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The Real Transformers

The Real Transformers
Spring 2010 | Volume 33, Number 1 | Features

Filming Images of Hope in Africa

Charley Beck '08 and Daniel Skiffington '08
Char Beck (left) and Skiff Skiffington (right) ran into their fair share of misadventures traveling in Africa with Mocha Club. They experienced spider-infested rooms, bumpy safari rides, and even having their passports confiscated in a Zimbabwean airport.

Eight countries in three months. Could you do it? Charlie “Char” Beck ’08 and Daniel “Skiff” Skiffington ’08 did. The two traveled to Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Ghana, as representatives of Mocha Club, an online community of people giving up the cost of two mochas a month — or $7 — to fund relief and development projects in Africa.

Beck first heard about Mocha Club from a friend, singer-songwriter Matt Wertz. Then he talked to Mocha Club’s founder, Barrett Ward, about an opportunity to go to Africa and film for the organization. “It sounded like my dream job,” says Beck. A former sociology and business administration major at SPU, he had built up a reputation as a photographer since graduation, and he loved to travel.

With the “dream job” in place, Beck started asking friends if they wanted to participate. It seemed natural to ask Skiffington, his college buddy, who had been working at KOMO News since his freshman year and had just returned from a service trip to Uganda. The answer was “sure!”

Before the two left in early November, Skiffington spoke of his anticipation: “We’re excited to travel; excited to tell stories about Africa; excited just to meet people and let them tell their own stories.”

Headmaster of New Dawn Academy in Kenya.
The headmaster of New Dawn Academy, a school in a Kenyan slum.

During the time in Africa, the two friends captured many stories on film and posted them on the Mocha Club blog, as well as other social networking sites, so that people in the U.S. could witness what is happening in Africa. “So many Westerners think Africa is hopelessness,” says Beck. “We wanted to paint a real picture of Africa. The hope that comes out of tragedy is so powerful.”

They traveled to Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, the second largest African slum, where more than half a million people live surrounded by garbage piled in every direction. “I couldn’t even dream of living in the conditions these people live in,” says Beck.

There they met Jenny, an HIV-positive young woman who is one of approximately 1,000 members of the HEKO Project. The goal of the project, explains Skiffington, is to gather together people who have HIV or AIDS so they can counsel one another, care for one another, and share their stories of what it’s like to live with HIV and AIDS in Kibera.

In Darfur, Sudan, Beck and Skiffington filmed a breathtaking scene of more than 1,000 people celebrating wells that Mocha Club has built — wells that provide clean drinking water for 37,000 people. “Water does more than quench thirst; it lays a foundation for growth and prosperity for the people of Darfur,” says Skiffington, a former SPU political science major.

A woman in a church outside Jatch, Sudan.
A woman in a church outside Jatch, Sudan.

In Kitui, Kenya, Beck and Skiffington visited the Kitui Orphans Project, a place with lots of chirping birds and lush greenery, but no running water or electricity. There, they filmed the orphans shyly introducing themselves. Each child has lost either one or both parents to AIDS.

Among the children, a little girl named Comfort stood out. “Her amazing smile and graceful presence made us want to spend a ton of time with her,” remembers Beck. Footage of Comfort singing a simple song about a butterfly emphasizes the fact that the SPU alumni didn’t choose to focus on the tragic images of Africa so often reproduced in the United States.

Since February 1, Skiffington and Beck have been back in the States, but they’re not done with the Mocha Club assignment yet. The two are continuing their efforts by speaking at universities across the nation about their travels, as well as editing more videos for Mocha Club.

Watch Mocha Club Videos

The Kitui Orphan Project: Webisode 6

Water is Life in Darfur, Sudan: Webisode 9

View Mocha Club Vimeo Channel

Rachel Ellis Hammer '07

Ashley Reese '09

Charley "Char" Beck '08 and Daniel "Skiff" Skiffington '08

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