Small Act

A Small Act


Shannon Sutherland
Editor-in-Chief, African Kitchen Table


The film I watched this week was called A Small Act.

It was about a poor boy, Chris Mburu, attending a primary school in Kenya.

He was sponsored by a Swedish Holocaust survivor named Hilde Back to go to secondary school, went on to Harvard Law School, and then to work at the United Nations.


Hilde Back as a young lady

Today, Mr. Mburu works against crimes against humanity and genocide and I am proud to say that Mr. Mburu is a member of the Executive Board of Pencils For Africa.

There were two big concepts that made this story possible.

The first and probably most prominent of the two was the extreme importance of education.


Chris Mburu as a human rights lawyer for the United Nations

The school Chris attended was in a poor village where most of the students’ families could afford to send them only to primary school.

At the end of primary school, a small group of smart, lucky students went on to take a standardized test. If they pass this test they are eligible for secondary school, most of the students are not able to move onto this level mainly because of a financial burden on the family.

There are a few ways for a poor student to get to secondary school.


Students in the film, A Small Act, anxious about their exam results

One would be programs like the Hilde Back Educational Fund.

This scholarship program was started by Chris to help children who had been in a similar situation as himself and had not been allowed to advance not because they weren’t smart, but because they did not have the finances to continue.

He named the scholarship after his sponsor, Hilde Back. If a student scores above a certain amount of points on their certificate for primary education school exams, typically 380, they can receive a scholarship and be allowed to continue on in the world of education.


Shannon (center) at Portfolio PFA Cookie Fundraiser on April 1, 2015

I am happy to say that Pencils for Africa’s fundraising program, Portfolio PFA, is a supporter of the Hilde Back Educational Fund. Here is the response from Hilde Back Educational Fund’s Executive Director, Sarah Wambui Njuru, on our Portfolio PFA Cookie Fundraiser on April 1, 2015:

This is very great work by the young PFA team…

And the cookies look very delicious!

Their noble initiative goes a long way in supporting our work.

Best wishes to all,

Sarah Wambui Njuru,

Executive Director, Hilde Back Education Fund, Kenya


Scholarship Recipients of Hilde Back Education Fund, Kenya

The other way to advance actually brings me to the next big concept of the movie:

Compassion and giving a helping hand to those who need it. Many organizations exist to help a person or family sponsor a student.

Generally, it does not take a significant amount of money to help a student become educated, help them out of poverty, and afford them an opportunity to work and live. Hilde Back, as one individual, anonymously sponsored Chris not even knowing who he was, his promise, or what he would do with the opportunity she provided.

Hilde wasn’t a particularly wealthy woman, she was an everyday person in the eyes of many, but she became a symbol of hope and wonder for the boy in a small Kenyan village.

HildeBack HildeB


She changed his life and, by extension, the lives of hundreds of other students without even really knowing it. She did not meet Chris until after the Hilde Back foundation was up, running, educating students, and helping them and families out of poverty.

The film was amazing to me, because I noticed so much going on.


I saw the children working hard at their schoolwork because they understood what a privilege and what a blessing knowledge is.

I know that when I was the age of those kids, I was far more ignorant and ungrateful for my school and teachers because I did not understand how lucky I am to live in a place where my parents can send me to school, I am in a safe environment at school, and that I have brilliant, smart men and women educating me.

Education is potential. It is opportunity, and the kids in that village in Kenya understood that.


I notice the amazing compassion that Hilde possessed.

She, a holocaust survivor, knew what it was like to suffer and instead of becoming bitter and self-pitying, she learned from her past and used that knowledge and understanding to help others.


Filmmaker Jennifer Arnold, Chris Mburu and Hilde Back

Hilde Back is an example to us all about how little it takes to make such an amazing difference.