Director’s Cut: Kamanzi & Partners in Health

I can’t recall another time in my life where a man has made me cry. But Kamanzi did.

Emmanuel Kamanzi, known simply as “Kamanzi,” is a Rwandan Program Officer  for Partners in Health (PIH), the international nonprofit organization dedicated to delivering healthcare in some of the most resource-constrained environments around the world. Though I first heard about the organization when I was in high school, my friends will tell you just how much it has become intertwined with my Harvard experience–from taking Paul Farmer’s class (Farmer co-founded PIH in 1987 and has since become a prominent figure in the field of public health) to now preparing for the work I will be doing for the organization while abroad in Mexico. And so, after learning a bit about Kamanzi’s story, it wasn’t surprising to anyone that I jumped at the chance to interview him for my film class and learn more about PIH’s work in a country context that I had not explored previously: Rwanda.

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Inside the Harvard film studio with Kamanzi

This semester I have been taking a class called Using Film for Social Change, an exploration not only of the power of film to drive fear into the hearts of the otherwise complacent and inspire action, but also an exploration of the truly visceral encounter of a one-on-one interview that has that looming, ominous third party in the room: the camera.

I guess I’ve never thought of interviews like that. I’ve loved interviewing, certainly, because I’ve always felt incredibly honored to have this opportunity to share in someone’s story–often a complete stranger’s–in a way that wouldn’t be possible in any other setting typical  of everyday life. As a child, I used to say that I wanted to be an author so that I could create imaginary and wonderful worlds a la J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. But when I discovered journalism, and the art of interviewing, I found that I had found a better way to do just that–not to create new worlds that are purely imaginary, but rather to discover the ones that already exist through someone else’s story. This the nature of reading a novel that speaks back to you.

Of course, this is not to say that the magic of human connection experienced in this way is not dependent on one’s subject. Each person has a different story, and understandably, these stories affect people in different ways. Learning to be my own film director and interviewer has been an incredible experience–challenging, certainly, at times, but also eye-opening in the way that it has changed my view of the essential interview experience that any journalist knows all too well. When I first stepped into the Harvard Media Production studio, I thought that the careful setup of lights, cameras, and innumerable wires against a black backdrop was formidable–nauseating, even. How could the connections and conversation that I’ve seen transpire in some of the most powerful interviews I’ve conducted come about in here–a place so pristine and mechanical? And with a camera imposing on the conversation throughout? To me, the very idea seemed antithetical to the fluid and natural meandering that a good conversation should take. But since conducting my first filmed interview, I’ve come to see the camera differently. No longer is it the imposing, statuesque machine standing guard over a conversation–no, rather it is simply bearing witness to the magic of the human conversation taking place before its eyes. It is an extension of myself, as the interviewer, that is able to capture far more than I could and preserve it for far longer. Though I came to this class with no natural proclivity for filmmaking, I’ve since come to appreciate the camera for making it possible for me to capture the essential vulnerability of a conversation between an interviewer and interviewee, and to preserve the intricacies of human emotion in a way that even the most eloquent writing cannot. The camera has given me another pair of eyes with which to witness how the telling of someone’s story can change me, as the listener, and continues to remind me why we find it so valuable to tell our own stories as well.

Ultimately, throughout the course of this semester, I’ve realized that the camera doesn’t have to work to do what every writing teacher I’ve ever had has instructed me to do: show, don’t tell. Instead, the filmmaker’s task is to take the raw material that is already poised for showing and shape it so that it tells a story.

As the interviewer and filmmaker, it has been my job to make the two mediums work together . I used to see the camera as this imposing, mechanical, rigid device standing intrusively at the borders of human conversation and interaction. After all, it cannot cry or laugh or question in the way that a human interviewer or observer could.

But there is inherent value in this too–the camera may not be able to deliver emotion itself, but it can certainly inspire it.

