Film festival to showcase Peace Corps volunteers' stories

Thursday, November 12, 2009 | 7:56 p.m. CST; updated 11:08 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 12, 2009
Tappan Heher, who made the film "Gone to Mali" that will be showing at this Saturday's Third Goal International Film Festival, returned to Mali in 2002 to visit his Malian mom.

COLUMBIA — Tappan Heher, who served with the Peace Corps in Mali, was devastated after his mother died of uterine cancer in 2002.  

“I was depressed and shocked, but one day I woke up to a voice or feeling saying, ‘You still have a mom,” he said. "Go see her."

If You Go

Where: MU Animal Science Research Center, next to the MU College of Veterinary Medicine

When: Saturday

  • “I Bring What I Love”: 1 p.m and 7:45 p.m.
  • “Once in Afghanistan”: 3 p.m.
  • “Gone to Mali”: 5:15 p.m.
  •  “Hitchhiking Vietnam”: 6:30 p.m.

Cost: Free. An ethnic sampler buffet will be provided.


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It was his Malian mom, a woman who welcomed Heher into her family during his time in Mali.. He decided to return to the west African country and film his quest to find her.

Jill Vickers, who served with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan, was learning to shoot and edit video when she was encouraged to gather the stories of her fellow volunteers. Vickers' film shows the volunteers working in Afghan villages to promote a smallpox vaccination program. 

The documentaries "Gone to Mali" and "Once in Afghanistan" will be screened Saturday as part of the fourth annual Third Goal International Film Festival at the Animal Science Research Centerat MU.

Returned Peace Corps volunteers from the Columbia area will share the lessons they learned and the impact of serving in remote pockets of the world as part of a panel discussion. The volunteers worked in eight different countries: Zambia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Bolivia, Tunisia, Benin and Niger.

Headlining the festival is "I Bring What I Love," a documentary about musician Yossou N’Dour’s release of his controversial album "Egypt". N’Dour’s attempt to present a more tolerant side of Islam caused an outcry in his home country of Senegal.

"Hitchhiking Vietnam" by Karin Muller, a film made in conjunction with PBS, will also be shown.

These documentaries and a series of panels afterward are intended to connect Columbia viewers with the Peace Corps experience, especially in Muslim communities overseas, said Karen Davis, president of the Central Missouri Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, coordinator of the festival and returned volunteer from Guatemala. 

“They’re anxious to tell their story to a broader audience,” she said of the volunteers. “While the films are not necessarily from our group, the speakers' panels are the way we live the third goal.”

That goal, part of the mission that established the Peace Corps in 1961, asks returned volunteers to share aspects of their service in a public setting. 

It’s all about bringing home the journey, Davis said. “Even though we’ve served in vastly different countries, we certainly have things in common."

It took more than three decades for global events to  converge with an interest in the country and give Vickers context for her story.

“When we came back after the Peace Corps in 1971, there was very little interest in the United States in this remote country called Afghanistan,” she said. “We simply didn’t have any context for information about it.”

Sept. 11 changed the conversation.

“They wanted to know more than just, ‘You were in Afghanistan, that’s interesting,’” Vickers said, citing common responses: “‘What about these women in burqas? What about terrorists? What about Islam?’”

“Once in Afghanistan” has raised $10,000 in sales that go entirely to charities including Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation for Afghans, an agency that provides services to Afghanistan's most vulnerable, and Goodrich Foundation, a family foundation that supports a school in Afghanistan and the education of Afghan students in the U.S.

Heher’s  journey began with uncertainty. Not knowing where his Malian mother was or if she was even alive, he set off with video and audio equipment to find her.   

“It took a little time,” Heher said, “but the incredible moment of recognition felt like I had been sent there for a reason by my real mom – it had an incredible impact.”

The woman had 10 children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. She saw adversity that many American people can’t even imagine, Heher said.

“I made the film partially with the goal to bring back the experience of tolerant Islam,” Heher said of reactions after Sept. 11. “The Malians were as horrified by the terrorist attacks as anyone else.”

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