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Environment & Poverty Times

06 2009

Building resilience

Mark Edwards/Still Pictures.

Nature for Kids movies - Superheroes of the Future By staff at Nature for Kids

“Our message is that all children can be su- perheroes,” says Ms Dagmar van Weeghel, founder and director of Dutch NGO Nature for Kids (NfK). “Through our innovative work, we want to empower children – to show them that their living conditions might not be good at the moment, but there is something they can do about it, and that through good management of their natural resources they can create a sustainable fu- ture for themselves and the environment.”

NfK, founded in 2002, helps children grow- ing up in the poorer regions of the world learn these lessons through the use of inter- active film and theatre. To this end, the NGO has produced an educational environmental school TV series entitled Superhero, aimed at children throughout Africa. So far, five 24-minute edutainment programmes have been produced. Each one tells an engaging story of a local child who learns about an environmental problem in his or her com- munity and then takes the lead in finding a solution that benefits both the natural world and the village community.

Sophia and the Terrific Forest, for example, talks about deforestation and encroachment of wildlife and natural areas, while Mkobo and the Great Lion discusses food chains and human-wildlife conflicts. Issa and the Return- ing Grasslands deals with erosion, overgraz- ing and land management, and Faraja and the Wonderful Water talks about water resource management. Kagiso and the Clean Village is about waste management, including the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Through the issues discussed in these films, the fictional superheroes show real-life school children that the cycle of poverty and environmental degradation can be broken through sustainable management of their natural resources. By watching the simple yet important actions that Sophia, Mkobo and the other young characters take – such as tree planting, organizing clean-up cam- paigns, catching rainwater and encouraging herders to keep cattle away from drinking water – the schoolchildren acquire the basic knowledge, skills and values that promote environmental responsibility.

Because of the unique education-through- entertainment formula, these innovative

school TV programmes are not just docu- mentaries – they are exciting and captivating short screenplays featuring local schoolchil- dren (7-12 years) and their communities. “These programmes are not a condescend- ing form of education, because they’re all about children talking to children,” says Ms van Weeghel. “They’re fun and interac- tive – and I think interaction is the key to anything you’re trying to get across. It’s a very powerful tool with which to influence people; it’s part of how we connect and how we become aware of our wider environment. So, why not stimulate children’s minds and hearts in underdeveloped countries in a way that has been proved to work?”

Local partners supply NfK with research input on the conservation messages. Local languages, such as Kiswahili, are used in the films and supporting materials, which also help the children to understand and relate to the characters and environmental messages. However, NfK also works with voiceover in its films, so each programme can easily be dubbed into any language. One film can therefore be used to reach children in many different countries.

The films are brought to schools in rural areas with the help of a mobile cinema and a team of local teachers. The film packages (film and additional materials such as booklets, ques- tionnaires, baseline surveys, posters, water tests, etc.) are also used by local education centres, refugee camps, NGOs, and wildlife and environmental clubs. This is often the first time many of the children have ever seen a film, so the impact of these programmes is tremendous. After viewing the films, the teach- ers start lively group discussions, including en- vironmental songs, to involve the children.

The teachers are also provided with surveys, booklets, posters, water-testing kits and other materials. These enable the teachers to do in- teractive follow-up activities with the children, such as organizing clean-up campaigns, plant- ing trees and making recycled art. NfK is also working on a new project which will provide seedlings to 76 schools in Tanzania, enabling the pupils to plant a school nursery.

Through all these activities, the pupils learn about the benefits and essential ecological roles of different ecosystems and the interactions and relationships between various ecosystems, as well as the threats to their existence. Most

Nature for Kids – The Facts

Nature for Kids (NfK), established in 2002, uses film/school TV programmes to create environmental awareness among children growing up in the poorer regions of the world. The NFK edutainment pro- grammes transmit the basic knowledge and values that will enable both young people and the place where they live to prosper.

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A programme of tailor-made films with accompanying interactive teaching material, tackling important environmental issues such as over-grazing, water management, resource efficiency, deforestation, endangered species and more.

The films are produced by – and star – a local cast and crew. To date five films have been produced in Africa.

Since 2006 the mobile School TV team from NfK has visited over 140 schools in Northern Tanzania, enabling more than 70,000 children to view and benefit from the NfK program. NfK materials are also being used by local partners in Tanzania, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda. To date more than 400,000 children have seen NfK’s innovative materials. All films and educational packs are produced in the native/local language, whether Swahili, English or Rutooro.

This interactive and innovative approach to environmental learning is universal in appeal. NfK’s mission is to roll out these materials and programmes to other locations and countries in the future.

importantly, the pupils learn how their actions can have a positive impact on the world around them in protecting vital natural resources that they are heavily dependent upon.

Over the past four years, the NfK programme has proven to be effective and very appealing to the target audience – thousands of children in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Sierra Le- one, as well as their teachers. After watching the films, some of the children want to be the star – the new superhero – of the next film, while others want to go home and discuss what they have learned with their parents.

After watching Issa and the Returning Grasslands, for example, one pupil from Itunundu Primary School in Tanzania said: “At home we have a big number of unhealthy animals and today I’m going to tell my father to sell some animals and buy seeds so we can have healthy cows and plant grass like Issa.” Meanwhile, a pupil from Mikocheni Primary School in the Karatu district of Tan- zania, said: “I liked the movies because they taught us about the relationship between plants, wild animals and human beings. We learned that plants are important to human beings because we get our food from them and forests are important because they make rains, which keep everything alive.”

The teachers have been very positive about the films, both because they provide a new and interactive addition to their curriculum and because the teachers really appreciate receiving new knowledge about the changed

local environment – and new methods through which their pupils can learn to care for it. For example, one teacher from Makifu Primary School in Tanzania said: “The stu- dents are very happy this year because they can watch kids like themselves act in the movies, and this inspires them to become superheroes in their own communities.”

In northern Tanzania, NfK works directly with about 150 schools, while in other areas it partners with local organizations, including Friends of Ruaha Society, the Jane Goodall Institute, Filmaid International, Malihaj Clubs of Tanzania, Youthlink and Unite. The films are also available to national parks, en- vironmental education centres, wildlife clubs and scouting groups and will have reached approximately 350,000 pupils by the end of 2009. In this way, both individuals and organizations can be mobilized to assume roles that can produce a multiplying effect in each aspect of environmental management and sustainable development.

“I hope that if our organization and oth- ers keep embedding and instilling a better understanding and appreciation for the environment in the children, then caring for the environment will become something natural,” says Ms van Weeghel. “Then the children will realize that the environment is not an endless pit from which we can only take, but we also have to give back to it in order for it to sustain our lives.”

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