This July, two Sydney filmmakers will be creating a powerful documentary chronicling the journey of Genna Radnan and the wide-reaching impact her charity, Gennarosity Abroad, is having on the ground in Kenya. Sophie Deutsch reports.
BRIMMING with energy and enthusiasm, bold streams of colour branch from the exotic flowers imprinted on Genna Radnan’s canary yellow dress.
Paired with her delightfully uplifting smile, Genna’s bright number entirely reflects her personality – cheery, passionate, determined and strong-willed. It’s these colourful character traits that have aided her in establishing and growing Gennarosity Abroad – a not-for-profit organisation providing education, skills, vocational training, health, literacy, clean water, employment and support to communities in Kenya.
Since its establishment in 2011, the 27-year-old Emanuel School alumnus, who now works as the school’s nurse, has helped over 150 families in Kenya, with many of her supporters back home eagerly anticipating the next stage of Gennarosity Abroad – among them, local Jewish filmmakers Adam Dostalek and Judy Menczel.
Last year, Genna attended JCA’s Launchpad retreat where she saw Adam filming the weekend’s events.
“Genna took me aside and said, ‘I want to tell you about our charity,’ and I was immediately motivated and inspired,” remembers Adam. “I said, ‘Absolutely, this sounds fantastic,’ and not just the fact that it is in Kenya, but to hear what this young social entrepreneur has been doing selflessly.”
Similarly inspired by Genna’s charm that shines alongside her inspiring mission, Judy Menczel, a former producer and director for the ABC, was next to come on board.
“Genna helps others with a smile and with a charisma and that is what you need to enrol people in such an important cause,” says Judy. “I’ve done a lot of Holocaust films and absolutely care about those topics, but I feel like it’s time now to also own who we are and be proud of who we are, and therefore inspire other people.”
Together, the trio are currently raising funds for their Global Social Media Awareness Campaign with a series of short films on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, exploring the evolution, projects, achievements and goals of Gennarosity Abroad.
Hand in hand with this component of the campaign will be an authentic, poignant film focused on Genna’s journey.
“It will start here in Australia, we’ll transition over to Kenya and show her first-hand experience with a camera – not only capturing the whole atmosphere and not just what it’s like to be a human in Kenya, but it’s going to be shown through her perspective too,” says Adam, who is directing the documentary and has previously worked on films for JewishCare, JCA, The Choice Foundation and March of the Living.
His upcoming 27-minute documentary – co-produced with Judy – will be broadcast on ABC’s Compass this October.
But rewinding back to the very beginning, the first seeds of Genna’s dream were planted when she was five years old, comfortably lounging on her family’s couch watching World Vision ads flash across the TV.
Rattled by the sight of impoverished children living in dire conditions, Genna diverted her eyes to the stylish interior of her family’s home, and then back again to the TV.
Perplexed, Genna thought to herself: “Why is this child the same age as me living in such conditions?”
Wealth disparities have remained at the forefront of Genna’s mind since, and an inexplicable fascination with Africa – the diverse culture, spectacular sprawling landscapes and vibrant communities – began to emerge during her school years, culminating in an overseas trip at the end of year 12.
In Kenya, Genna found her calling. “I loved it so much. We did two weeks of volunteering – a week-and-a-half in Zanzibar, a few days in Nairobi and then a two-week safari. And I said to mum at the end of that, ‘can I please stay on for another month?’ and she said, ‘No, come back, save up and go back.'”
Returning to Kenya six months later, Genna continued teaching and building in Karunga, before working in an orphanage where she became increasingly concerned about a dilapidated kindergarten constructed of flimsy cardboard and wood. Wedged between two drop toilets, the kindergarten was devoid of natural light.
With her steadfast commitment to help those in need, Genna’s get-up-and-go attitude paved the way forward. She was told it would cost $2500 to build a new kindergarten, and after emailing friends, the Emanuel School and Synagogue, she managed to significantly surpass this figure. Raising $15,000, Genna allocated the sum of money towards new desks, chairs, glass windows, a teacher’s office, a water tank, swings and a fence, and Karunga’s Emanuel Kindergarten now brings a smile to the kids under its watch every day.
Hoping to expand her reach further, in 2013, Genna established Grandma Jenny’s Training Centre, providing women with education and training as a pathway out of poverty. Soon Genna’s focus will turn to another issue rife in Kenyan society.
“There are so many babies left in hospital, by the side of the road, or in forests, or however they are found,” laments Genna.
Finding them baby formula, carers, clothing, a decent education and loving, stable families are some of the many factors to consider, tells Genna, who herself experienced her own ordeal in 2012 when she was carjacked, kidnapped and held at gunpoint one night in Kenya.
“I’m actually quite grateful for that experience, which probably sounds a bit weird, but it just gives me more insight into how locals live and what people do for survival,” Genna comments.
A fierce believer in the notion that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Genna’s troubling experience serves as a case in point, illustrating her resilience and perseverance to continue making sustainable changes in the communities she supports.
She has returned to Kenya six times since, and this July, will be taking Adam and Judy with her.
“Just because one bad experience happened to me in Kenya doesn’t mean that the work that I’ve done hasn’t had an impact. It was totally unrelated so why would I punish myself and the people I’m trying to help because a few people did the wrong thing?” remarks Genna.
Her kindheartedness has been recognised through various awards including Stand Up’s Ron Castan Young Humanitarian Award in 2014 and Courage to Care’s Local Hero award last year. Quite possibly, Genna is making as big an impact at home as she is overseas.
Appealing to Emanuel School’s ethos of tikkun olam, last year, Genna and Emanuel teacher David Whitcombe took 10 students on an eye-opening trip to Kenya. There they visited a women’s collective, constructed a classroom, taught English and saw Genna’s projects first-hand.
“We are there to actually go on a personal journey and realise how lucky we are, to be grateful and think not about what we don’t have but look at what we do have, and how can we use that for the betterment of other people,” Genna comments.
For the documentary, Adam and Judy will be interviewing students about their experiences on the trip, and the powerful impact Kenya continues to have on their lives back home.
Donations can be made at www.gennarosityabroad.org/donate.