Drawing hope from South Sudan

May 5, 2014 § 1 Comment

Today I woke up with my fresh cup of coffee and started to skim through the morning’s news reports on the BBC. Something I have promised myself to do less of recently, as although I feel it is important for me to keep up with current affairs and stay connected to the world, I have noticed that when I end up consuming bad news stories first thing in the morning (which often seems to be the case), my day will start off on the wrong foot. That is to say, I am simply much happier when I delay my daily disappointment (I mean appointment) with the news at least until lunchtime. Today is not one of those happy days. I open BBC news and smack – ‘John Kerry warns of South Sudan genocide’. My experience tells me I should look away and ignore yet another undoubtedly saddening and tragic report about South Sudan. I mean, nobody wants threats of genocide with their bowl of breakfast cereal right?! But of course I do read it, ever since becoming acquainted with James Ochieng, I always make a point of reading every single article that I come across on South Sudan. I feel that paying attention is the very least I should do. But really I know I could do more.

BBC report South Sudan
BBC report warning of genocide in South Sudan

It began with a tweet two years ago, when James Ochieng, a volunteer teacher at Kan Ajak Primary School in a remote village in South Sudan decided to contact me via Twitter. His school in the North Bahr al-Ghazal State is not far from the border that since independence in 2011, has separated Sudan from what is now recognised as the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. From this remote location, James Ochieng expressed a desire for the children at his school to become a part of my rainforest conservation project, Bloomtrigger. A project, which through the use of modern day technology, connects primary school children around the world with Amazon forest communities. The Bloomtrigger project is a free online platform providing schools with interactive environmental workshops that teach the importance of tackling global deforestation and climate change, empowering the children to help protect their own part of the rainforest in a meaningful and creative way.

The first step of the project requires a little bit of artistic expression, which any child is more than qualified to do. The children simply have to draw a self portrait, which is then uploaded to Bloomtrigger’s website. This, however, is when we identified our first major challenge! Apparently the internet has not yet reached Kan Ajak Primary School, neither have computers, nor electricity for that matter. If this does not surprise you, then perhaps like me, your impression of South Sudan is of a country ravaged by decades of civil war and crippled by severe poverty. Where the children wear tattered clothes and are lucky if they have shoes, let alone computers and broadband internet. Unfortunately, in the case of Kan Ajak village, we would be right. James Ochieng informed me that most of the approximate 500 children who attend the school are Returnees or former (IDP’s) internally displaced persons. They are indeed barefoot or perhaps fortunate enough to own a pair of plastic sandals. He explains “Some children stay at home, too ashamed to go to school without appropriate clothing”, though he added, “the more courageous come in whatever they have”. The lack of resources in one of the world’s poorest countries is even less surprising when you consider that more than a million people have fled their homes since the conflict ignited again last December, resulting in increasing economic hardship for the South Sudanese people.

James Ochieng at Freedom corner, Uhuru park, Nairobi
James Ochieng Bloomtrigger ambassador and coordinator in South Sudan

Bloomtrigger map of South SudanBloomtrigger map showing the location of Kan Ajak Primary School

Helping this school to become a part of the Bloomtrigger project was clearly going to be an ambitious challenge, if not slightly ridiculous considering the facts. Bloomtrigger is still a relatively small startup organisation by most standards, but proud to have united a diverse network of schools, individuals and businesses to help pioneer our model of environmental education and conservation. The project has reached schools across the UK as well as in other developed countries like Japan and (some developing nations) such as Nepal and Brazil. Now to branch out into South Sudan may seem like an unnecessary distraction from the focus of our work, but the passion and persistence of James Ochieng for progressing his school was contagious from the beginning. I carefully examined his emails and while reading in between the lines of his not quite perfect English, I could see that here I was dealing with a true gentleman. James is a man who clearly has an impressive understanding of the world and a quiet determination for where his school, community and country should be heading. As months passed he continued to send me the occasional updates from the village via a mobile modem attached to his laptop. This poor connection often proved too unreliable, even to send a simple email, and I would often be left waiting months for a response, until James could make one of his long and difficult journeys by road to Nairobi in Kenya, where he is able to find a decent enough internet connection to send images and video updates from the school. I asked him how the conflict is affecting the children at his school and fortunately, the fighting is not happening in their State this time. However, he informs me that “the army is currently the biggest employer in South Sudan and that there are men and women with the duty of defending the nation and some of these men and women from the region have lost their lives. When the fighting broke out most of the roads were closed and the cost of living was, and still is, unbearable for many. Despite these conditions the children keep the school a vibrant place, which is rapidly growing in numbers and becoming a centre for education amongst all the local population”.