And now, the final product! My first film :)


It’s the most wonderful time of the year

The Obligatory Family Photo :)

So the holiday season (and READING PERIOD!) is upon us and things are busy…. between last meal dates and winter formals, papers and papers, all those readings (shh!) we never did, and FINALS, there is a lot going on these days at Harvard. But alas, I would be remiss not to blog about my most favorite part of this season. You see, these days you can pretty much bet you’ll find me snuggly nestled at one of my my favorite dining hall tables. Not to say this is unusual — I’m a big fan of studying and writing and eating in big communal spaces with lots of people around :)– but in winter it’s actually hard to get me to leave a d-hall. I’ve visited four just this week – Eliot, Leverett, Winthrop, and of course Mather– and I always snag a spot either in the corner next to the Christmas lights or right beside the big Christmas tree. You see, in this season, all the houses go all out — there’s an official tree decorating party in the dhall replete with every sweet you could imagine, from eggnog to candycanes, sugar cookies to chocolate cake (!!!) and at the end of it all, there’s a big, fat tree all decked out for the holidays. Below, pictures from the dhalls I’ve visited this week. As you’ll probably be able to tell… I’m pretty obsessed.

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And lastly, I thought I’d share with you pictures from another one of my favorite traditions of this season — my roommate + linkmate christmas party. Every year, we throw a little gift exchange just for the 11 of us, complete with the obligatory “family” photo. It’s always so much fun to exchange gifts and to see how much thought goes into each one. This year my favorites had to be the peanut butter my friend Michi gifted to Salena (Salena is obsessseeedddd with peanut butter… it’s the little things I tell you!) and the big GIGANTIC box Jacob wrapped for Wahaj. I’m not kidding – the box was the size of a printer, and the gift inside was the size of a ring box. Our blocking group goes all out — especially when it comes to the putting-together and wrapping of gifts! And of course my favorite was my own gift (I know, I know.) Neil, my secret santa, got me what everyone knows to get me: a Starbucks gift card (guilty as charged, yes I am a caffeine addict). But my favorite part was how he put my gift together. First I had to unrap this little origami box. Inside it was a small note that read, “Open the box under the cardboard box in front of you and DO NOT SCREAM.” Of course, then slightly terrified/totally amused because this is so totally a Neil-like thing to do, I proceeded to open that box only to find another note reading, “open the box at the door and SCREAM.” Alas, this led me to yet another note which finally, finally led me to my prized Starbucks gift card. Neil, you are the best.

Below, pictures of our little friend-family and all the unwrapping/secret santa shenanigans.

’tis the season! :)

The Peanut Butter!! 

All the ladies

We’re a bit of a ridiculous bunch and I love how my Starbucks gift card ended up getting taped to my poncho…

My adorable roommates


It’s all in the wrapping…

And in the friendship

The Silver Anniversary & The Season of Thanks

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Our parents cutting their 25th Anniversary cake

This season, Inesha and I know that we have plenty to be thankful for, but celebrating our parents’ 25th anniversary this past weekend is definitely high up on the list.

During the summer, Inesha and I had fumbled around with a few ideas as to how we would celebrate this milestone in our parents’ lives, and finally we decided that there was only one way in which we felt we could do it properly: as a surprise. Now, from the get-go we knew this would be hard to pull off. Considering that we were  two 20-year-old college students running around campus in Cambridge, Ma while our parents went about their day in our good ol’ hometown of Richmond, Va, we knew that we would certainly need to demonstrate a strong aptitude for coordinating plans and details. But thankfully, we have a family friend (really, one of our dear Sri Lankan “Aunties”) who is not only generous with her time and energy but also with her party-planning expertise. With her help, we were able to pull off our planned silver anniversary extravaganza for two parents who have done more for their daughters than they can ever know. We wanted them to have a chance to shine, not only as the wonderful parents that they are, but more so as the two unique, funny, smart, loving individuals who shared many years together long before Inesha and I ever graced the planet. This was to be a celebration of the years that Inesha and I never knew as much as we hoped it would be a promise for many more joyous ones to come. We feel so fortunate not only for our parents, but too for our little sister and the Sri Lankan community that has followed and supported us since we were little girls. As much fun as we had, I’ll have to admit that this is among the things that made it that much harder to board our flight and leave Richmond behind early this Sunday morning. But we’ll be back before we know it :) And now, though  Thanksgiving Day has passed , here is wishing you and your family much love and happiness during what truly is a season of thanks.

And because my words can’t do them justice, here are some of the  moments we shared this weekend. Enjoy!


a family photo opp moments after our parents walked through the door


a cake that was truly to die for!

pic7and of course plenty more food from our mom’s favorite restaurant :)


one priceless moment

pic16and many more shared with dear friends and family

And now, the many faces of surprise :)

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