By Rimsha Ali Shah
Traveling with their family for a picnic to a nearby picnic spot, young Aliya and Ali were horror-struck to see the once lush green forest torn down with machines and engulfed with clouds of dust. They learn all the trees had been chopped off to pave way for a construction project. Dejected and frustrated, the children exclaim, “but why did they have to cut all the trees!”
Sensitizing children, youth, and elders on the hazards of climate change through storytelling was what Rafia Saleem set out to do through her project, “Sabz Khawab” or “Dreaming Green”. Saleem is an alumna of the Emerging Leaders of Pakistan program, a recipient of the Presidential Aizaz-e-Sabqat, Young Eco-Hero award winner, and recipient of Fatima Jinnah Memorial Gold Medal from Ministry of Women’s Development, Social Welfare, and Special Education. Her passion for environmental protection is not newfound; she has been engaged in climate change activities in 1999. She has written extensively on the subject and published a book called, “ABC of Environment” to educate children on environmental protection.
“I had written a lot about climate change in the English language but, I understood the disconnect that created with the masses. Producing a radio show in Urdu gave me the opportunity to reach out to a wider audience comprising of students, parents, teachers, farmers, housewives, laborers — in short, all and sundry — and educate them about climate change and its impact.”
Sabz Khawab was aired on FM 101 Multan every week for 13 weeks and addressed different issues surrounding climate change. The program featured climate change centered news stories, radio dramas, field visits, expert opinions, green heroes, and audience feedback. This project was made possible with the help of an alumni small grant from the Pakistan-U. S. Alumni Network (PUAN). All alumni of various U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs in Pakistan are eligible to apply for the grant of up to $5,000 USD to enable them to give back to their communities.
The 15-minute show reached out to the audience in Multan and surrounding areas including Jahanian, Kabirwala, Khanewal, Khan Garh, Kotaddu, Lodhran, Muzaffargarh, Shujabad, and Vehari. The show addressed various themes surrounding climate change, including waterborne diseases, animal protection, pollution, farming methods, and deforestation; introduced the audience to green heroes like Akhter Hameed Khan and agricultural experts; and featured news items centered on the theme of the show.
Recently, at the PUAN Climate Change Conference, Saleem played clippings of her program for the participants during Wajahat Malik’s session on Media for Climate Change. Her innovative approach to addressing climate change inspired participants to think of infotainment as a viable tool to educate and empower others.
Saleem introduced a recurring storytelling feature in her show: sometimes, a radio drama or at other times a field visit, and transported her audience to the natural habitat that was suffering the hands of climate change. Saleem took her listeners to a zoo to understand the impact of climate change on animals, to a forest to understand deforestation, and to the roads to help her listeners realize the pollution engulfing all of them. The call to action in each show resonated well with her diverse audience and she received over 80 messages from her listeners on issues of climate change, actions they were taking to counter climate change, and advice on matters of health, water, and pollution.
“We had housewives ask us about waste disposal, farmers asking us about irrigation methods in the changing climate, and students appreciating our efforts in making climate change a personal issue that calls for immediate attention,” says Saleem.
Saleem now aims to take this project in other provinces of Pakistan. You can also listen to Sabz Khawab on her Soundcloud channel by clicking here. Join the Sabz Khawab facebook page by clicking here.