Teacher Thiel helping the children to draw their profile imagesTeacher Mr Theil Aciech helping the children with their profile drawings

Today I live in Brazil, São Paulo, a city which is literally surrounded by favelas (slums), yet it is still possible to ignore this extreme poverty, and like many of the middle class Brazilians in my neighbourhood, I find it easy to shut out the inequality that exists on our door step. When I think about the troubles in South Sudan, it is again all too easy to feel detached or powerless to do anything about a complex problem that is somebody else’s, the people who live in Africa perhaps or just the people in South Sudan, it is just their problem. As if we are not one and the same people. Human beings living on our one small planet, with a finite amount of resources, struggling to find a sustainable balance, a way to share our resources fairly, without great disparity between the rich and poor, without conflict and without threats of genocide.

I have just checked on the UK government travel website and the official word from the (FCO) Foreign and Common Wealth Office is “DO NOT TRAVEL TO SOUTH SUDAN” and they add, “the situation is tense”. I don’t mind admitting that I would not want to get physically too close to South Sudan right now. These reports of insecurity do not exactly help my feeling of distance and detachment from this far away place, but at the same time, reading these reports, has left me feeling deeply humbled. To think that a school with so little, which is confronted by the constant fears of war, lack of water, food, basically survival, is also concerned about teaching their children about a global perspective, such as the issue of deforestation and climate change. They are even willing to make a huge effort in order to play their role in protecting rainforests on the other side of the world in Peru! James Ochieng, puts it very simply, “these conflicts happening now will not dampen our spirits, we shall keep on working hard to ensure that children are prepared now for a future without conflict.” You cannot argue with his thinking. And as it turns out deforestation is not only a problem happening far away in the Amazon or even in the neighbouring states of the African Congo basin. It is increasingly becoming a very local problem that can have severe consequences for the children’s education. Like most schools in South Sudan, Kan Ajak Primary School is under the UN World Food Program (WFP). The children’s meals are cooked in the school and firewood is the only fuel used to cook this food. What happens is that the children are instructed to bring a piece of firewood on their way to school, at least twice a week, failure to do that will result in punishment. So you can imagine what happens on the routes to school. Children break branches along the way, resulting in the destruction of all the trees within their reach. The school has now taken steps to find a solution to this problem by introducing biofuel briquettes as an alternative fuel source, but James Ochieng believes that the children need to gain a wider understanding of this issue, as he puts it “only through having both a local and international perspective will South Sudan emerge from conflict and become a household name in the future”.

So this is how without any computers or internet the South Sudan Bloomtrigger Club was born and 52 pupils from Kan Ajak took the first steps to join the project by drawing their profile images for the website. Despite several set backs and delays along the way, such as when James’s laptop broke falling off the back of his bike with all the photographs of the children’s profile drawings stuck on the hard drive or when it became too dangerous to travel, finally a few weeks ago, he made it to Nairobi to upload the drawings to Bloomtrigger’s website.

