A Good Lie

The Good Lie


Shannon Sutherland
Editor-in-Chief, African Kitchen Table


We are surrounded by ideals in this world.

For many of us living in the Western world, those ideals may include an ideal body, an ideal report card, an ideal household, or an ideal income. For someone living in South Sudan those ideals would understandably vary drastically.

This past Tuesday, July 21, 2015, I watched The Good Lie, a brilliant movie about a group of kids whose village is destroyed in a civil war in South Sudan, and as consequence must walk hundreds of miles to a refugee camp in Kenya, where they are then sent to America.

They lived their daily lives, climbing, playing, and reciting the names of their grandfathers. Even though it was so different from how we might live, they were happy and very content in Sudan.  Unfortunately, the existing civil war in their area forced them away from their ideals of life and home in Africa, and into life in Kansas City where all their ideals were challenged and changed.


Post movie, I discussed it with my mother, who accompanied me in my viewing.

We talked about my thoughts about their having to adapt to our lifestyles and ideals, and my mom added an interesting point. She said that she found it interesting that even though we are all born into different families, different backgrounds, different countries, different financial positions, and different levels of oppression, we are all very similar at our core.

We agreed that, indeed, the whole point of the movie was a certain motive within Theo, the oldest survivor, to tell a good lie in order to protect his brothers and sisters. That sense of community and desire to protect those that we love, is global. I explained to my mother that a strong sense of community is a large part of what we learn from Pencils For Africa.


We believe that we should do what we can to help those that are living in worse and marginalized conditions, with little or no access to clean water, food, and crucial medical care. She did surprise me next, telling me that she sometimes felt that it seemed snobby when some entities helped, almost as if they were acting bigger in the sense that they are so much wealthier. I thought it an interesting point of view, although I could not agree with it. I argued that although some entities may be richer financially, African cultures are often much richer in spirit and sense of community.


We also recounted the point that Mr. Ajania made back in Spring, 2105 at the PFA Film Festival about some countries who historically partook in The Scramble For Africa today gave what he referred to as “guilt money”.

That is a dangerous game to play, because in many African countries there are corrupt governments in place and the money is either pocketed by officials or wasted.

That, in my eyes, is the beauty of Pencils for Africa:

Through Pencils for Africa’s Portfolio PFA program, we raise money through school fundraisers and, instead of directing it straight to Africa, we send it to partner organizations such as Bicycles Against Poverty, who know how to wisely put the money towards the benefit of Africans. It is a smart donation because we know exactly where the money will go and how it will directly benefit the people in Africa, instead of blindly giving to organizations who do not have a history of giving to the people, but do a lot of shame and guilt advertising, or have political motivations.


My mother also brought up the fact that we may not know how to best help them all the time without westernizing them because we are so unaccustomed to their ways of life. I told her that this was exactly why it is important to listen to the people of Africa. They do not need what we sometimes assume they need, like cell phones or computers. In some places, all a child needs to go to school is one pencil. That’s it, that is the only requirement, they don’t need an iPad.

All an African woman in rural Uganda needs in order to get her vegetables to the market, or to fetch water for her family, or to get her sick child to a clinic, is a bicycle, not a Lamborghini.

At the end of the movie, my brother, mother, and I had a group hug out of our newfound gratitude to be together and so fortunate. To think that this story of those amazing kids and what they became is so common is mind blowing. It was a real eye opener for me and my family.

I invite you all to all to contribute your thoughts on the topic, weather you have seen the film or not, although I do recommend taking the time to see it.




Shannon Sutherland



African Kitchen Table


Pencils for Africa Film Festival

Marin County, California

  1. Rutendo Urenje08-26-2015

    Thank you for your wonderful insight into the movie.

    I watched The Good Lie with a group of friends in December, 2014.

    One of my best friends insisted that this was a movie for me and made sure everyone of our friends would not watch it until we were all together and we could watch it in community.

    I wept in the movie, obviously because I could see the reality of what was so light-heartedly set forth in the movie. I could relate, because once upon a time I was in South Sudan for a month. I agree with your mother’s assertion Shannon, that we are all the same at our core.

    People are just people who have the same basic needs. What slightly disturbed me in the movie however was the slight condensation that pervaded through the hilarious moments in the movie. I know it was to make the movie lighter and bearable, however I find that much of what we know of many horrific events in places far from us is watered down so that we are able to swallow and digest them and then return to our comfortable lives.

    I hope that, as with so many of the Pencils for Africa students, we will always be authentic and true to address the deep-seated core needs we all have as people.

    After all we are all the same, with different experiences and contexts.

    Thank you Shannon!

    Posted on 8/26/15 

    by Rutendo Urenje, Managing Editor

    African Peace Journal 

    Chemin Marc-Emery 25 | Case Postale 7 | 1239 Collex

    Geneva, Switzerland


  2. Chyah Weitzman08-26-2015

    Dear Shannon,

    It has been said that without education a person is stuck in a windowless room.

    With education a person finds himself in a room with all its windows open to the outside world. In other words, people who were afforded an education have more opportunities to succeed and feel successful.

    In the movie, On The Way To School, I found myself getting caught up on the personal journeys of the children from Africa, Morocco, Argentina and India. Too often, we forget how lucky we are to be able to get to school with the use of cars, buses, bikes, as well as walking on paved pathways. Understanding and connecting to other people around the world promotes peace and empathy. Relationships and cultural understanding are critical in today’s world.

    Global education is imperative because we are living in a global society.

    A sense of place and your relationship to others is a key part of the twenty-first century’s learning experience. The Dalai Lama says:

    “When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.”

    It was easy to see that these beautiful young students were full of heart as they journeyed to get to school to become educated.

    All the best, I really enjoy your insights, keep up the great work.

    Ms. Weitzman

    chyahsam 3

  3. Colin Yoon08-26-2015

    I really enjoyed reading both your articles. I can’t wait to see more.

    – Colin

  4. Pascal Bashombana08-26-2015

    I like how Shannon understand the struggles all these kids are facing to get to school, and the privilege she has as a child to be born in USA and have a good opportunity.

    I like also the fact that she is devoted to put her time and energy to raise money for different partner organizations in Africa through Portfolio PFA.

    Personally, I like this movie, On The Way To School, because it is so inspiring and tells the story of these kids who face hard time to get to school.

    I hope Mariame and her team of “Sur le chemin de l’ecole” (the producers of On The Way To School who are based in Paris, France and who I have been in touch with) can continue this series and I hope we can have a strong and good collaboration with her team to raise awareness about their work.


    Pascal Bashombana
    Member of the Advisory Board
    Pencils for Africa