"Stop that car! That one over there!" It is the day before the opening of the World Cup and I am standing at an intersection in Ipelegeng, Soweto in South Africa watching a group of five teenage Sowetan girls race across the street towards a little red Toyota.

They are dodging traffic, video camera, microphone, and sound boom in hand, as they scoot past vehicles, hooting and hollering for the car full of seemingly terrified passengers to stop.

As this streaking comet of pink t-shirted, white-capped zeal reaches their destination, I am finally able to see what the "big deal" is all about: The car is full of Mexican football fans, all here for the next day's opening match against Bafana Bafana, South Africa's beloved home team.

They are decked out in red, green, and white, some wearing soccer jerseys, others more traditional garb - against the backdrop of Soweto, these foreign visitors stick out like a sore thumb.

I break into a smile as I watch the girls set up the shot, and think to myself, "Wow. We are really doing this. It is finally happening."

Unheard female voices

Who would have thought I would be here, in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup, teaching 22 young women to be aspiring journalists?

Eighteen months ago, Global Girl Media was nothing more than an idea, a conversation between Meena Nanji, a fellow filmmaker also based out of Los Angeles, and myself.

Both of us were lamenting this gnawing feeling that despite all of this new digital technology and increased global access to information there was still something missing from the medium: Women, particularly young women in the developing world and marginalised communities in the West, were not just underrepresented, they were nearly silent.

No one was telling their stories. No one was reporting from their perspective. No one was listening to the millions of young girls out there dealing with major life issues from poverty to HIV to gang violence to women's rights in real time.

As a woman, as a filmmaker, and as a mother, this silence was to me more than just deafening - it was frustratingly discriminatory and real evidence of just how lopsided the voices that are heard in media have become.



When Meena and I started brainstorming this project, there was never any doubt as to why Global Girl Media needed to exist - this was obvious. The biggest question was: Well now how do we do it?

Like many of the young women we serve, Global Girl Media (GGM) was born into a battleground of obstacles and was competing for resources even before it got off the ground.

Countless numbers of potential funders initially turned us down, many asking us what we thought was the most obvious question in the world: "Why girls?"

As women, this seemed so obvious to us - for years this is what we have come up against in our own efforts to make films and to tell stories.

It was so frustrating and incomprehensible that now that we were attempting to do something about this dissonance in the industry, we were running up against the same barricades and the same attitudes that drove us to start Global Girl Media in the first place.

With nurturing and time, however, this project did happen. We found funders who understood our mission and our passion, who understand that media was moving in a new direction and that the youth of today, particularly the young women of this world, were going to be at the forefront of this change. All they needed were the tools and the education to do it.

The 'real' Africa

Global Girl Media officially got off the ground in mid-2009 with a grant from the Nike Foundation. In the process of all of this, I jumped on the idea of having our first projects rotate around the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Not only was this going to be a major historical event for South Africa, I also knew that the deeper stories, the direct impact of the World Cup on young people of the region was probably not going to be accurately reported, if it was going to be reported at all.

I spent many years living and working in Kenya - when the post-election violence of 2007/2008 erupted, I was saddened by how not only the events, but also the Kenyan people themselves were misrepresented by the foreign press.

If the world was going to learn about the "real" Africa, if they were going to hear more than just disparate stories from fanatic football fans to the mainstream, generic tales of desperately poor, Aids-ravaged Africans, this was going to need to be a grassroots effort from young women themselves.

We asked: What do you want to report on? What do you want the world to know about you, about your community? Tell us how you want to be portrayed and we will give you the tools to do it.

For the past three weeks, this is exactly what we have been doing. Twenty-two young women have gone from being just another group of girls to this extraordinary team of reporters.

Their articulateness, their passion, their hunger for information is insatiable. Twelve hour days, training, teaching, interviewing, has the four trainers - myself, Meena and Therese from GGM, and Meagan, from the Global Press Institute, barely functional by the end of the day.

The girls on the other hand, it is like they are just getting started. In the three short weeks they have been part of this programme, they have already interviewed major international football players, local TV celebrities, street vendors, fans and international music icons.

They have appeared on ESPN, Univision, Soweto TV, and SABC. These girls are a force of nature unto themselves and it is as if everywhere they go, people want to know who they are. I want people to know, too. I want them to know that for every interview and every mini-documentary these young ladies do on film, there is a personal story and a journey behind it, even if it is not quite apparent to the viewers at home.

Tebogo's story

The idea to tell the story of one Global Girl in particular was a decision I did not take lightly.

The programme we are running here is more than just training - it is a very personal and exceptional experience for these girls, most of whom overcome incredible odds to make it into that library in Soweto every day.

We have become a kind of large, functioning dysfunctional family, not without our daily spats and challenges.

But one girl drew me to her with her outward strength - Tebogo, who belied an inner struggle, one which became more and more apparent.

While all the girls broke down sobbing one day, she was the one writing in her journal, dry-eyed and distant. When her team researched a story on HIV, Tebogo turned sullen, unable to participate.

At first she told me she lived at home with her mother and sister. Later I learned that she had been living with her aunt since her mother and young brother died.

This aunt had her working like a modern-day Cinderella, cooking and cleaning instead of studying, even though it was clear she was an outstanding student. She started to open up, and her story is the subject of this film.

I want to be clear, however that while it is Tebogo's story, it is also the collective story of all the original Global Girls.

All these brave souls I have had the privilege to work with for the past four weeks. I have held their hands, framed their shots, taught them about aperture, white balance, and unbalanced versus balanced sound.

Yet they have taught me so much more. Back in Los Angeles, editing the piece, I hear their voices, singing in perfect harmony, I see them pouring over an article on the internet or dancing in the stadium, screaming at the top of their lungs. And if the world does not hear them yet, they soon will.

They are the Global Girls of Soweto, and this is one World Cup that I can personally say has not only changed the face of football, but also uprooted the goal posts.

Click here for more on Global Girl Media.

Source: Al Jazeera