The South Sudan Bloomtrigger Club at Kan Ajak Primary SchoolChildren from the South Sudan Bloomtrigger Club at Kan Ajak Primary School

Ultimately the goal is to bring solar power, computers and a reliable internet connection to the school, so that the children will have the opportunity to fully realise the online experience of the Bloomtrigger project, and perhaps even exchange videos with other schools and forestry communities participating around the world. More importantly, imagine how a simple internet connection could transform the lives and education of all the pupils and communities around Kan Ajak Primary School. We hope to make this happen one day in the near future, but until then we will continue to make small steps towards this goal and look for ways to bring more immediate essentials to the school, like helping to provide better access to clean drinking water, books, pencils, school uniforms. Just helping with basic things, like chairs would be a good start! And as the world continues to present us all with more difficult and complex problems; global deforestation, climate change, poverty and conflict in South Sudan to name a few, we know how easy it is to turn a blind eye to these problems, at least at the moment, but it may not always be this way. There is a chance that our finite resources will one day run out, that continued deforestation will lead to more extreme weather conditions, bringing droughts and food shortages, and impoverished people with nothing to lose will be forced to migrate on a massive scale in order to survive. I believe the risk of these scenarios happening to us are worth taking a little time to consider. Paying attention is worthwhile (though perhaps after you have had your coffee and woken up in the morning), because amid all the complexity there are incredible, inspiring people creating local solutions that can help make a better future for us all. People like James Ochieng and the children at Kan Ajak Primary School, who are drawing faces of hope that capture our attention and remind us which way we should be heading.

by James Sutton, Bloomtrigger Founder

The South Sudan Bloomtrigger Club profile drawings

 Kan Ajak Primary School planted on the map
The South Sudan Bloomtrigger Club planted on the Bloomtrigger map

Video of the children dancing at Kan Ajak Primary School

*If you would like to support the children of Kan Ajak Primary School then please get in touch to find out all the possible ways you can make help make a difference: enquiries@bloomtrigger.com

To find out more about how the Bloomtrigger project works watch a short video here  or visit www.bloomtrigger.com


Interview with Tasmanian teacher who spent record-breaking 15 months in tree!

May 24, 2013 § 2 Comments

  Miranda 3 - photo by Dan Haley
Miranda in her tree

Some could say that when it comes to forest conservation, Miranda Gibson has had her head in the clouds – literally. The qualified high school teacher spent a record-breaking 15 months living on a platform built into a tree 60 metres above the ground in the forests of southern Tasmania.

Hailed as a “hero of the forests” by former Greens leader Bob Brown, Miranda staged the tree sit-in to protest the logging of Tasmanian forests. Although a nearby bush fire forced Miranda to leave the tree (which she named the Observer Tree) on March 7 2013, her determination to continue campaigning for the forests is far from gone.

By Lydia Hales.

Q. Your blog piece on what it was like for you to come down from the Observer Tree after such a long time was quite emotional. How are you adjusting to life back on the ground?

A. It’s been a lot to adjust to, getting used to life on the ground again. The hardest thing has been the separation from the tree and the forest, which I miss every day. But there has also been great things about being on the ground, being able to regroup with other conservationists and plan ways forward together. Now that we have the Tasmanian Forest Agreement in place, which effectively locks in ongoing native forest destruction, it’s more important than ever to keep up the fight for the forests. It is hard knowing that I had to get out of the tree before I was ready to, but I also know that there is so much I can do on the ground to keep the momentum of the campaign going.

Q. Do you know at this stage if any plans to return to the tree will go ahead?

A. At this stage, I don’t plan to go back up the tree. The area where the tree is has been nominated for World Heritage and I hope that next month, in June, when the committee meet, it will be officially included in Tasmania’s World Heritage Area. Of course, there are a lot of areas of high conservation value that will not be included and so I will continue the campaign for those forests across the state that remain under threat.

Miranda 2
Tasmanian Forest

Q. A couple of articles mentioned your “isolation and solitude” as being the hardest things about your record-breaking time in the tree. Do you feel that during this time you learnt a lot about yourself, and how we as humans can connect with nature?

A. The time in the tree was undoubtedly challenging due to the isolation, but on the flip-side to that, the solitude was a remarkable experience and I feel that I learnt a lot about myself and about the forest. I developed a really close connection to that area of forest and to my tree in particular. It taught me that humans can definitely connect with the natural world in profound ways. I guess the tree became like a best friend to me and it will always have a special place in my heart.

