It was a song about the tears of trees but it brought tears to the eyes of the listeners instead.
By M. VEERA PANDIYAN
THEY were vocal and keen to voice their concern for the environment. They not only got their message across to the world’s top environment policy makers but also moved some of them to tears.
Malaysia’s Tree Theatre Group, comprising 45 pupils from SK Bukit Damansara and 12 former pupils, stole the limelight with their catchy song and powerful eco-drama at the opening of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Governing Council (GC) meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, held recently.
Decked in colourful costumes depicting the elements that make up the world’s eco-system, they portrayed the stark reality of environmental degradation through their movements and plaintive voices crying out to save the trees.
Their rendition of Tears of Trees, also known as the Pokok-Pokok song touched the hearts of many members of the UNEP GC, environmental ministers from some 100 nations and representatives of NGOs from around the world.
“Many of the delegates had tears in their eyes when they came up to me to say how impressed they were.
“Officials and participants also mentioned the kids’ show during the meeting,” said Selwyn Das, Malaysia’s High Commissioner to Kenya, who is also Malaysia’s permanent representative to UNEP and UN Habitat.
The High Commissioner, who is also accredited to the five other East African countries of Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, said the children did an excellent job as Malaysia’s “little environmental ambassadors”.
Tears of Trees, composed and written by brothers Jes Iznab Izaidin and Jes Ebrahim Izaidin, both former pupils of SK Bukit Damansara, has since been accepted as the backdrop tune for UNEP’s animation clip in its Billion Tree campaign.
The inspiring show by the children fitted the main agenda of the 24th UNEP-GC session.
The UN’s highest-level environmental body, which meets once in two years, is concerned by the pace at which the world’s natural resources are being used up, and fears this could spark tensions between countries and increase the number of people living in poverty.
Achim Steiner, UN under secretary-general and UNEP executive director, described the situation as akin to that of a company living off its capital rather than profits, or a farmer continuing to harvest bumper crops but failing to save or invest in seeds and agricultural machinery for the future.
So how did the children from this particular school get picked to perform at the world’s environmental capital?
The invitation was originally made to the Tree Theatre Group, comprising present and former pupils of the school and linked to a drama club and teacher Amina Jindani.
In August last year, they had performed at the Tunza Children’s Conference on the Environment in Putrajaya where Seri Paduka Baginda Raja Permaisuri Agong was the guest of honour. That was when the Pokok-Pokok song made its debut.
Impressed UNEP officials, who were present at the conference, extended an invitation to the group for the 24th GC meeting held between Feb 5 and 9 in Nairobi.
The group was told it had to raise its own funds for the trip.
SK Bukit Damansara Parent Teacher Association head Noor Azimah Abd Rahim said the invitation was a golden opportunity for the pupils but came at a bad time.
“Johor and other parts of the country were hit by floods. It was also the school holidays and many people were away. It seemed to be the wrong time to raise money for such a project,” she said.
But with enthusiasm running high among both pupils and parents, the PTA set up a committee with parents looking into aspects such as fund-raising, publicity, communication, production, travel, hotel and food, security, medical, audio-visual and administration.
With support from the Education Ministry, the Natural Resources Ministry, the Tourism Ministry, and sponsorship from the UEM Group, Kualiti Alam Sdn Bhd and Penyayang, the committee managed to raise the RM350,000 needed to finance the children’s trip.
Parents who accompanied the group had to pay their own fares.
The final group to Kenya totalled 89 people, including 30 parents and two teachers.
Besides the performance at the opening of the UNEP GC meeting, the children also toured the UNEP complex and held discussions with experts on climate change, globalisation, water resources and other environmental issues.
They also had the chance to check out a river cleaning project, observe a school’s recycling programme, and planted trees in selected schools. In addition, they shared their message for the environment through singing the Pokok-Pokok song at the Lavington Primary School and the Children’s Garden School at Kawangware.
The last two days were spent at the world famous Masai-Mara National Park, one of the world’s most famous wildlife sanctuaries. It was like watching National Geographic and Discovery Channel come alive as the children spotted lions, antelopes, giraffes, buffaloes and elephants in their natural surroundings.
For the children, the entire experience was special.
Nina Amani Mohtarudin, 10, said the visit to the national park was the first time she saw wild animals in their own environment.
“And at the park, I saw the sunset and it was beautiful. I know only God can create it and we have to take good care of nature,” she said.
According to her, she returned home happy, knowing that the eco-drama had made an impact on the hearts of the UNEP delegates.
Noor Azimah said the school’s environmental work began in 2000, with the effort of a parent, Datuk Seri Noraini Jane Ariffin, who raised funds for selected wildlife conservation programmes,starting with “Save the Sea Turtles”.
She said since then, the school has launched conservation projects for the Asian elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, Malaysian wildcats, primates, sharks and fireflies.
“We encourage the use of theatre and drama as a communication tool to spread the message to help conserve the environment.
“Theatre also helps to develop the child’s confidence and leadership qualities,” she said, adding that the school would welcome the opportunity to share its experience with other schools.
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