Digital storytelling for children key to climate change adaptation

Guest Column: Peter Makwanya

Without undermining the gift of traditional storytelling as a comprehensive and powerful tool, used by the elders to educate children, nurture their listening skills and as a form of recreation — while the children are passive recipients of information, storytelling remains a powerful communication tool for engaging children. With the advent of technological advancement and also that elders who tell the stories now being a rare commodity, coupled with a busy world, it is advisable to integrate the traditional storytelling with the multimedia tools designed to fit in the complex world of new-media technologies.

Participatory digital photo storytelling, as development practitioners would like to put it, is a communication tool and strategy that is sufficiently engaging and actively involving. In this regard, children, with the help and guidance of communication experts and journalists, can be trained to use video cameras, photographing cameras or even their mobile phones to shoot and document physical features and landscapes affected by climate change impacts and to come up with stories. These digital photo stories will be used in climate change education, awareness and community adaptation.

It is significant in every respect, that children will become part of the story and active participants, in which stories are shot and told from the children’s points of views, heritage based and world views. This becomes paramount and transformative in the sense that, in an environment which does not normally allow children to speak up and participate, because they are children, first and foremost, their voices could be heard too.

Because of the baggage of our cultural affiliations, children have been severely handicapped by patriarchal tendencies and power relations, where they are always under lock and key, no talking or laughing in the presence of adults; no fidgeting or standing up in the presence of the adults, has thus rendered them passive, with no creativity and innovations. It is only within the school playgrounds where children could be seen playing, both boys and girls taking part. But at home and in the streets, mainly boys will be seen kicking around plastic balls, while girls will be caged inside the houses being taught how to behave or busy doing household chores.

In this regard, digital photo storytelling for both boys and girls is not only inclusive, but interactive too, where pictures are matched with sound and colour in order to excite all the relevant human senses for learning.

Besides being taught about how to operate technology, children can be initiated into interacting with the power of visuals, both as learning and teaching communication tools.

Visuals are powerful ingredients of learning, they are complementary, transformative of both behavioural and attitudinal changes as well as situating the children at the heart of sustainable development. What is more critical in digital storytelling is the point of view, prompting us to ask the question: Whose story is being told? In this regard, it’s the children telling their own stories, not only stories, but climate change sustainable stories, from their own points of view, in their own societies and articulating their own situations, with the guidance of relevant experts, of course. These stories and activities are hatched and designed in the discourses which they can understand and based on their target needs and situations.

By telling their own stories, children, as part of a broad network of society’s vulnerable groups, their voices will be amplified and heard as well as counting too. Wherever they are, children and women too should not be left out as a way of addressing gender dimensions in climate change.

The climate change footprints and impacts normally affect the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society; these are the common people whose common sense is suppressed and they don’t have coping mechanisms; these are women and children. The unenviable situations these groups of people find themselves in is perpetuated by traditional gender stereotypes and unequal power relations. For this reason, one who has a voice, audible and authoritative enough, has power, to initiate, decide and tell a story. But if stories were to be told from diversified frameworks and points of views, then communities would benefit. The idea in this case, is not just to tell the climate story, but to tell sustainable development stories which transform the communities, improve livelihoods and resilience.

Participatory learning tools are not only inclusive and interactive in nature, but they also help communities to identify environmental problems in participatory ways. In this case, children are not just observing climate change wreaking havoc in their communities, but they are also participating in solving those problems too. While digital photo storytelling is one of inclusive, interactive and technically and societally-oriented — inclusive of women and children, there are also other transformative means such as games, role-plays, or music and docudramas which can provide elements of play.

Not all climate change impacts present gloom, but some would require innovations and creativity in their designs coupled with elements of play and laughter. Some problems like the Cyclone Idai, which are completely destructive and disarming, are, however, not a laughing matter and would require the treatment they deserve. But what is important about digital storytelling is that it provides some comprehensive networks of communication skills that include listening, auditory, visual, participatory and interactive skills, oral and presentation skill, non-verbal communication skill and analytical skills, among others.

Digital photo storytelling is also a vital cog in filling up the procedural gaps created by established forms of media like the print, electronic or radio. These established forms of media largely view communities as recipients of mass communication, with the view that the audience are a homogeneous lot while digital photo storytelling views people as a comprehensive mixture, unique and don’t usually respond in the same manner.

Digital photo storytelling is above all, an exhaustive and sufficient tool designed for working and engaging children on climate change adaptation. In this regard children will be familiarising themselves with complex technologies as well as ideas related to climate change adaptation. These initiatives, with resources available, may lead to children having their databases and community-based publications on climate change adaptations.

Digital photo storytelling fits well in a comprehensive network of multimedia communication tools. Above all, involving children in climate change advocacy is paramount and a transformative tool for nurturing and equipping children with life skills for climate change literacy and advocacy.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on:

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