Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Games for Change

Multimedia games that simulate real-world problems are becoming popular tools to educate youth about social issues."Games for Change" supports the people and organizations that create and use these digital games to raise-awareness about the issues they work on. Here are a few links to some of the games that organizations like UNHCR and the World Food Programme are using.


Many of these games also have links to sites where you can take action!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How does a film do more than tell a story?

I've been thinking a lot about how film can result in action for social causes. The first thought I have is that documentaries generate very impassioned responses from people. That's a documentary's first job, to get the attention of your conscience.

But less clear, and more important, is how can this sudden sense of solidarity, this empathy felt by the viewers, motivate them to take individual steps that will result in resolutions. And what about action on a larger scale? Do documentary films about social problems facilitate coalitions between the public, civil society organizations and government agencies that will solve them?

These questions arose after I watched a film at the Human Rights Watch International Film festival, Crude by Joe Berlinger. Crude follows a U.S. lawyer, an Ecuadorian Lawyer and the Secoya community in Ecuador as they fight Chevron in a law suit over the 18 billion gallons of toxic waste the company dumped into the Amazon over 28 years of oil drilling. I'm not going to go into depth about the film here, but you can read about it http://www.crudethemovie.com/. Definitely see it. The film brings to light real human struggles in the face of a powerful company's inhumane actions. It premiers in NYC at the IFC Center from Sept 9 - 22.

The poignant question for the filmmaker afterwards was how this film can do something tangible to bring justice to the Ecuadorians suffering because of this environmental disaster. One part of the answer was of course to generate a critical mass for the cause, but another was that film can be a tool to build the efforts of ongoing campaigns that fight injustice.

In making the film, the crew forged a connection with the organization Amazon Watch. Amazon Watch works to protect the Amazon and to advance the rights of indigenous people. Their website: http://www.amazonwatch.org/

One of their campaigns aims to hold Chevron accountable for their environmental negligence in Ecuador and the $27 billion in damage they caused in local indigenous communities. Crude has definitely created buzz for Amazon Watch and the issue as a whole. The film screening is an opportunity for the organization to reach a large audience at a moment when they are particularly inspired and primed to take action - when the cause is fresh in their mind.

This blog post is an example of how film inspires action. I saw the movie, and now I'm doing what I can to spread the word. Go to the campaign website to help realize their goal. You can send a letter to Chevron shareholders, send Chevron a message that you disapprove of their actions or encourage a city to boycott Chevron products. http://chevrontoxico.com

But a question that lingers for me is what has this film done for the indigenous communities? What has this publicity - this display of their lives; their health defects; and their vulnerability and strength in the face of an environmental disaster to millions of people - done for them? Have they been empowered? Did they feel like the story was told accurately and in consultation with them?

If a film can tell a story the way the people it's about want it to be told, that's when a film is empowering. This builds confidence, and for communities with minimal political power, gives them a voice to advocate for their recognition and well-being.

I'm interested in hearing thoughts about how you think documentary film and media can positively impact social causes.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Playing for Change

The New York Times recently featured Playing for Change in its new visual journalism blog called Lens. Playing for Change is a multimedia organization that inspires, connects and brings peace to the world through music.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Left Littered by War

The Vietnam war ended in 1975. But now, more than thirty years later, the people of Lao are still caught in it's aftermath. From 1964 to 1973 the U.S. flew more than half a million bomb missions to block North Vietnamese troupes through Laos(1).

Cluster bombs - one type of bomb the U.S. dropped during its missions - release dozens of smaller sub-munitions. These weapons injure so many civilians because they spread widely across heavily populated areas. When the bombs fail to explode on impact - and 30% of them do - they can stay on the ground years after combat ends. Approximately 78 million remain today in Laos(1).

People who come into contact with these bombs suffer severely. Loss of limbs and disability are common. Because Laotians living in rural areas (where many of these unexploded bombs are) have Limited access to health care, or the care is of poor quality, many victims die unnecessarily or end up in a worse medical condition than they would have if they had better treatment. Cluster bombs also perpetuate and exacerbate poverty. All of a sudden an injured person's family has medical bills it can't pay. The energy spent to help an injured person recuperate leaves less time for other day-to-day life sustaining activities.

An Organization in Lao called COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) was established in 1997 to help those affected by unexploded bombs. COPE trains community members in rehabilitation services and provides prosthetic and mobility devices for those who can't afford them. Cope also aims to prevent accidents from happening by informing the community about the dangers of unexploded ordnances. Check out the website for stories and pictures about their amazing work. (http://www.copelaos.org/)

Over 15 countries have used cluster munitions, and 85 countries have stockpiled them. Laos is only one of more than two dozen countries that have been affected by the use of these munitions(2). But as important as organizations like COPE are, they can't address the problem alone. The problem is a world-wide concern.

The problem can be broken down into three main issues: preventing future use of cluster bombs, assisting survivors and cleaning up cluster bombs that remain on the ground. The Convention on Cluster Munitions - signed by 94 countries as of December 2008 - is an effort to find solutions to these three problems. (http://www.clusterconvention.org/)

This treaty prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions; provides a framework for assistance to survivors; and calls for clearance of contaminated areas within 10 years. If ratified, the instrument will create a stronger global intolerance towards the use and storage of cluster bombs.

The United States heavily bombed Laos during the Vietnam war (and thus contributed to the abundance of unexploded cluster bombs on the ground now) but still hasn't signed the treaty. 28 NATO member countries have signed. As a NATO member country, the US is out of step with most of its major military allies says Steve Goose, Arms Division director of Human Rights Watch. Russia, China and Israel are also major users of cluster bomb that haven't signed. There is hope, though. President Obama passed legislation on March 11, 2009 stating that cluster munitions can only be exported if they leave behind less than 1 percent of their sub-munitions as duds.

The true heroes are not the signatories of the convention but rather the organizations that brought states together around the issue in the first place. The Coalition on Cluster Munitions, composed of civil society organizations such as Handicap International and Human Rights Watch, spearheaded the development of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Coalition encourages civil society to participate by writing letters or emails to their representatives in government, organizing public meetings, debates, exhibitions and other events to raise awareness of the problem. Their website is a great resource for how to get involved in the campaign to ban cluster bombs. And please do! http://stopclustermunitions.org/take-action/

1. Cluster Munitions Problem. http://www.uxolao.org/

2. Cluster Munitions Coalition - The Problem http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/the-problem/