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Eastleighwood, the dream factory of the Somali diaspora

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EFE - Nairobi
11/11/2016 - 14: 32h

When "Eye in the sky" was filmed two years ago, a US blockbuster on a drone attack against a jihadist cell that was developing in a neighborhood of the Kenyan capital, no one knocked on the doors of Eastleighwood, the Mecca of Somali cinema.
"They recorded in South Africa, and I wonder why not here, they are Hollywood and we Eastleighwood, they should collaborate with us," laments Burhan Iman, director of this organization based in the heart of the Somali neighborhood of Nairobi, Eastleigh.
In the movie screens of this area, the Somalis have stopped appearing as terrorists, pirates or criminals, thanks to the productions with which Iman and a team of young people try to change the image of a people harassed by war, poverty and extremism
"Mistaken", the first feature film by Eastleighwood, is a thriller about a kidnapped Somali who has already successfully screened on the screens of the neighborhood, in Somalia and even in London and Berlin.
The magic is cooked in humble offices where there is barely room for a small recording studio, some wooden planks and a dozen plastic chairs.
A great camel, laureate like the lion of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer, smiles at the students who pass through there to learn to write scripts, handle cameras, interpret and try to change the life that Eastleigh offers them.
The "little Mogadishu", as this neighborhood is known in allusion to the capital of Somalia, is one of the most dangerous and forgotten by the Kenyan authorities, who only walk these streets to conduct police raids.
In 2014, following a wave of attacks by the Somali jihadist group Al Shabab in Nairobi and northern Kenya, the police arrested hundreds of people in this neighborhood for alleged terrorist links. Some never returned.
"Since the attack on the Westgate shopping center and that of the city of Garissa, many people have disappeared, we do not know where they are," explains Iman the director of Eastleighwood, determined to reclaim the legacy of his people.
"It is very difficult to live in Kenya, the police harass us, society does not appreciate our contribution, we are marginalized".
On the streets of Eastleigh the garbage is piled up by the meter, the neighbors survive without sewage or running water, street vendors and merchants fight for an inch of space in one of the biggest markets in East Africa.
"We Somalis are very enterprising, before going to school we will do business," says Iman.
He mentions an elderly woman who travels to China and Dubai to buy containers and employs 30 people, unable to read or write. But lack of education does not usually work well in Eastleigh.
"In a room of four square meters, 10 people live in shifts: five during the day and five at night, many young people live like this, they have no work or education and they will become criminals," the filmmaker predicts.
70% of Eastleigh's young people are unemployed, so they often end up in criminal gangs or doing jihad in Somalia in the ranks of Al Shabab. Eastleighwood was born to avoid it.
"We try to give them a vocational education: photography, journalism, cinema ... So they can look for a job and we feed their talent", he emphasizes.
In the last five years, more than 2,300 people have received this type of training in this NGO dedicated to audiovisual production and training, which in 70% of cases has allowed them to find work.
Some, like Rahma Mohamed Ileye, have made their first steps in the interpretation, in his case in "Arawelo", which rescues the legend of a Somali queen in a historical drama, one of the favorite themes of the producers along with the love stories or the Somali culture.
This 20-year-old loves to act to live other lives, but not only because of that: "I have a Greek friend who does not want to come to Eastleigh, she thinks that if she comes they will kill her. I want to teach them that it's not true. "

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