Q. Whenever you were struggling, what did you think of to keep your spirits up and keep you motivated?

A. I was always uplifted by the forest. Whenever I started to find it challenging, I would just have to look out across the forest that I was there to defend, and I would find the strength to keep going. There were constantly special moments, such as amazing and beautiful birds and owls coming to visit me, which would lift my spirits. I also found a lot of strength from the solidarity that came from people all around the world. My inbox was filled daily with support and encouragement from people from all walks of life, and that played a major part in what kept me motivated. I guess I could also see how effective my action was, the impact it had internationally in spreading the word about these forests.

Q. What do you think has been the best thing to come from your campaign?

A. One major success of the campaign has been the growing awareness around the world about Tasmania’s forest. This has had an impact in several ways. It added to the pressure on the Australian Government, to ensure that the forests were nominated for World Heritage, which happened on February 1st this year. It has also had a direct impact on companies like Ta Ann, who are selling wood from Tasmania’s high conservation value forests and labeling it as “eco-ply.” It is through exposing the truth to customers around the world that pressure was brought to bear on the company for these practices. Ta Ann are still continuing to sell this timber, as well as timber sourced from environmental destruction and human rights violations in Sarawak, however with the campaign against them continuing to gain international momentum, I believe we can bring an end to the destructive practices of this company.

Miranda 1
Clearfelling Tasmanian Forest

Q. Were there any things that have come from this which you didn’t expect?

A. The personal experience was something that I had not really thought about or expected. When I went up the tree, I was thinking about it as a tool to expose the truth about the forest destruction. I didn’t really stop to think about the impact it would have on me personally, to stay in the tree tops for such a long period of time. But it was really an amazing and unique experience, I learnt so much about the patterns of the forests day to day, and so much about myself.

Q. You’re not originally from Tasmania, yet have done so much in terms of campaigning for Tasmanian forests…what first drew you to this cause?

A. I first came to Tasmania almost 10 years ago. And one of the first things I did was go out to the forests. I remember how awe-struck I was at seeing the giant trees towering above, the lush green rainforest under-storey – it was like nothing I had ever seen before. And then seeing a clear fell for the first time, realizing the absolute devastation that occurs to these forests. This is when I knew I wanted to do something to ensure that these forests survived for future generations,.

Q. Can you share your favorite memory from your time spent in the tree?

A. I have so many memories of my time in the tree that will stay with me forever. One thing that was really amazing for me was the first snowfall up there. I remember how excited I was to be in the snow, 60 meters above the ground, watching the forest turn slowly from green to white. There were many more snowfalls to come, of course, and I was amazed by the beauty of the forest in snow every time.

Another special memory is when a goshawk came into my tree, flew right towards me so that it was only a meter or two from my face, and then flew away. They are spectacular birds and it was a really unique experience to be face to face with one, in the upper canopy.


You can read more of Miranda’s story and keep updated with her work through her Observer Tree blog.

UN International Forest Short Film Festival – Winners!

April 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

We are very proud to report that “Reynaldo” the short film above, is a winner at the UN International Forest Short Film Festival. The film documents our hero (aka Reynaldo) who is behind the forestry conservation project which the Bloomtrigger project is supporting. It is a beautiful film with a powerful message that fully deserves to be recognised by the United Nations. Reynaldo works with the Crees Foundation who is responsible for coordinating the agroforestry project in Peru which is transforming the livelihoods of the local communities to help protect this regions unique biodiversity. The film was created by two talented British film makers Dan Childs and Nick Werber, who can be seen here receiving the award at the UN International Forest Short Film Festival. (FYI: You need to watch from 22m 41s to see them talk about Reynaldo!)

If you would like to know more about this forestry community in the Peruvian Amazon and how Bloomtrigger is working in Partnership with the Crees Foundation to help support this award winning initiative then please read more here.

UN logo framed CREES-framed-profile-imagesbloomtrigger Framed profile images

Bloomtrigger club in South Sudan!

