Senior communication majors’ documentary chosen in national finalist competition

By Andrew Stettler
October 16, 2008

“Our Hands Are Not Tied,” an audio documentary by three Cabrini College English and communication students and produced by WYBF 89.1 “The Burn,” is one of three national finalist for the National College Broadcasters, Inc. Production Awards Competition.

In spring semester 2008, communication Professor and Department Chairman Dr. Jerry Zurek gave a semester-long assignment to his SEM 300 “Working for Global Justice” class.

The project was designed to give a purpose to the students to use the skills they had learned within their majors. One year later, the project by English and communication majors Megan Pellegrino, Kara Schneider and Jillian Smith was produced.

“The original purpose of the documentary was to make people aware of PEPFAR and the PEPFAR bill being passed,” Pellegrino said. “So because of that we ran into a lot of hurdles.”

PEPFAR, the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, originally was meant to commit $15 billion over the next five years toward combating HIV/AIDS globally. The bill’s main aim was to provide antiretroviral treatment to two million HIV-infected people who could not afford the drugs without aid.

In providing proper drug treatment to the infected, the bill can prevent over seven million new infections globally. In 2004 ,PEPFAR raised the number of Africans receiving antiretroviral drugs to 50,000 and then to 1.2 million in 2008.

“There is a missing generation because of AIDS, there are grandparents and there are children and they do not have parents due to this deadly disease,” Schneider said.

The students agreed that one interview with a local Pennsylvania man, Ryan Keith, founder of “Forgotten Voices,” was the one point in the project when the documentary put a face to the stories. Keith said in an interview with the team “every statistic has a story and every story has a face.”

“We based our whole documentary on just that little sentence,” Schneider said.

“We heard it and we all looked at each other and we knew that was it,” Pellegrino said. The students were inspired by Keith. His organization, “Forgotten Voices,” works in Zimbabwe to help local churches meet the needs of AIDS orphans. “It showed that an every-day person could do it and he was an ordinary person.”

“That is the basis of our documentary; yeah we are college students but we can talk to a man who starts an organization and see what we can do to help,” Smith said.

Catholic Relief Services also played a large role in helping the documentary gain depth. CRS provided the students with photos and interviews that would ultimately help to shape the documentary less toward PEPFAR and more toward solving the AIDS crisis overall.

“The President of CRS, Ken Hackett, gave us amazing information that we just could not find on the Internet. He had a strong voice and a strong role in making people aware of the virus globally and we knew that he would be a big part of our documentary,” Schneider said.

By the end of the project, the team had put together a documentary portraying that the AIDS crisis in Africa, as the documentary says, is not a “black hole of problems” and that in fact something is being done about it.

“Our Hands are Not Tied” tells about the trouble in Africa and that it is beginning to be solved. “AIDS exists and it is huge and it is killing people but it does not have to. They just need help,” Pellegrino said.

To listen to the “Our Hands Are Not Tied” audio documentary visit “The Loquitur” Web site at: “If anyone takes 17 minutes and sits there and listens, I think they will leave with the world.”

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Andrew Stettler

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