Using imagery to give hope

January 11, 2018

Season of the Time Media Productions fundraiser event organisers Jean Michel Batakane and Liz Arcus.

Jean Michel Batakane with unaccompanied minors at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

Shepparton’s Jean-Michel Batakane has viewed the world through many different lenses.

The keen photographer and filmmaker, armed with a laptop and a camera, entered the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya in 2011.

The young Congolese refugee had left his home and joined hundreds of thousands of refugees and thousands of unaccompanied minors housed at the camp.

An unaccompanied minor himself, Mr Batakane said he had personally experienced hardship in the camp and noticed a high risk of drug abuse and suicide due to the idleness and living with trauma, particularly among minors.

‘‘We used to call it the Kakuma University of Life because once you’ve lived there it’s so easy to live anywhere else,’’ he said.

Noticing there was little stimulation for young people living at Kakuma, Mr Batakane began his journey to create not-for-profit organisation Season of the Time Media Productions.

‘‘I had just graduated from a diploma in television and film in Kenya.

‘‘After graduating from film school, I wanted to give other young people a chance to learn new skills and be part of something positive in a safe environment.’’

Mr Batakane began training them to use a laptop and a camera, quickly building interest among 100 young refugees.

‘‘The non-government organisations started gaining trust in me and they gave me contracts to produce short educational films,’’ he said.

Before long one of the organisations had arranged free rent and electricity and STMP began to flourish with hundreds of minors looking up to Mr Batakane.

‘‘That was a big breakthrough moment,’’ he said.

Mr Batakane said STMP gave hope, joy and a reason to get up every day in a place where there was so little to look forward to.

His work resulted in several beautiful images, films and memories for the people living in Kakuma.

‘‘I was helping the group but I also felt like I was helping myself,’’ Mr Batakane said.

‘‘We became a family for each other; we called ourselves the Brotherhood.’’

The group’s members began sharing their stories of hardship, creating a supportive environment for each other.

‘‘There’s a reason we left our homes and some of them are very sad,’’ Mr Batakane said.

‘‘We would sit down and everyone would tell their own story; hearing other people’s stories gave them courage.’’

Since relocating to Australia in 2015, Mr Batakane said STMP had continued to operate in the camp after he trained a fellow member to continue his work.

‘‘Even if (he) leaves it will continue,’’ he said.

But with a lack of funding, Mr Batakane said STMP desperately needed new equipment to continue its good work.

He, along with fellow event organiser Liz Arcus, will host a fundraising event for the group this Friday — a showcase of STMP’s fantastic work.

Ms Arcus said she had also witnessed the positive impact the program had, having communicated with current participants at the camp.

‘‘You can always tell when they haven’t been working on something,’’ she said.

‘‘I’ve really noticed it’s given them a reason to get up in the morning.’’

The legacy Mr Batakane left at Kakuma also spurred him on during the past two years when he had to adjust to life in Australia.

‘‘When I’m sitting at home and I get a bit sad I get sent a film and when I watch it, it changes everything,’’ he said.

But, far from just sitting at home since he arrived in Shepparton, Mr Batakane has enrolled in a graphic design course at La Trobe University, he has been the emcee at a number of events, talked to primary school children about the program and his experiences as a refugee, as well as hosted a regular program on OneFM inspiring young Africans to remember the joyous parts of their childhood.

Ms Arcus said it was these joyous stories that she had enjoyed hearing from Mr Batakane the most — providing a different perspective.

‘‘I’ve learned so much about the camp and its resilience,’’ she said.

Ms Arcus said she had heard many stories and watched films of those living in Kakuma enjoying themselves, which Mr Batakane will also share with those at the fundraising event.

‘‘There’ll be plenty to see,’’ Mr Batakane said.

‘‘We’ll show some films I made, some films they have made now I’m not there. I’ll talk about the project and how it’s gone and there’ll be a photo display.’’

Both Mr Batakane and Ms Arcus encouraged everyone to head along to the event where there would be a positive, family-friendly atmosphere.

‘‘If people have any used equipment like DSLR cameras, laptops, computers, tripods, they can bring them along on the night to donate,’’ Mr Batakane said.

The STMP Fundraising Night will be held on Friday, January 12 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm at St Paul’s African House, 54 Poplar Ave, Shepparton. Those who cannot attend can still donate at

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