October 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

This week we were surprised by a group of children from the Kan Ajak Primary School in Southern Sudan who sent a short video message they had made and uploaded to Youtube. These school children from east-central Africa have created a ‘Bloomtrigger Club’ and have been learning about the bloomtrigger project as a way to help stop deforestation. We are very excited to see that Bloomtrigger has managed to reach such remote parts of the world, apparently their teacher discovered our project via our Twitter! We would like to thank the children at Kan Ajak Primary School for their inspiring video message and we hope they will be able to sign up and create some profile images soon, so that they can begin to help protect rainforest with us. We already have lots of people who would like to donate blooms to them!

More about Kan Ajak Primary School

After getting in touch with the school we have learned that Kan Ajak Primary School is located in Kan Ajak village, Awiel East County, Northern Bahr El Ghazal State; needless to say a very remote part of the world. They have 460 children at the school 257 girls 203 boys, mostly Returnees. The school was established by a group of women (Aheu Dit Women Group) 5 years ago. They do not have a proper internet connection yet, but they do have a laptop which they brought from Kenya and they can connect to the new mobile network which has been installed in the region via a modem.

We taked to James Ochieng a teacher at the school; this is what he had to say about their story…

Our story

“Most schools in southern Sudan are under the WFP feeding program. These meals are cooked in the schools for the children. Firewood is the only fuel used to cook this food. What happens is that children are instructed to carry a piece of firewood on their way to school, at least twice a week, failure to do that will result to punishment. So you can imagine what happens on the routes to school, children break branches along the way.

We want to stop the use of firewood at our school. Together with the women group we are going to start producing bio-fuel briquettes as an alternative fuel. We believe that the topics of deforestation and climate change should be taught at the school. We are also going to conduct the briquette training. This will stop the children from damaging trees on their way to school. We hope the bloomtrigger project will be a good substitution for the children and a chance to learn the importance of conservation.”

NOW and the future

The first step is to try to get these children signed up to the bloomtrigger project and planting blooms to help them have an impact on global deforestation. At the moment we can only offer them the opportunity to protect forest in South America in the Amazon rainforest. However we hope that in the future we can begin to support forestry conservation projects in Africa as well, perhaps even in South Sudan. Our aim is to grow the Bloomtrigger platform to enable people to protect forests in many different parts of the world, Americas, Africa, Asia, Australasia and Europe.

Images of Kan Ajak Primary School

© Copyright James Ochieng

Children holding the South Sudan sign

Kan Ajak Primary School

Girls singing at Kan Ajak Primary School

Children holding Kan Ajak Sign

Children with Bloomtrigger Sign

Pupils holding the School sign

Vandana Shiva, a global character in the Eco-feminist movement

June 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

People who inspire us!

Vandana Shiva, like previous characters in our section ‘People who inspire us!’, is a versatile person. She was born in Dehra Dun (India) sixty years ago and she has developed her professional career as scientist, philosopher, writer, environmental activist and eco feminist.

At Bloomtrigger we admire her because her passion to take care of the environment and the people most in need in society. Vandana is one of the most important global characters in the Eco-feminist movement and especially influential in India. She advocates against the prevalent “patriarchal logic of exclusion” and suggests that a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture can be achieved through reinstating a system of farming in India that is more centered on engaging women.

In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, which led a national movement to promote organic farming and fair trade and protect the diversity of living resources.

She is also the founder of Navdanya International, an organisation who was born out of a vision of peace and non-violence and whose aim is to defend and protect nature and the rights of people to access to food and water and dignified jobs and livelihoods.

Vandana ShivaVandana Shiva: scientist, philosopher, writer and eco feminist.

Her career is full of recognitions; 1993 was probably the most important in terms of awards as she received the Rights Livelihood Award – also known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’ – the Global 500 Award of the United Nations Environment Programme and the Earth Day International Award of the United Nations. However, since then her career has been recognised with many other important awards.

She is author of many books and from this blog we would like to recommend reading the following titles:
– Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply.
– Water Wars.
– Earth Democracy; Justice, Sustainability and Peace.
– Soil not oil.
– Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development.

