can see the changes."

Not content to end his work inside the orphanage, Fleming spread the same innovations around the area, helping more than 200 children during his time in Uganda. That number continues to grow.

The goal for the filmmakers is to spread that message.

"We hope that people go and see it and are affected," Harlow said. "The realization of our goal was seen during a film festival in Colorado...one woman was moved to act, she found us through the website and is now meeting with others to set up a fundraiser."

We need to create awareness and hopefully move people to help, Harlow said, to embody that same selflessness we see from Fleming and the Malayaka House.

"One person can make a difference," she added. "It's that building of community, what he has built over there, I would love if we could build that same spirit here."

The film will be shown at the Museum of Fine Arts June 11 followed by a Q&A session with Fleming and Harlow. Visit www.mfah.org/films or call 713-639-7515 for more information

One hundred percent of the donations and proceeds raised from the film go directly into the project. The house is employing Ugandans, helping Ugandans, and creating futures for Ugandans whom once had no road to walk down, nowhere to call home, before the Malayaka House.

Malayaka House will be shown June 11 at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston followed by Q&A after the screening. For more information call 713-639-7515. http://www.malayakahousefilm.com/

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