Making a drama out of climate change in Comoros

 

On a remote island beach in the Indian Ocean, two young men illegally fill sacks with golden sand and carry it away to sell for construction on the black market.

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Grandmother Mchangama explains to her grandson the importance of sustainable farming

Just down the coast, a woman dressed in old plastic bags argues loudly with the local mayor about the piles of rubbish which stretch as far as the eye can see.

An old man confronts two young men who are cutting down trees to turn into charcoal. You are destroying your future and well as the forest, he tells them.

On a small farm up in the hills, an elderly woman explains to her grandson about how to grow healthy crops without using chemicals or pesticides.

These are all scenes from a series of seven short films made on the Comoros islands as part of a project to raise awareness about climate change and change the attitudes and behaviour of the islanders to their natural resources. The videos, funded as part of the GCCA+ programme on Comoros, have been shown on local TV stations and on social media.

 

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Papa Mchangama confronts two young men illegally digging sand from a beach

 

 “The videos are part of a wider publicity campaign using radio, the internet and local newspapers,” explains Ali M Mohammed, the GCCA+ Project Director for Comoros. “We wanted to attract the attention of the entire population to these issues and their challenges for Comoros. We wanted to get people to link their everyday actions with climate change. A lot of them don’t really understand climate change and how it relates to how they live day to day. Using simple language and illustrations, people get to understand climate change better.”

Directed by local filmmakers Said Hassane Ezidine and Rafik Daoud Mmadi, each story features the Mchangama family and their neighbours as they struggle with different challenges - deforestation, plastic pollution, coastal erosion, urban development and unsustainable farming practices. The scripts and storylines were created by a team including GCCA+ staff and a local video production company.

“All the actors are young Comorians who were chosen for their ability to connect with the audience on these difficult topics,” says Ali. “They really bring the stories to life in a way which people can understand easily. We also produced versions which could be used in primary and secondary schools.

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Grandfather Mchangama persuades two young men that cutting down forests is a bad idea

The videos do not shy away from controversial topics. Illegal sand mining is a major problem for Comoros, where entire beaches have been dug up and the sand sold for making concrete. Papa Mchangama - played by local actor Mansour Mmadi Hamadi - tells the two young men that not only are they destroying the coastline, but they risk going to prison. “You are responsible for the destruction of the coast! You are endangering the community!” he admonishes them. “Without sand to protect it, the sea will wash away the coast and the mangroves, and will flood the fields, making them useless.” He then explains to the man who hired them to dig the sand that it is useless for construction work anyway, because of the salt content. “Do you really want to build a house that will fall down in ten years time?” he demands.

In another dramatic encounter, Mama Mchangama (Miriam Issa Saher) is so angry about the vast piles of plastic rubbish on the beach that she goes to the mayor’s office to demand action - wearing a colourful dress made of old plastic bags. The film ends with the local shopkeeper, Baba Djalou (Mboreha Mohammed Ahmed) agreeing to put a charge on single-use plastic bags to discourage customers from throwing them away.

“The idea was to make people laugh - that way they understand and remember the issues better,” says Ali. “We have had really a positive reaction from the entire population. The films have been shown on national television, as well as being screened in some pilot schools and shown at events such as Environment Day, Climate Change Day and Europe Day in the Comoros. Local NGOs have organised screenings in local communities. As well as the obvious topics such as deforestation and plastic pollution, the films also look at sustainable urban planning, cooking with fuel-efficient stoves and the importance of protected areas. ”

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Mama Mchangama wears a dress made from old plastic bags to shame the mayor into action over plastic pollution

The EU’s flagship climate change initiative GCCA+ has been working in Cormoros since 2014 helping to build resilience and adapt to the worst impacts, with a special focus on sustainable farming as part of the €3 million programme. When Grandmother Mchangama (Anzlati Said Mhadji) receives a visit from her grandson (Nassila Ben Ali), who is studying agriculture at the local university, she laughs when he asks her the secret of her bumper harvest. “There’s no secret,” she says. “I learned the traditional farming methods from my parents, and they learned it from theirs. Animals, plants, water and humans should live together in harmony.”

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