Rise of the Eco-Warriors is a story of passion and adventure as a group of young people from across the globe leave their known worlds behind and spend 100 days in the jungles of Borneo. They come to confront one of the great global challenges of our time, saving rainforests and orangutans. But their task is enormous and the odds are against them.
DeforestAction, a global schools program, puts out a call for 15 young people to join renowned scientist and reforestation expert, Dr Willie Smits in the jungle for a bold experiment in confronting deforestation. He takes the young Eco-Warriors into the heart of Borneo where they see first-hand the devastation that palm oil expansion is bringing to local communities and wildlife. An orphaned baby orangutan, Jojo, is entrusted into their care, and they embark on a plan to return her and other rescued orangutans to their forest home. At the end of the first 20 days, the Eco-Warriors form four teams and work with Willie to develop realistic action plans for working with the local communities, restoring rainforest and helping orangutans. But first they must head home to raise awareness and build the support they need to implement their plans.
Five months later, eleven of the Eco-Warriors return to Borneo. The dynamic of the group has changed dramatically as four of their original team are unable to return for personal or career reasons. They also confront the reality that the fundraising and backing they had hoped for has not materialized. Despite these set-backs, they revise their action plans and get to work. Willie negotiates an agreement with Dayak communities to secure a release site for the orangutans on the outskirts of a village called Tembak. Rescued orangutans will be brought to the Sintang centre and later moved to Tembak for rehabilitation and finally released. The Eco-Warriors start work on the security and upgrade of the Sintang facility when Willie is called away to Holland leaving the young Eco-Warriors to fend for themselves.
With the leadership they expected absent, and with limited guidance, resources and money, the young people must find the courage and commitment to go on. They endure a roller-coaster ride of emotions, disappointments and challenges as they travel to the edge of their own endurance.
Liza, a political lobbyist from Washington, and her team mates Ben and Perry, are responsible for caring for Jojo and her new playmate Juvi, also rendered homeless by forest destruction. Their first challenge is to construct a sleeping cage and transport it along rough and muddy roads to Tembak, and build a rehabilitation facility on the edge of the protected forest where the orangutans will eventually be released.
Shadrak, a youth leadership student from Kenya, and his two team mates Paul and Tom, take on the reforestation challenge in Tembak. One of the village elders, Pak Niat, started a nursery some years ago, but had become discouraged by lack of support. The Eco-Warriors resolve to bring life and hope back to Pak Niat’s nursery, and start replanting food and fruit trees and prepare for 6000 sugar palm seedlings offered by Willie as an alternative revenue source to the destructive monoculture of palm oil.
Kodi, an activist and musician from Australia and her American team-mate Mark take on the task of local and global education about the effects of palm oil and the crisis facing forests and orangutans. They devise a music theatre show in the local language, and despite numerous difficulties and set-backs, the show is a hit with school students and awakens them to the fight happening in their own back yard. Word spreads, and a local teacher steps in to help and they perform the play to over 2500 students in the region.
Fahrani, an Indonesian fashion designer, Fabrice, a French mapping expert, and Chai Chin a journalist from Singapore make up the mapping team. They introduce a satellite technology monitoring system and enlist the help of school students around the world to become EarthWatchers. Students use online software to check their patch of forest and identify disturbances and the Eco-Warriors gather aerial photographs and evidence on the ground. When a palm oil company begins to encroach on the forest of a Dayak community living in a traditional longhouse, Fabrice produces a satellite map of the incursion that gives the village leaders the evidence they need to stop the bulldozers.
The challenges, isolation and tough conditions begin to take their toll, and conflicts break out within the group. Just as some get sick or become disheartened, a small band of outside supporters, called Action Agents, arrive to lend a hand. They have been following the progress of the Eco-Warriors online, and bring messages from school students, financial support and a renewed sense of hope.
As the end of the 100 days approaches, the Eco-Warriors focus on ensuring their work will continue after they leave. They make a video of their education show and forge connections with local groups to keep the Earthwatchers program going. The Tembak nursery and orangutan facilities are fully in the hands of the people of Tembak and local authorities. The foundations have been laid, and the Eco-Warriors resolve to continue fundraising for the ongoing work in Sintang and Tembak.
But most importantly, they’ve learnt that fundraising and winning individual battles is not going to solve the long-term problem of deforestation. They need to show consumers how buying products containing palm oil contributes to the destruction of forests and orangutans. They head to Singapore to launch an urban eco-warrior campaign and take the message online and to their social networks.
In the end this is a story is about what it takes it be an eco-warrior, an individual prepared to step out and do something to protect our natural world. The future holds many challenges, and the Eco-Warriors hope to inspire and motivate other young people through their passion and commitment to get active in their own communities. For them, every individual matters, every action counts.
Produced by Virgo Productions and Canopy Indonesia.
Written and Directed by Cathy Henkel
Producers: Richard Hearman, Cathy Henkel and Mark White
Executive Producers: Alan Finney, Jenny Lalor, Cathy Overett
Developed and produced with the assistance of Screen Queensland