A Powerful Noise

Last Thursday, I went with two lady friends to view the documentary, A Powerful Noise, an engaging recounting of the lives of three women who overcome hardship to effect change in their communities.

Bui Hanh is an HIV-infected widow who starts a self-help group that provides prevention information, support, counseling and health care to HIV/AIDS sufferers in Vietnam. I was surprised to learn that Vietnam has an extremely high rate of HIV infection due to the large numbers of men who use intravenous drugs. In one of the scenes, Bui visits a coal mine to distribute condoms. I found it odd that she had to warn the men “Do not wash. Use only once.” Could this too explain the high infection rate?

Jacqueline Dembele fights forced labor and the exploitation of girls who work in the city of Bamako, Mali. She started an organization that provides the girls with a basic education, teaches them how to become seamstresses, and places them in safe jobs. In a male-dominated society where young girls are sought after for marriage and other sexual fantasies, Jacqueline maintains her focus and dignity in a culture that is somewhat dismissive of women’s issues. She believes that “being poor is not an illness.”

Nada Markovic is also a widow and a mother of three, who survives the three year war in Bosnia. Her women’s association helps ease conflict between Serbs and Bosniaks. Under her leadership, the group is reconstructing communities and helping families support themselves through agricultural cooperatives. The remarkable thing about her is that even though the war was a conflict between two ethnic groups, her organization does not discriminate, a testament to her humanity.

A characteristic that all three women share is persistence. They don’t take no for an answer. They find ways to get around local governments, to fight the social stigma around HIV/AIDS and work to change perceptions about the importance of girls’ education.

My friends and I felt that the documentary was powerful. I wondered quite a bit about the title of the film: A Powerful Noise. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of noise is “sound that is loud, disagreeable, unwanted” or “a loud, confused clamor or commotion.”

Perhaps the producers chose this title because historically, women have been considered to be somewhat irrelevant, brushed aside as inconsequential noisemakers.

Bui, Jacqueline and Nada demonstrate their incredible power as they become the glue that holds their communities together. Powerful irritants, they get noticed, they change lives, they empower girls and women. They are handling societal woes that most politicians would rather shove under the rug.

All three women are saving lives and preventing others from going down the wrong path; they are laying the foundation for the future; they are healing wounds from the past. All are paving the way for a better tomorrow.


Mama Shujaa


  1. I think of noise as something that disrupts, something that doesn't allow us to continue with what we were doing before the noise began, or before we noticed the noise.

    This sounds like a fascinating documentary, thank you for exposing these currents between shores.

  2. wow. sounds like a really powerful film. thanks for this inspiring post, mama! na shukuru!xxx j

  3. Rose-Anne and Janelle: You are welcome. I believe the DVD will be available for purchase some time in the near future...

  4. It's always interesting to learn about the experiences going on in other places around the world, especially with women. I hope I get the opportunity to see this documentary one day. Thanks for the exposure.

  5. "A powerful Voice ! "perhaps would be a more fitting title, i concurr fully with your observation!

  6. Many thanks for this recommendation. Good and inspiring post.

    Greetings from London.

  7. Thank you for sharing this information. We women, with our nurturing natures and audacity to affect positive change, are a collective force that help make this world go round. I will add these women to my prayer list and affirm that their efforts are continuously successful.

  8. A Cuban In London: You are most welcome and thanks for your comment.

    Execumama: Thanks for your lovely comment.

  9. Thank you for introducing us to this documentary and these women. The are indeed powerful. I think you are right on about why the producers might have chosen to use "noise" in the title. I think of it as being the opposite of silence, meaning that illness nor government were able to silence these women. Noise is beautiful.

    My weekend was (fill-in-the-blank), lol. I'm still a little all over the place, but I am working to gain more focus. Asante kwa asking.

  10. Mrembo Ms. Bar B: Asante kwa kutembelea.

  11. How interesting about washing condoms. It shows how culturally dependent solutions to disease prevention are. I remember being impressed in Kenya (1980’s) by how the Coke bottles were reused and not recycled – far greener and economical, but not going to work with condoms! My sister in law advises Africa and China on AIDS policy. I shall tell her about the film; thanks for sharing this!

  12. You know Mama Shujaa, I think women have to make extraordinary efforts to succeed in what they choose to do. That is probably where the producers of this documentary took their cue for that rather off-kilter title. In general, we women are seen as fragile little flowers who bend to the slightest breeze and not the powerful, deeply rooted beings that we really are. So if a woman takes a stance and voices her opinion, she is seen to be loud and clamouring rather than direct, savvy and highly motivated.

    An unfortunate title, but a fascinating and uplifting account nonetheless. Thank you so much for your acute and insightful review of the film.

  13. Wow--that sounds like a beautiful, powerful film. Thanks for sharing the story; I'm going to make sure I check it out.

  14. What an amazing difference those three women are making in their corner of the world. What an inspiration they are!

  15. Thanks for keeping us aware and informed Mama Shu... As for the title of the movie... from your description I would think that it is aptly titled. Noise as you found to be defined "sound that is loud, disagreeable, unwanted” or “a loud, confused clamor or commotion” should maybe not be interpreted quite so literally here... a broader interpretation would mean that the film, it's stars and the overall message are a powerful noise disrupting history, and society, because there comes a point where we as women can no longer whisper what we want, and it is a shame that we have to even ask for what should be equally ours. Sometimes we have to make noise and wake society up, even when it paints the noise as unwanted... it is WARRANTED!

  16. @ Anonymous:

    Thank you for your insightful comment. Karibu tena! [come/welcome again]

  17. I like your blog!Thanks for post this,will look for it.Mwanamke siku zote ni shujaa people always forget!Keep up a nice job you 'r doing.

  18. AAT,

    Thanks for the visit and the comment.


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