A Story of Hope

Arabella Weston-Smith, Arabella Watters-Grubstein and Jason Veitch

In the spring of 2009, Arabella Weston-Smith and I were just normal teenagers eagerly anticipating the end of the school year and trying to figure out something productive to do during the three long months we had stretched in front of us.

Fortunately, we were offered the opportunity of a lifetime: fly down to South Africa and shoot, write, and create a fund-raising documentary about the Phelophepa Health Care Train.

Two months later, we had lined up sponsorship from Virgin Atlantic (air travel), Canon USA (HD cameras), and Seagate (digital storage), and added a third member to our group, Jason Veitch from Miami. Before I knew it I was curled up in the window seat, anxious and exhilarated for the next month I was about to spend in Africa.

Arabella Weston-Smith, Arabella Watters-Grubstein and Jason Veitch

Below are some key highlights of our amazing experience:

  • Hundreds of people waited to be treated for ailments of every kind in the tiny town of Underberg, nestled at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains.
  • Many of the South Africans in line had never been examined by a doctor before.
  • One 80-year-old woman was fitted for her first pair of eyeglasses.
  • Patients included a baby with smoke-induced asthma and an infant suffering from an untreated spider bite.

The Phelophepa is nothing short of a miracle.  It provides first rate care for people in remote rural areas and employs a whole-heartedly dedicated staff.  To say that I was moved by the train would be an understatement. After our filming expedition in South Africa, we were not only excited to edit the film and expose it to as many people as possible, but also determined to raise money ourselves for the train. Flying home to California to begin several months of editing, and our story had a phenomenal ending….

  • “Phelophepa, Train of Hope” was selected by the Santa Barbara Film Festival, the U.S. International Film Festival, the Los Angeles Women’s Film Festival, and received an award at the Accolade Awards.
  • Arabella and I started a “Phelophepa Club” at our school.  Through organizing bake sales, pancake cook-offs, yard sales, and through the generosity of sixth-grader Carson Shevitz, we were able to reach our goal.
  • Nothing made me prouder than presenting $10,000 to Phelophepa that we personally raised for the train.

Watch the documentary

Phelophepa: Train of Hope from Arabella Weston Smith on Vimeo.