It was a lazy Sunday when I watched Rafea: Solar Mama. I was in no mood to think big thoughts about global issues, poverty or women’s rights. Then I hit play and didn’t stop watching until the credits rolled. Since then, I have watched it again, twice.
This film demanded my attention and respect. It is poignant, emotive, funny and, at times, cruel. Most importantly, it is undeniably honest.
From desolation to education
Jehane Noujaim and Mona Eldaief, both from Egypt, directed Rafea: Solar Mama. It follows the tale of two women, Rafea and Umm, as they embark on the biggest journey of their lives, out of desolation and into education.
They are destined for the Barefoot College in India. The director of the college, Bunker Roy, aims to make these two illiterate Jordanian women the first female solar panel engineers in their country. He wants them to learn how to assemble, build and maintain solar lamps.
The Jordanian Ministry of the Environment supports the plan, seeing the potential for a change in attitude in remote villages.
Rafea Anad is 32. She has four daughters aged between three and 13. Rafea experienced five years of primary education, but there was a time when it would have been ‘shameful’ for a girl to have an education past the age of 10.
The second protagonist is a likable woman called Umm Badr. She is older and lives just kilometres from the Iraqi border in Jordan. She has nine children, mostly grown, up but her youngest is four. In Bedouin culture, women must travel in the company of a male family member so her son accompanies them.
Rafea is the feistier of the pair. Referring to her daughters, she asks, “Is it not shameful that the youth of these girls is wasted without work… an education… or purpose in life?”.
After a visit from Raouf Dabbas, a senior advisor in the Ministry of Environment in Jordan, Umm’s family encourage her to travel to the Barefoot College.
Rafea’s husband, on the other hand, strongly resists the idea, but in front of Raouf, he agrees to let his wife go to India and pursue an education, although he lets her go with no words of encouragement.
A must-watch movie
Rafea and Umm spend six months in India with another 25 women from remote villages all over the world. They learn, laugh, dance and hug each other.
The women at the Barefoot College don’t all share a language. Their bond is stronger than that. What their share is womanhood, motherhood and a right to a better life. Their story is one that needed telling and Rafea: Solar Mama tells it very well.
This isn’t just a film that you should watch. This is a film that needs to be watched. It shows us that education is about igniting a higher purpose in life and bringing meaning into everything we do. Rafea: Solar Mama illuminates this idea beautifully.