Tessa’s log Earthdate: 17 April 2012
Temperatures: 07:00 24°C 19:00 30°C
Cont. Presentation ceremony made for the gifts, and the donation of the computer was mentioned. JBS talked with the villagers about the problems they face living in close proximity to the national park – the electric fence is currently not working due to a defective battery, 4 houses were recently destroyed by a wild bull elephant, and the government no longer gives them compensation for loss of property due to the wild animals.
Handing out the herd
Having offered my assistance to the dentists and been told that the fewer additional people in that already over-crowded room the better, I made a hasty exit and went to find Tessa. She was sitting on one of the benches among a gathering crowd of school children in the middle of the school grounds.
A large table had been set up under the trees and was now strewn with packets and parcels full of the gifts we had brought with us. These were going to be handed out centrally. However, I had a number of little soft elephant toys that had been branded by my sponsors and I planned to give these out myself, hoping to ensure I could make best use of them for photo opportunities.
The original plan had been to give them to the children who got their teeth pulled, as a treat to cheer them up. But it was clear that few children would benefit from dental care today so I decided to simply hand them out among the younger children who were sitting with their mothers outside the medical facility. I asked Tessa to film me.
The elephant toys were in a bright yellow water resistant bag which I’d brought to protect my photographic equipment during our boat trip. I hauled it out of my backpack and went to sit among the crowd on the steps, my yellow sack between my legs like a summer-time Santa Claus. Tessa stood back and aimed the camcorder.
I spotted a small child, drew out one of the elephants and offered it to him. He looked at me warily. His mother eyed the toy and the giver with great suspicion. She then spotted the camera and twigged what was happening. She quickly pulled her child so he stood directly in front of her before instructing the boy to take the gift. She then spotted the branding and showed him how to hold it up, brand name to camera, and nudged him until he smiled. These people were wise to PR.
This scene quickly attracted a multitude of small children and I found myself engulfed by demanding little faces and outstretched hands. My small herd of happy gifts suddenly seemed far too few. But I did my best and remembered to look up and smile at the video recorder myself as I handed them out.
Despite working in PR as a copywriter, I had never actually been in front of the camera in this sense before. It felt a little odd and I’m not sure I’m what you might call a natural. But, photos and videos can be used to create interesting social media content and produce a win-win-win scenario for commercially savvy brands, conservation expeditioners and the local population. I firmly believe that this kind of corporate social responsibility activity, combined with the power of social communication platforms, can form a strong basis for mutually beneficial relationships between conservation projects, conservationists and companies.
The children who I gave the elephants to were all quick to recognise their value as a guaranteed way of getting filmed. Each time an elephant was held up, the camera was turned on it. Groups of children would huddle around the boy or girl with the toy and negotiate for the opportunity to be the one holding it up.
Celebrity and the lure of film were as powerful in this little society as they are in America.
Having exhausted my own sneaky hoard of gifts, I followed Tessa back to the benches under the trees. The school children had formed a neat circle around the table, the tallest standing, the smallest sitting cross-legged in front of them.
JBS stood next to the table of gifts and Rajan translated as the school’s deputy head master welcomed us all formally and thanked JBS for returning once again. JBS made a short, expertly delivered speech explaining that we hoped that the gifts would be enjoyed by everyone. A computer, which had been delivered to the school two weeks earlier had been checked over by Duncan and Siv. He was able to report that it was up and running without problems and would enable the children of Janak Nagar school to explore the benefits of this new technology.
Having brought skipping ropes to hand out, Cathy then introduced the children to the art of skipping. Duncan, six-foot something and fit as a fiddle, demonstrated all sorts of skipping techniques before helping Cathy turn a long rope and show them how to turn jump rope into a group activity. The Nepalese children claimed never to have skipped before but those who then came to try it turned out to be suspiciously good at it.
Interestingly, it was the simplest gifts that produced the most hilarity. We had brought several footballs and a pump. As quarter-master, the task of pumping them up and passing them out fell to Graham. He instantly became the most popular person on campus and as soon as the first one was thrown to the waiting children an impromptu game of football was started at the end of the field.
Balloons were also highly popular. They were the long ones designed to be blown up and then let go at parties. The balloons squealed as they zip about, air propelling them in crazy arcs in the air before they plummet to the ground ready to be blown up once again. The children squealed more loudly than the balloons and the excitement of trying to catch them overrode their instructions to stay seated. The youngest of them began to edge into the middle of the circle, reaching out and even jumping up and running to grab at the air. Their deputy headmaster was forced to call order. It was joyous to see the pleasure these small gifts brought and it made me glad that we had come.
A consult with JBS
After the children had dispersed, a group of men set up several rows of benches and chairs around JBS. With Rajan translating the men began to explain to JBS the issues they faced as farmers living among wild elephants and other protected species.
“An elephant destroyed my house,” said one man. “I get no compensation. The animal is protected, but I am not. My family and three others are now homeless because of this wild bull.”
“This is why we built the electric fence,” said JBS. “Does it not keep out the elephants?”
“Right now the fence is broken,” the man explained. “We need new batteries to make it run again.”
“This we might be able to help you with,” said JBS. “I cannot make promises but I will try to raise the money for two new batteries.”
“It is not just the elephants,” said another man. “I lost two goats and a piglet to a jaguar. This is very expensive for me. I cannot afford this kind of loss.”
While they understood the importance of the conservation efforts being carried out within the National Park, and they appreciated that the wildlife drew in tourists, they still had to live with the consequences of living among occasionally destructive wildlife. The more successful the park, the more difficult the human/animal relationships are going to get.
Lesson no. 23: Wild elephants may be great for tourists but they can cause chaos among the local farms