No Strings uses a team of puppeteers to make short adventure films which present lifesaving messages to children and communities in the developing world. In her last report from Indonesia, former Journal writer Rosie Waller, who now works for the charity, reports from the recent UN Climate Change conference in Bali.
Diary - Day 5, Bali UN Climate Change conference
THE Conrad Hotel in Nusa Dua, Bali’s prime tourist centre and home these couple of weeks to a British Euro-MP delegation, has such a big pool that it took me 25 minutes to do a complete circuit of all its inlets and waterways.
Not until dusk, of course, after the event downstairs, Development and Climate Days, organised by the London research foundation the International Institute for Environment and Development is over. It’s been a long day, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
There’s been such a global mix of people here. We met a woman from the Ugandan Monitor, a World Bank consultant from the Pacific, researchers from Bangladesh, Nepal, various European countries, Arab states, Asian nations, everywhere. People relaxed more in the afternoon and it became less formal. Many had experience that could really help what others were trying to do.
The German woman who showed an incredible film about rainforest destruction in Indonesia (an area the size of Switzerland lost each year) left at lunchtime to join a demonstration in Bali’s capital, where local people are protesting against decisions reached during the first week’s talks which they consider vastly inadequate.
Lots of others here had been party to other events surrounding the main talks. Business cards became like gold dust. Increasingly, to my mind anyway, there was an atmosphere of hope and helpfulness. That was a nice part of the day.
Climate change has to be one of the most depressing subjects – think of the polar bears – frightening and sobering (think of the grandkids) but here was a gathering of hundreds of fascinating and dedicated people who spend their lives combating change, bringing about constructive, positive solutions, mainly by focusing on one particular problem in a given region of the world.
Then, right in the middle of things, just before we show our film, up pops this teenager from Middlesbrough who says we might have heard of his town because of the rubbish football team, and goes on to give his thoughts on global warming.
Sixteen-year-old Thomas Bielby, from Coubly Newham in Teesside, is in Bali along with three young people from Bangladesh, Sweden and Indonesia, as part of a team created by the National Children’s Bureau. It’s today’s young people who are going to bear the real brunt of climate change if nothing is done about it. Thomas is quite a campaigner, representing Middlesbrough Youth Service at the North-East Regional Youth Action Group and part of its Bus Buddies campaigning group, which works at petitioning councils and the Government for cheaper transport for young people, and he once represented them at a meeting with a transport minister.
He’s also a member of the National Children and Young People Board, chairs the local Youth Council and is a member of many other organisations.
When the National Children and Young People Board organised a competition on climate change, Thomas produced the winning DVD, showing young people’s attitudes to climate change in Middlesbrough, a film he showed at today’s climate conference event in Bali.
“I think action must be taken now,” he told the gathering. “It’s very worrying, not only what is predicted to happen, but what is actually happening to people in many parts of the world now.
“That’s what I’ve learnt most while I’ve been here. It’s been an amazing experience, but it has also been quite troubling. At home, you think our prime minister is really doing a lot about it, but you come here and realise there’s so much more that needs doing urgently, and it’s the richer countries who must lead the way.”
Big round of applause.
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Hard lesson for children
SO why was No Strings here? We were always going to be in Bali to visit the first of the school screenings of our natural disasters preparedness programme; we were excited about being part of the UN talks side events, and managed, well after the closing date, to persuade them to let us show our film.
No Strings is incredibly fortunate to have as co-founders and heads of the creative team in New York two of the original Muppets and Fraggle Rock team. Michael Frith, for example, was Jim Henson’s executive vice president, Kathy Mullen, principal performer.
They do the whole creative side to No Strings educational films like this Tales of Disasters series, which, using fun adventure stories incorporating very carefully researched messages which come from experts on the ground, teach children important safety messages – here about being prepared for earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, floods and landslides.
They create the characters, the sets, write the scripts, make puppets, and then pull together a team of 30 or so experts from similar backgrounds, and shoot the films which are then dubbed in-country into local languages.
When we showed our film today, it’s fair to say we had easily the biggest audience of the day and the most incredible reaction. The films are as beautifully made and imaginative as anything produced for the Muppets. The Flood film is so relevant because it’s about the immediate impact on local communities of things such as deforestation. When silly Badu sells his hillside of trees to the loggers, his house is eventually destroyed by a landslide because there is nothing to hold the ground in place during floods.
This is probably the sort of direction No Strings will take in the future when handling issues surrounding global warming. It’s very true that one of the biggest things you take away from a day like this is that climate change is happening now, and it’s affecting people’s lives in many parts of the world. It so happens that they are in the main poor people’s lives, people who might perhaps depend on traditional ways of life that are no longer possible, and who are becoming marginalised and straining resources that then compound problems.
A film I saw from Nepal, for example, showed that the flooding of farmland is a huge problem because of glaciers melting. Another revealed huge swathes of Indonesia where rainforests no longer exist and land that was once communal is now owned by vast faceless palm oil conglomerates, seeking to create “bio” fuel, if ever a term was mind-blowingly inappropriate.
So people talk about climate poverty, and the way these two issues must be tackled together at a local level for lasting change to come about.
DRR is another major buzz phrase, Disaster Risk Reduction, which, of course, is the main thrust of our films. No Strings is a very young organisation whose first project for Afghanistan was entirely self-funded, so it was fantastic to have so many people from a lot of agencies who were so excited today about using these films.
The Red Cross approached us about showing them at its annual convention, Plan was there and very excited, and lots of other big names.
Puppets may not be the first things to spring to mind in the context of global warming, but we know that they are a very powerful tool at getting messages across and holding people’s attention. Even if what we do seems small in the face of things, doing something is important.
No Strings is seeking to raise funds and attract sponsors to support future programmes in areas such as HIV/Aids and climate change. For more information about No Strings, please contact Rosie Waller on firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the No Strings website at www.nostrings.org.uk