Documentary Review, Rafea: Solar Mama

By Julia Ranallo

Watch the trailer here

Every once in a while, we come across something that impacts us in ways we cannot forget. Whether it is inspirational, heartbreaking, or funny, there are some things we experience that capture our minds and hearts and transform our perspective for the better.

For me, one of these impactful experiences was the documentary Rafea: Solar Mama. What started as a carefree movie night became a moving experience thanks to this documentary.

The film was the story of Rafea, a woman living in one of the poorest villages in Jordan, who is chosen to study solar engineering in India. Rafea comes from an uneducated and impoverished background, and faces discrimination and abuse from the men in her village every day.

Although Rafea is the central focus and personal connection of the documentary, she personifies the untold stories of hardship countless women across the developing world live each day.

Solar Mama was made in 2012 and was directed by Mona Eldaief and Jehane Noujaim. They were inspired to film Rafea’s story because they wanted people worldwide to see firsthand the struggles that women in the developing world endure, and to show what is possible when women are granted their right to education.

Rafea gets chosen to go to college where she and 27 other women from different developing countries learn solar engineering. Excited, nervous, but determined, Rafea begins her journey to become Jordan’s first illiterate female solar engineer.

At college, the women unite. They understand their differences in culture and language, but also see their similarity in an eagerness to learn and better their lives. Rafea soon realizes that she is destined for more than the life she had back home and discovers a new confidence within her.

Rafea completes the program and returns to Jordan where she encourages other women to let her teach them engineering, but it is difficult, as husbands in Jordan wouldn’t allow it. But with her new job and a new life, Rafea remains determined to make a positive change in her community. She works as a solar engineer and continues her effort to break the gender roles in her village.

People should watch Solar Mama because it is inspiring and uplifting. It does more than showcase Rafea’s journey — it also illustrates the powerful concept that with access to education, women can change themselves and the world around them.

Solar Mama demonstrates that in the fight against adversity, women don’t need weapons or violence. Education is powerful and should not be kept from women because of their gender. This documentary shows that with access to education, women can overcome the restrictive gender roles that bind them.

To finish with the words of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai: “Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are our most powerful weapons.”

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