Sad to report on the death of Olivia Zinnah, the young girl who is at the center of an upcoming feature documentary I profiled in August, 2012 – titled Small Small Thing – directed by Jessica Vale.
The film, 3+ years in the making, is complete, and has been submitted to several film festivals, and should world premiere some time this spring.
It tells the story of a mother and daughter in Liberia, who find themselves fighting tradition, when it is discovered that the 9-year-old had been brutally raped 2 years prior.
The film begins with the discovery of a nine year old girl in the hospital, severely malnourished and handicapped. Believing the cause of her injuries to be witchcraft, the village elders (and her mother) hide the girl for 2 years as her condition worsens. A visiting medical team draws the conclusion that she was brutally raped. The film follows the journey over the course of the next 9 months, as the life of this little girl and her mother, shunned from their village for seeking outside help.
I received notification this afternoon from director Jessica Vale, alerting me to Olivia Zinnah's passing on December 20, as a result of the long-term complications of the brutal rape she suffered at age 7.
She was 13 at the time of her death.
The unfortunate further details from the email I received follow:
Vale discovered Olivia at JFK Memorial Hospital in January 2009 along with a visiting husband-and-wife OBGYN team from New York City – Ann Marie Beddoe and Peter Dottino. Olivia was suffering from a severe fistula, infections and malnutrition. She was gravely ill and her condition had been deteriorating for two years. Liberian surgeons initially attempted to fix the fistula but botched the surgery. Her mother, Bindu, did not originally seek medical attention for the girl because their remote tribal village diagnosed her as a victim of “witchcraft.” After two years, Olivia was brought to JFK where Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, head of OBGYN, determined Olivia's injuries were a result of rape. At that time, Olivia named her cousin John as her attacker, who was in his twenties at the time of the incident. The family and John denied the accusations, shunning Olivia and Bindu from their village, forcing them to live at the hospital. American surgeons operated on Olivia, saving her life. They gave her a colostomy bag and determined the fistula was so severe it could not be fixed until she was 16 years old and her body had matured. Olivia and Bindu were then sent to live at a safe home for rape victims […] In December 2012, Olivia was rushed to JFK with a bowel obstruction. Dr. Jallah was unable to get approval for emergency surgery. Olivia's condition worsened and U.S. doctors insisted Olivia receive an operation to save her life. Days later, Olivia finally undergoes a colostomy surgery, but it was too late. She died two days later at 13.
In a statement, Vale said:
“I hope the release of ‘Smallsmall Thing’ will pressure the Liberian government to find Olivia's accused rapist and bring him to trial… Olivia was Liberian, but her voice is global. How many times, in how many countries does this have to happen for people to pay attention?”
According to UN statistics in 2012, rape is still the #1 crime in Liberia, despite President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's efforts (and Nobel Peace Prize); the majority of the victims are said to be children – some as young as 2 years old.
Small Small Thing is the result of investigations by the filmmakers, revealing what they call "an intricate web of corruption, adventure and hope."
There's a lot more to this story, so feel free to visit the project's website HERE.
As noted, the film has been submitted to festivals all over the world, and will debut on the festival circuit this year.