One of the most interesting gifts I received last Christmas was a set of books and a DVD on Saving the Planet from Barbs Fortunato (a former student in UP Cebu High School). It addresses vital questions: Can ordinary people help save our planet under siege from environmental crises, and what does it take to change attitudes and lifestyles to consume and waste less? This Asian series profiles six successful initiatives that combine knowledge, skills and passion to create cleaner and healthier environment through local action. The stories were identified from a regional competition, and produced by TVE Asia and Pacific in cooperation with local organizations and film crews. Filmed in Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, The Philippines and Thailand, and produced in 2009, each story runs for fifteen minutes.
The story from Cambodia is titled “Floating the Future” because it focuses on how the people living on and around the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Cambodia, discover how to harvest fish and other sources within limits. A local environment educator teaches children about four things: birds, forest, water and waste. She brings her students on a boat ride along Tonle Sap and they learn about the importance of protecting the birds and their eggs (where before they were killed and eaten and their eggs destroyed). Children learn about the different species of plants, how to segregate waste and how to dispose of them. Fishermen are taught how to harvest fish without destroying the breeding places. The women are educated on how to use the abundant water lilies growing in the lake by weaving them into baskets to be sold in the market. Ever since the program of local environment teachers, there has been a change in the behavior of some people especially the children since they find it easier to influence children.
For people in Dindigul in India’s Tamil Nadu state, waste isn’t really a problem – it’s just a resource in the wrong place. The Clean India Programme (CLEAN stands for Community-Led Environment Action Network) initiated a programme where everyday three women go house to house to collect solid waste, then they dump the collected waste into a pit and spray it with cow dung. Then people came forward to support it by bringing their waste for compost. After 45 days, the women sell the compost to farmers and people were eating pesticide-free vegetables. From homes the women moved to collect solid waste from market stalls. Everyone was using compost to grow greens and plants. Volunteers talked to farmers and educated students about the environment especially how to protect the environment and how vermi-composting protects the environment. Even cultural programs always include environmental protection. For the initiators, through solid waste and city farming work, we can help save the environment and the planet.
In Laos, a small group is trying to transform learning by introducing play-and-learn activities in school. At first the teachers were skeptical because the activities were non-academic. So they organized activities after school which brought teachers and students closer. It was observed that drop-outs and absenteeism lessened. Youth volunteers learn from books and older volunteers, and undergo training. After the training youth volunteers changed a lot.
By inspiring discussion and debate, a community radio station helps Nepali communities to find the best solutions or compromises. In Nagarkot, the tourism center in Nepal, hoteliers and the community do not get together. Hoteliers were using up the community’s drinking water and tourists were brought to community-owned forests which the community residents did not like. For the locals, tourism should be community-based and the income from tourism should be spent on the mountains, water and forests. Three issues dominated the air: sourcing drinking water, local produce and labor in hotels, and dumping hotel waste properly. Radio Sagarmatha played a key role in bringing together hoteliers and community by discussion and debate on air and in outdoor meetings. After a massive campaign their relationships changed. More locals were employed and local produce consumed in hotels. Hoteliers realized that making the community happy kept their investment safe and their business successful. The community was happy because with the hotels they have electricity and telephones. There was a change for good. Where before people didn’t listen to issues, now the state and country talk about the issues. For the initiators, the radio station was a bridge between the community and state for the communication flow – starting with one and the others joining the cause. The story is aptly entitled “Voice in a Valley.”
Displaced from traditional homeland by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, the Aeta group in Zambales is preserving their culture for the next generation through theatre. They teach their children hunting the way their fathers taught them; they teach their ancestors’ dances especially animal movements and apply them to life; they perform their rituals about their origin and journey and cooking their traditional food. For them being indigenous, we talk about our culture and not allow it to die. Hence, their story is called “Rising from the Ashes.”
In the Thai Muang district of Thailand a programme that links schools with their local community help Thai children learn about nature through exposure and experience. The teacher brings them to the mangrove forest where they take down notes. They also learn about local animals and plants, the diversity of life. They collect plants, study them in outdoor classrooms in the open areas of the forest. An awareness was initiated by the programme in the community as they learned the importance of local plants, identify their species and study how not to make it extinct. For the initiators, the abundance of biodiversity also brings more food and more jobs, and as their story is called, “Smile Again!” For them, we don’t have to do big things to save the planet. Just do something small and put more quality in it and achieve it.