Graham Lloyd|The Australian

A program pioneered by Australian students has helped spawn a five-million-strong youth army to try to save the orang-utans of Borneo.

What started as a dream for one million children to each raise $10 to collectively buy a piece of jungle the size of Singapore to release rescued orang-utans has become a global plan to rebuild forest, make biofuels and secure a permanent home for rescued apes.

The environmental education project, which makes use of Microsoft’s global schools network, will be officially launched in Cape Town, South Africa, today.

The environmental action plan will be captured in a 3D movie by Australian filmmaker Cathy Henkel, who was responsible for the award-winning The Burning Season documentary that has been a critical link in the plan.

Students from Dallas Primary School and Silverton Primary in Victoria have been involved since the project’s inception. Dallas Primary teacher Amanda Henning said the idea had come from a conference in Singapore in April involving Microsoft’s partnership program.

After that conference, four Year 5 and 6 students had joined an international video conference to explore ways to stop deforestation.

From those four students the project has swept the school community.

The canteen has been lobbied to stop selling products containing palm oil and a video documentary has been made to explain the consequences of forest destruction on the orang-utan.

“We have got work from the students we would never have expected,” Ms Henning said.

“It goes back to passion. At the first video conference they had trouble putting two words together and after 20 weeks they have made the video.”

Ms Henkel said a competition would be run to find children to star in the 3D movie, which would trace the progress of the youth campaign.

The first milestone would be to raise $10 million to create a permanent home for orang-utans, build new sustainable industries for local landowners, and raise awareness of the destruction caused by palm oil production.

New York-based Orang-utan Outreach director Richard Zimmerman said there were several strands to the project in which young people would be able to take action.

“Participants will be able to virtually monitor and protect the existing pristine rainforest using the latest in satellite technology, and ‘patrol’ the areas for illegal loggers and outbreaks of fires,” he said.

Young people will also work alongside acclaimed conservationist Willie Smits to reforest a large site in Indonesian Borneo — the Sintang Lestari area.

About 8000ha of grasslands will be replanted and returned to healthy forest, rich in biodiversity.

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