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a young girl in Afar

About the project

Why Tolé?

Tolé is the name of the girl dressed in black in the picture on the left. In 2004, she was one of our patients at the hospital for TB of Galaha, in the middle of the Afar Region. She was there together with her little brother Mohamed, in front of her in the picture, who was also sick, and Dahra, her younger sister, who escorted them along the long six months treatment. I had the pleasure to see all of them go out, healthy. The film is called after her.

The picture logo of the film is Amina, the little girl at left, who lived at that time not far from the hospital. I had her news at Djibouti, at hundreds kilometers of distance and in another state, six years later (Afar people they know all each other...). She was fine and she was even attending a school.

Who are the Afar?

The Afar are a population of nomadic herders who are now divided into three countries:  Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea. They are people without a state, marginalized in all the three countries. Being nomads most of them, the governments discriminate them for the benefit of the sedentary people. Very often, the governments don’t understand that the nomadic herding is the best way to exploit the land in a climate like that of this region, which has always been considered as the most hot, hard and inhospitable on the earth, the well-known “Afar Triangle”.

They herd camels and cows in some areas, and sheep and goats in the whole region. They maintained their way of life, moving according to the availability of grazing and water.

The creation of the State’s farms since 70’ and 80’ on the best rangelands amplified the effects of the famines in 1974 and 1983, when Afar lost a quarter population and half livestock. So they are living an unprecedented crisis of their pastoral mode of production, their life is more and more difficult and endangered.

Why this project?

I have already been in Afar region, in particular at Galaha, a hospital for tuberculosis in the middle of a mountainous and semi-desert area, for a mission with Doctors Without Borders (MSF). It was 2004, but I maintained my contacts with many people there, and I renewed and extended my relations with the Afar in 2010 during a mission to Djibouti, always for MSF. An Afar association in Paris, Karera, involved with the struggle against the female genital mutilations, which among the Afar are of the worst kind for the women health, that is the infibulation, asked me, for a long time to make a film to show the Afar and their traditions. The idea we share is to make a documentary which introduces Afar people to everybody and which also the Afar can watch with pleasure and interest. We will show the everyday life, but also their less known traditions, with the aim to unveil the richness of Afar society.

Of course, we will touch also sensitive subjects like the infibulation, a killing tradition which still concerns almost the totality of the Afar little girls, at least in the rural areas, with the aim to contribute to the change, but the idea is that to give a more complete picture of the Afar society.

An explicit demand by my Afar partners is that to film scenes which will also be part of a visual archive of their traditions, to keep in the case that they vanish. The intention is to film the most possible scenes, not only those necessary to compose the script of the film.

The script

I already tried to make a detailed script around the main protagonist, who will be a young girl (11-14 years old). She will show the everyday life of Afar people through some events in their life: her daily work (and sometimes plays), helping a pregnant woman in critical condition because of the infibulation, having a brother killed, obliged to move with the family to another place, participating to some traditional ceremonies, facing the obligation of the patrilateral cross-cousin marriage (absuma in Afar language)... It’s impossible to know what of this will be possible to realize, because making a film in that context means facing a lot of unexpected event. What is sure is that it will be the life and the culture of Afar people through the eyes of a young girl, more in general from a women’s point of view.

The partners

This project has the support and the participation of two Afar organizations. One is based in Ethiopia, the APDA (Afar Pastoralist Development Association,, and the second is in Paris, but it’s composed by Afar from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, Karera (“standing up women”, [email protected]). The APDA will give the logistic support during the filming, while Karera is the main partner in the realization of the whole project.

What are the funds for?

Your concrete support will be used in Ethiopia, on the field (the trip from Italy to Ethiopia is already covered), to cover the expenses for the filming.

I will take advantage of a short field mission to Ethiopia on behalf of a small medical NGO in November and after that I will stay about one month in Afar region to take the images and make the film. The area concerned by the project is that in orange on the map. The starting point will be the small town of Awash, well connected by bus from the capital Addis Ababa. From there I will move along the Awash Valley, through Gewane, until Mille. From there I will reach the Zone 4, a remote area almost without roads, where it will be possible to film certain Afar traditions.

A substantial part of the budget will be devolved to the movements, which have to be done by a 4x4 car, due to the mountainous and desert context. APDA will give a car, thank to the fact that in that period (November-December) there should not be the big emergencies that occur usually in May-June and July-August. Anyway some dramatic unexpected problem is always possible and an amount of money will be put aside for that case. In any case the fuel will be at my charge.

Afar people are directly involved in this project and, of course, they want to cooperate without charge, but it would not be correct to take their time away from their survival activities without recognizing their participation. It’s a matter of respect, and as I do always in my field missions, a little money will be used for gifts. Afar people speak their own language, the afaraf, and I will need a woman translator. It’s important that she is a woman in order to speak with women without problems. Moreover, when it will be necessary, I will use Afar girls and boys as collaborator. Of course, I will have to find a suitable girl to play the role of protagonist. Very small money will be spent to live there: I have the habits to share the same life of local people when I’m in mission and in this way the life isn’t expensive.

A small part of the budget will be for the postproduction, that is in particular the recording of the voice over and the sound mixer. For both a professional studio is necessary, while the editing will be made “at home” without cost. The voice over will be a young African girl living in Italy who already worked on this for the films with the Wodaabe. The departure to Ethiopia is planned for the end of November.

About the project owner

Some information about me

My name is Francesco Sincich, I’m Italian and I’m making field missions for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) since 2003 as anthropologist. With MSF, I have been already in Afar Region in 2005, for a field mission at the hospital for tuberculosis of Galaha. When I’m in Italy, I work with two associations: Ambulatorio Internazionale “Città Aperta” (, a free clinic for migrants without papers, and Ghazala (, the association involved also in this project. With Ghazala, we made little international cooperation projects in Palestine, Somalia and Ethiopia, in particular the support of the activity of APDA for the training of the Afar traditional birth attendants.

I began to use the movies as a tool to give awareness and knowledge in 2009, during a MSF mission on maternal healthcare in Niger, with “Halima & Absatou”, a short film in Hausa language made to make the mothers aware of the importance of avoiding too close pregnancies, I continued in 2010 with “Waynaabe” and “Banganà”, two documentaries on the Wodaabe nomad herders always in Niger, and there again in September-October 2012 to film “Lokkol”, with the aim to publicize and support a primary school which we managed to create in 2011 with the protagonists of the two movies.  

“Banganà” has been selected in 5 festivals, including Amiens (France) and the Festival Panafricain de Cannes. We were a little team of three (the cinematographer an assistant and me), with a little funding from MSF - Italy and Veterinaries Without Borders - Belgium. To make “Lokkol”, I was alone, without a cameraman, and I had to learn quickly to film... “Lokkol” produced in April of this year, has been already screened at Genoa Film Festival. But what I consider as a little success, because it doesn’t happen many times, is that I managed to show the two films to the protagonists themselves and to other Wodaabe. I had the opportunity to show “Banganà” during my last trip to Niger in 2012 with a tablet (no power there), and “Lokkol” organizing a screening in their camp thank to the help of a friend there, a TV, a DVD reader and a small generator, rented and carried until the camp thank to a little money from a donor.

Here you can watch the trailers of the two films and “Waynaabe”, the documentary now used by VSF in Belgium.


Banganà (trailer)

Lokkol (trailer)