To conclude this little tribute to Vandana Shiva’s work we would like you to read this quote from her about how industrialized farming is affecting the environment: “Globalized industrialized food is not cheap: it is too costly for the Earth, for the farmers, for our health. The Earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species and destabilization of the climate. Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy. Industrial agriculture uses ten times more energy than it produces. It is thus ten times less efficient.”

Beth Doane: from the fashion catwalks to the Amazon rainforest!

May 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

People who inspire us!

Beth Doane is a designer, author, speaker, all round really versatile person. But on top of that she’s a great champion of the rainforest and this is why she is an inspiration to us at Bloomtrigger. Her professional career, which is closely connected with the protection of the rainforest, is impressive for such a young person. This American social entrepreneur launched her first fashion company, Andira International, at age 22, created a consulting firm focused on sustainability, and is planting more than a million trees across Central and South America through a campaign she created with two of the world’s largest and most respected environmental charities.

Her speeches about her journey from fashion designer to humanitarian, including her time spent living with indigenous cultures across Africa, the Amazon, and Central America, have captivated large audiences.

Beth Doane in a TED talk, Sustainable Future.

Hemispheres Magazine nominated her a “Hero” for her environmental achievements and celebrity photographer John Russo featured her in his book, 100 Making a Difference, alongside Michelle Obama and Steven Spielberg.

Beth Doane
Beth Doane, social entrepreneur, designer, author and speaker.

As we have already mentioned Beth’s achievements to date are varied and many, but undoubtedly one of her biggest achievements was the launch of her fashion brand with great success at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week 2008, Raintees. Following this launch, the highly sort after Raintees became an internationally selling brand and today works with non-profit partners in over 38 countries and operates a pen pal program linking fans with at-risk youth in developing nations. She founded this eco-friendly fair-trade fashion brand after witnessing the human rights violations and environmental pollution in the fashion industry. She decided to change her career to help apparel workers and the planet through fashion that gives back. She organized school supplied donations to be sent to children in developing countries – mostly rainforest areas and asked them to illustrate what they saw happening in their world each day. As a result, each Rain Tee features their thoughts, names and illustrations.

At Bloomtrigger we are very proud to announce that she has recently signed up with us and has become part of the Bloomtrigger Generation. We would like to say a BIG THANK-YOU to her!

Beth Doane Drawing ProfileCheck out Beth’s Bloomtrigger’s profile!

Al Gore, a singular politician

May 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Al Gore: former politician, now turned activist

Al GoreAl Gore explaining the climate change phenomenon in one of his conferences.

Why does Al Gore inspire us? Is it because he was the 45th Vice President of the United States? Is it because he was nearly the President of the most powerful country in the world after losing controversial elections against George W. Bush? None of those are the reasons.

Al Gore inspires us because though being a politician at the highest level, he is dedicated to campaigning for immediate action for tackling climate change; unfortunately an unusual and surprising occupation for a man of his influence. He realised climate change is the greatest threat to the future of our planet and since then he has been travelling tirelessly all around the world holding conferences and showing the dangers and solutions of climate change to the world.

Thanks to the 2006 multi-award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth which focuses on these travels and conferences, climate change went from being something unknown for most of the people to becoming widely discussed and a mainstream subject. In other words, this documentary pushed the climate change debate to forefront of many people’s consciousness.

An Inconvenient TruthCover of the film An Inconvenient Truth.

Al Gore continues working hard to tackle climate change through The Climate Realty Project. On September 14th 2011 Al Gore and The Climate Realty Project launched with great success a campaign called 24 hours of reality. During each hour of that day 24 well-trained speakers held a talk one after another in different parts of world to raise awareness.

Video explaining what ‘24 hours of reality’ is.

Al Gore, as public figure, has his critics but for us the effort he is making to help unite people to prepare for climate  change is undeiniable. We would like to finish this recognition of his work with one of Al Gore’s quotes we like most: “My fellow Americans, people all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis, it’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act, that’s a renewable resource, let’s renew it”.

To learn more about Al Gore and his work to tackle climate change visit his official website: algore.com

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