I was privileged to attend an independent high school with an enthusiastic and motivated student body. But it wasn’t until I met a group of first-generation students from rural Senegal that I truly came to appreciate what it means to be a passionate learner. These students’ dedication to school was inspiring to me, and together we made an award-winning film, Tall as the Baobab Tree, that speaks to their hopes, dreams, and challenges as their village’s first educated generation.
Today, many schools, including The Pingry School (New Jersey), use Tall as the Baobab Tree to enrich their global studies curriculum by introducing students to this unique voice from Africa’s young generation, one of the largest growing populations in the world.
I first traveled to Senegal as a Dartmouth film major and connected with a group of young people from a small village who were divided between those whose parents sent them to school and those whose parents chose to follow the deep-rooted practice of early arranged marriage. Torn between loyalty to their elders and their dreams for the future, these young people were struggling to find their footing at the outer edge of the modern world.
The students and I decided to collaborate on a film project that could speak to this conflict between tradition and modernity, and after many months of work Tall as the Baobab Tree was born. The film is distributed internationally by the Sundance Institute, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and by TV5 Monde Afrique — impacting millions of young viewers by addressing the power of education and its life-changing consequences. Proceeds from the movie have gone to support the village school where we filmed, providing lunches for all of the local children.
To me, Tall as the Baobab Tree speaks to the energy and idealism of youth while portraying a very stark and realistic world where the invincibility of youth bends beneath the harsh realities of life — but is not stamped out.
Educators interested in viewing the film — and in a free teaching guide, study guide, and other resources — should visit www.TallastheBaobabTree.com.