HANDs! Project: Looking back and looking forward

People often choose to forget the past as looking back can be painful. But when it comes to disasters, lessons from history should always be remembered. This could help you survive when disasters strike again.

This is one lesson I got from the second and final leg of the HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project, a research trip organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, focusing on disaster and environmental education + creativity.

In 2016, the HANDs fellows visited Manila, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia. This year, we headed to Phuket and Phang Nga, Thailand and Kobe, Japan.

The Thailand phase started with a site visit and dialogue at the Bangla Village Mangrove Forest. Members of the community expressed how the mangroves helped protect them from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and are therefore very motivated in preserving the forest.

We then headed to Baan Nam Kem where we listened to stories of the tsunami survivors and learned about community based disaster risk management.

The rest of our stay in Thailand was spent in Yaowawit School, a real-life education facility for orphans and less privileged, which was founded by German philanthropist Philipp Graf von Hardenberg initially meant to help tsunami victims.

Lectures and workshops on sustainability and gamification were given by Robert Steele, a sustainability expert, and Ruttikorn Vuttikorn, a game designer. After which, fellows had to design games and activities for the “Alarm Cat,” a disaster and environmental education program for students of Yaowawit. It was a joy to interact with the children of the school and be able to promote disaster preparedness and environmentalism through creative means.

We said our khop kun krap (thank you) and bid goodbye to the heat of Thailand as Kobe, Japan’s cold embrace welcomed us.

The trip in Japan began with a tour of the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institute (DRI) which was established to archive and preserve the memories and lessons from the 1995 Great Hanshin-awaji earthquake. Hearing stories and going through the interactive exhibition of DRI was emotional but the importance of learning from the past to minimize risk and damage in the future is further emphasized.

A session and site visit of another disaster, the Toga River flash flood highlighted how providing sufficient information and education on disaster could save lives.

We learned about local initiatives on disaster prevention and environmental education from non-profit organizations namely Plus Arts, Kiko Network, and Tamba Greenpartner. We also participated in the “Iza! Kaeru Caravan,” a disaster drill program of Plus Arts, and facilitated games and activities for children.

Guided by HANDs adviser, Hirokazu Nagata, the fellows developed disaster and environmental education action plans to be implemented in our respective countries. We got additional inspiration to be more creative and to think outside the box from Kiito, Design and Creative Center in Kobe, which served as our work station.

HANDs Project provided a rare opportunity of visiting many places, learning from various experts and institutions, and forging friendships with co-fellows. And though the research trips ended, this is simply the beginning of more collaborations as we continue building our hopes and dreams towards a more resilient and more environmentally sustainable future.

Photos from HANDs! Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.

Learn more about HANDs! Project here.

My HANDs! Project Experience

Putting a ballet dancer, a political cartoonist, a zero waste expert, and a teacher all in one room seems to be an odd combination. But that’s what HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project is all about. It brings people together from different backgrounds and help them leverage art and culture to address issues. Organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, the HANDs! Project explores how disaster and environmental education can be made more effective through creativity.

The program began in the Philippines where I met other HANDs! fellows for this year. It is a diverse group of young professionals and students from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, and Nepal. The passion and drive coming from every single person were invigorating. Hearing their personal stories and the work that they do for the community made me feel inspired and hopeful.

As a starting point, we were introduced to the idea of how “wind-water-soil” types of people help a community. The wind-types provide seeds of inspiration, the soil-types are the ones rooted in the community nurturing the seeds, and the water-types bridge the gap between the two aiding in the growth of the seeds of change.

To further understand social issues, Habi Education Lab, a Manila-based design and research group, conducted a design thinking workshop with the participants. We then had to put design thinking into action as we developed project ideas and prototypes for a relocation community in Navotas, a coastal town in Metro Manila. Being the local, I had to be the translator for the foreigners and I realized how tough a job that is. I had fun nonetheless and once again, it didn’t come as a surprise how our guests noticed the genuine happiness Filipinos have regardless of what situation they are in. I guess it truly is more fun here.

After a week in the Philippines, we all flew to Bali, Indonesia. I once heard you don’t choose Bali, Bali chooses you so we must have all been chosen! Balinese Hinduism is predominantly practiced in this part of Indonesia evident from sculptures, traditions, and altars everywhere meant for daily offerings known as canang sari.

We were able to visit rice paddy fields practicing Subak, a water management system that incorporates the Balinese concept “Tri Hita Karana” – the harmony among people, nature, and God. Pretty much like the Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippines.

As an environmentalist, I was so happy to learn about best practices of some environmental organizations in Bali. IDEP Foundation shared about permaculture and community-based disaster management. Kopernik talked about project management and how they raise money to fund their community projects. Green School showed how sustainability can be integrated in the classroom and the school system. Navicula, an indie band, illustrated how music can be used for activism.

Additionally, the fellows conducted creative disaster education activities at PAUD Cemara Kasih, a kindergarten school.

It was an enriching experience but it doesn’t end there as we’ll have the second phase of the HANDs! Project study trip in Thailand and Japan next year. After which, we would come up with our respective action plans on creative disaster and environmental education programs. So many things to look forward to. And the best thing is I’m on this journey with amazing people keeping the hope and dreams in me alive.

Photos from HANDs Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.