Carol Salter

Review – Unearthing The Pen

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Review by Joanna Gravett:

“I think the pen has power and life within it.” These are the beautiful words of Locheng, a Ugandan boy desperate to go to school, but who faces a heart wrenching struggle between an age old tradition and his dreams.

Years ago, village elders in Locheng’s village buried a pen, putting a curse on the written word. This deep hatred of reading and writing stems from a dark past, and as we follow Locheng’s story this remarkable twelve minute film is a stark reminder of the consequence of British Colonial Rule.

51 years after Ugandan independence, the red, white, and blue flag may be long gone, but the remnants of the unsettling past under Britain’s hard thumb still trickle down into Locheng’s world, as the historical scars prevent him from seeking an education.

The documentary is exquisite in capturing Locheng’s life, as we follow his quest to enrol at school. From the sound of the young goatherd’s livestock in the fields, to the hustle and bustle of the town centre, to Locheng’s big eyes as he looks longingly into a classroom, into a world he cannot understand because the teachers speak a language he does not know, the carefully compiled shots open a window into every detail.

We see that there is a big fence between the young goatherd and the classroom, and it doesn’t just represent his conflicting ideology with the elders; even if Locheng does manage to convince the villagers that the pen is a welcome friend after all, the question still remains as to whether he will be able to afford an education. As a teacher lists the costs of school fees, exams, a uniform, as well as colouring pencils, you can see the hope fade in Locheng’s eyes.

For those of us who took picking up a pen and paper and walking into school for granted this documentary will certainly make you think twice about the value of education. As Locheng pushes his fingers around in the sand, pretending to write, we realise that even a pen and paper is such a precious and undervalued commodity, much forgotten in modern Britain. But as Locheng points out: “What I see around me, the buildings, the vehicles the people drive, is all because of the pen.” And he is right.

This brilliant documentary gives a privileged view into one boy’s life, into a life that is sadly forgotten by the news, blighted by wars of the past, and those of recent times. We see a life under the shadow of Empire; a farmer’s life; a school life; a town life, and we witness a long tradition of a village.

It is clear that in some parts of the world education is undervalued, while in others there is no end of children who would love to go to school but can’t. It’s obvious that we’ve got a long way to go before every child receives an education, and there are many factors stopping children from receiving one: here it is not just an issue of money. For Locheng, the pen is certainly mightier than the sword, but will it be mightier than tradition?