A Small Act Can Change the World

Posted on September 20, 2010 

A Small Act Can Change the World

One day in the mid 1970s, a pre-school teacher living in Sweden named Hilde Back decided to sponsor an African student. Hilde, a Holocaust survivor whose parents were killed in the camps, lived modestly as a refugee in the safe haven of Sweden. Every month she put a few dollars in an envelope and sent it to a Kenyan boy named Chris Mburu. This was enough to get Chris through school. (In Kenya, at the time Chris was in school, students had to pay for their primary and secondary school education. Today, primary is free in Kenya, but secondary still costs.) Chris was inspired by his mysterious benefactor who lived so far away. Not only did he become a star student, he moved on from his village to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School. He became a United Nations human rights advocate, a post he holds today.

One small act — a couple of bucks — changed his life. But it gets better. Chris decided to honor the benefactor he had never met. He established the Hilde Back Education Fund to sponsor more Kenyan students, to improve more young lives. Eventually, he tracked down the 80-year-old Back and brought her to Africa to see the results of her generosity.

It sounds a little like fiction, but this is the true story told in A Small Act, a documentary directed by Jennifer Arnold. Jennifer attended the University of Nairobi with Chris’s cousin, and experienced firsthand what Kenya was like. She wanted others to have the experience of a prosperous Kenya with a sizable middle class. She set out to make a film about that and discovered even more.

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