Recent graduate Jesse Manning, ’18, and his girlfriend, Heidi Reinprecht, class of ’17, are already using their communications expertise to change lives 7,000 miles away in Uganda.
Manning, 22, and Reinprecht, 25, who have started their own film production company, will fly to Uganda July 12-25 to film a documentary on a primary school built from donations that has positively changed life outcomes for more than 550 children from nursery school to 7th grade.
Their hope is that by telling the poignant stories about the value of education through the eyes of the children, parents, and educators, more people will want to donate money and/or time to the cause.
“Making the film will make them grow in ways you can’t imagine,” Reinprecht said of the documentary. “It’s a small, grassroots organization and I don’t know how they do it.”
The school was established through HELP International Uganda, a partnership between HELP International and the Ugandan people in Eastern Africa. The mission focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and hunger in the small, poverty-stricken Ugandan village of Masese.
Manning, who hails from Trumbull, majored in communication and became enthralled with the cause after a friend, Christopher Martin, who attends Molloy College in New York, returned from an internship in Uganda.
Martin couldn’t stop raving about the beauty of the school’s impact through educating, feeding, and delivering medical care to 550 impoverished children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend school. Primary school in the village normally is not free and so many don’t automatically receive an education. When Martin shared his experiences, Manning felt an instant connection.
“$1 there can help feed a family for a week, $30 can change someone’s life,” Manning said. “I felt I wanted to do my part.”
The couple already has a film company — Little Tree Farm Productions — and the farm in the name is intended to convey that people can “grow their ideas,” Reinprecht said.
Promoting the school through film “felt natural,” said Reinprecht, who noted, “I’ve always wanted to help people,” she said.
The couple has raised $5,000 toward the trip — enough to get them there — but are fundraising about $10,000 more to pay the rest, including insurance, medical expenses such as vaccinations, and production costs.
They are donating their time to make the film.
The pair met in their first film class at Southern and were always paired after that in class.
Reinprecht, originally from Watertown, graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in communication with a concentration in film and television.
Reinprecht says she has sensitive ears and is an audio production specialist, while Manning is a natural with the camera.
“He’s my extra set of eyes and I’m his ears,” she said.
Their approximately 40-minute documentary will highlight the climate of the village before the school was built, what it has become, and an expansion planned for the future.
“We want people to take away from it that they can really help,” Manning said.
Reinprecht added, “The children love this school.”
Martin became involved during his sophomore year of college when he interned with a global justice NGO aligned with the United Nations. Martin’s area of expertise was micro-finance, which included giving small business loans to people in developing nations.
His professor was involved in the school in Uganda.
“We decided to team up to give small business loans to people in the village,” Martin said.
But he fell in love with the school as well, and this summer Martin will make his fourth trip to Uganda in three years, volunteering in the school, tutoring the children, and helping in any other way needed.
“The people there are just so amazing,” Martin said. “They are extremely poor – they live on about $1 per day, but they’re so friendly and excited we’re there.”
Martin is excited about the impact of his friends’ documentary.
“The biggest thing for people who have not seen the project – film might make them want to help,” he said.