My friend Imbert recently emailed me, and enthusiastically recommended "Emmanuel’s Gift," calling it "an inspirational documentary film." It’s about a disabled young man from Ghana who rode his bike across his country in order to change perceptions about disabilities.
My friend and associate Imbert is inspirational himself. He co-founded Clear Path International, an organization that provides assistance to victims of unexploded ordnance – or uxo – in Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Thai-Burma border. He knows first hand how people with disabilities in developing countries suffer because of the stigma, lack of access, and inability to make a living. And I have had the fortune of volunteering as an Advisor to Clear Path for the last several years.
As in other developing countries, Ghana is not a good place to have a disability. Parents either poison their disabled children, or leave them to die in the forest. It’s called "seeing off." Or, at best, the disabled are expected to be beggars for their whole lives. A disability is not viewed as an accident, but as a punishment from a deity, and a curse. In Ghana 10% of the population – or 2 million people - are disabled. When Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born with one twisted deformed leg, his father abandoned the family because of it. His mother mourned her first son’s disability and tried to find a cure. When she learned there wasn’t one, she championed her son’s cause until she died an early death.
The moment "Emmanuel’s Gift" opened, I was drawn in by Emmanuel’s beautiful open face and palpable charisma, and wanted to know more about him. He seems – like the narrator, Oprah – to be a born inspirational leader who refuses to believe the limitations that society set for him. He has his own vision of the world, and is a study in tenacity.
As the only disabled child who dared to attend school, Emmanuel was teased and rejected by classmates. He was such a clever boy, he figured out a way to become a part of the group by earning enough money to buy a coveted soccer ball. He let the other boys play with his soccer ball as long as they let him play soccer with them.
Twin sister producer/directors Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern found a singular young man in Emmanuel, and followed his story over some years. With lush photography that captures the lively hues of life in Ghana, this story covers a lot of ground. At times I didn’t want to listen to any narration or Western interviews, I just wanted to hear Emmanuel’s spare and pithy pearls. But, the only way to get this whole story in was to use the expository methods of narration and interviews. I won’t give it away, but can say that Emmanuel’s story is not only for the underdog. It can change us all.
I believe we are hardwired to love stories of triumph and glory. Emmanuel’s is a genuine one; he uses his self-claimed power to empower others. I plan to take "Emmanuel’s Gift" DVD’s to Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Thai-Burma border in a few months to show to our uxo victims who have lost limbs. Emmanuel exudes a true affirming message, and can add me as one of his admirers who will spread the word.
For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.
Air date: 7/05/06
© 2006 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 7/05/06
2005 - Directed by: Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern; Ghana - Narrated by Oprah Winfrey