Phare Creative Studio, based on the campus of its mother NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak, has been running an awareness-raising tour of Battambang province to tackle the plastic litter and pollution affecting the Cambodian environment by encouraging people to change their behaviour.
The tour was composed of the theatrical show Mit Somlanh (Best Friend) and a series of workshops where the young participants learned to create fish out of single use materials they found at home, while learning more about the 4 Rs: “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle”.
Mit Somlanh is an engaging theatrical show to raise awareness of the need to save the marine ecosystem which was performed at Pannasastra, Sovannaphum, USA School, Phare Ponleu Selpak, Children’s Action for Development and Children’s Future International for primary school students in October, reaching over a thousand children ages 6 to 12 years old.
Reaksa was one of the children who participated in the workshops. She was filmed for an interview with the Phare Creative Studio team.
When asked about plastic pollution, she said in the video that “when plastic bags are in lakes or rivers, it can affect fish and other living things in the water as well as humans. I think the 4 Rs can send a message to those who watch this video not to litter plastic waste.”
The play Mit Somlanh depicts the friendship between a child and a fish whose life is threatened by plastic litter.
The story starts out with a beautiful lake that is destroyed as it is filled with plastic thrown away by careless people. The child visits their fish friend there every day and enjoys chatting with them while pulling out treasures from amongst the rubbish.
The water becomes murky and poisonous to living things until one day the brave fish decides to clean up the lake. Encouraged by a mysterious creature lurking in the depths of the water, the fish begins to clear the lake but in the process he becomes gravely ill.
Broken-hearted and shocked by the realization of the impact of his own plastic use, the child resolves to make a change.
Can they, with the help of the young audience, commit to making the changes necessary to save the fish’s life? Will they stop the plastic pollution that threatens the world? If they can, they might just save a life and make sure this story has a happy ending.
Created together with Lakhon Komnit, it features handmade puppets of fish and a plastic trash monster to whom their talented comedians give life and motion on stage in order to convey the key campaign messages and interact with the young audience.
Aside from the awareness raising tour, Phare Creative Studio continues a month-long campaign on its Facebook page to further drive home the #BeatPlastic message to a broader audience.
“The theater and workshop tour reached over a thousand child participants,” said Morgane Darrasse, the communication manager at Phare Creative Studio who is implementing the social media campaign.
It was initiated after the Innovation Challenge for the “#BeatPlastic Campaign” was launched in Cambodia in December, 2021 as part of the “combating marine plastic litter project” led by the Ministry of Environment with funding support from the embassy of Japan and technical support from the UNDP.
With the goal of calling for innovative ideas to change behaviours regarding plastic consumption, the challenge awarded a total of four winners with up to $18,000 each to implement their individual “#BeatPlastic” campaigns.
The campaign started with the theatre and workshop tour in Battambang schools and NGOs in partnership with Lakhon Komnit, a non-profit specialized in community theatre projects, according to Phare Creative Studio, who won the prize for its campaign.
“We counted on the great talents of the Lakhon Komnit comedians to make it interactive and educational, and the young audience really sympathized with the fish character that gets poisoned by plastics,” said Darrasse.
Along with interviews with child participants and sneak previews of the theatre and workshop tour, the campaign is leveraging the symbolic value of the plastic monster theatre puppet who appears as a strange villain in a humorous mini-series of five videos.
They show it in daily situations and places around Battambang where plastic over-consumption or littering is the most significant, for example at the market where the viewer is encouraged to not “spoil the monster” by using so many plastic bags to pack up daily groceries.
The videos end with a short animated sequence with the fish mascot‘s call for action to apply the 4 Rs of “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to their lives.
“When spreading the word on Facebook this month, we wanted to take advantage of the symbolic characters of the fish and plastic monster puppets to reach several thousands more people and inform them about the direct consequences of using plastics every day,” Darrasse told The Post.
“Although our plastic monster puppet is a strange and funny character, I hope people can understand the more serious message behind it,” she said.
Phare Creative Studio said that the tour was meant to educate children about the direct correlation between daily plastic consumption and its impact on the marine environment, where most of the plastics end up after being thrown away.
Jinghoung, another participant, said “every day I see plastic waste being thrown around public places, markets, and at many tourist destination places. If there was no plastic waste the world would be very beautiful and clean. Fishes wouldn’t be poisoned and more tourists would like to come to visit!”
Though the theater and workshop tour are only month-long campaigns, the awareness-raising efforts need to continue and be done consistently, according to Darrasse.
“We should continue until we see a real change in behaviours. Not so long ago, rice bags were made of jute fibres and people would go to the market with their baskets,” said Darrasse. “Sustainable alternatives to plastic exist and habits can change again.”