A Yearning for School

UNEARTHING THE PEN tells the poignant story of Locheng, a young Ugandan shepherd.  Locheng is descended from a tribe who years ago forbade reading and writing in an attempt to protect their children and burying an actual pen in the ground to ritualize the prohibition – never guessing the consequences for future generations.
Locheng knows how to care for animals, but he hungers for more academic knowledge.  While other children his age are in class, he stands outside the school windows.  Even though the classes are taught in English, a language he does not understand, he longingly watches teachers explaining math and geography.  But besides the cultural taboos against literacy, Locheng has little money.
Undeterred, Locheng meets a man who tells him what he will need to buy in order to enroll in school.  What starts out as a simple-sounding list, a book and a pen, turns into an overwhelming array of registration fees, examination fees, a cup, a plate, and new clothes.  Locheng does not give up on his dream of going to school although this dream becomes harder and harder to achieve.
The film’s director, Carol Salter, traveled to Uganda as a one-woman crew to shoot the film and got very close to her subject.  Her close-up shots artfully show the admiration and longing flitting across Locheng’s face as he dreams of getting an education.
Anyone who donates to charities to send kids to school should see this film to further understand the need and desire for education, and anyone who does not yet donate to such charities will want to after seeing the way Locheng puts a complex but lovable face on the problem of education for impoverished children.
You can read an interview with Salter and purchase tickets to see UNEARTHING THE PEN (trailer), along with short films about children in Cambodia and France, in SHORTS PROGRAM 1: A KID’S LIFE.

— Meredith Metcalf

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