August 20, 2012 Silent Snow Active in Costa Rican High Schools. By: Amanda Merkx and Guillermo Jiron

By: Amanda Merkx and Guillermo Jiron


A little update after our first 10 presentations:

So what are we doing? In short, we have created some educational materials related to Silent Snow the movie and are now touring the country sharing the movie with high school students. Before presenting the film we give a brief introduction to focus the mind-set of the kids. We explain why Pipaluk is worried, why she travels around the world and what she will find out on her journey. We tell the kids to pay extra attention to the different cultures they will see and how Pipaluk finds that most of those communities used to live in sustainable ways before they began using chemicals and pesticides.


After the presentation of the documentary, we begin the educational activity. We hand out the educational materials, which consist of some guiding questions and additional information, both written by us and with data from outside sources. We then ask if they understood the movie and there is time for questions and comments. We focus on a little bit of scientific background, relating the issue to the documentary, and then put more emphasis on how this affects the children and their community specifically and discus what they can do to take action in their community.


We have prepared educational materials for six working groups, each group working on a different topic. One group focuses on the health effects of chemicals and contaminants, another on the effect of bio-magnification and how the food chain affects dispersion of the POPs (persistent organic pollutants), yet another on water contamination, the fourth group works on the issue of trash and recycling, the fifth group on alternative agricultural methods such as policulture and organic farming, and the last group on how the law is involved in this issue and what are the specific laws in Costa Rica relating to the use of chemicals. Each group receives a marker and a color poster to write and draw on, and after about one hour all groups perform a presentation in front of the rest of the class. At the end, we discuss what they can then put into practice in their homes or schools, in relation to each of the topics.


The visits we have done so far and the number of people at each activity:

1.    High School Santa Teresa (Pacific central coast): 65

2.    EARTH University (Guapiles): 40

3.    CATIE (Turrialba): 35

4.    High School Guaymi Indigenous Territory: 28

5.    High School Sabanillas (Coto Brus): 170

6.    High School Republica de Italia (Coto Brus): 47

7.    High School Santa Elena (Coto Brus): 23

8.    High School La Lucha (Coto Brus): 21

9.    High School Sabalito (bordering Panama): 34

10. UCR (San Jose):  50



Starting the day was always an adventure: is the teacher properly informed, will the promised equipment really be there, or in one school, will there be electricity to even be able to show the movie? Luckily, until now we have always found a way to show the movie and do the activity. Once the technical issues are sorted out, the next challenge is to make sure all the students get as much as they can out of the activity. The reactions we have had were various, but they were always interesting!


One girl in Sabalito came up to me at the very end of the program, saying “thank you” and telling me she was still in shock and with goose bumps after seeing the movie, and that before seeing it, she had no idea how this affected everyone, and how it was such a global problem. In one of the indigenous territories, a boy came up to me after the activity and when I asked him if he had enjoyed it he told me “yes, but what exactly is a chemical?” He explained that in his family they had never used any chemicals, sadly many of the other kids started laughing when he was speaking, because they clearly had.


One interesting discussion began when I asked one of the groups “for which crops does Costa Rica need to use pesticides?” The students went to discuss, and came back with a long list of crops such as banana, pineapple, tomatoes and more. When I told them they were wrong, they came back with a longer list. I told them they were wrong again, and told them the correct answer was none. One of the students then told me I was wrong. He began explaining that he had tried to grow certain crops in his garden without pesticides and that they didn’t grow. At this point I called the group of students who had worked on techniques of organic farming (policulture, organic and natural pesticides, the importance of soil quality, companion planting and more) and as they began talking, the other student was silenced and said: “Maybe it works, I’ll have to try it first though!” So they agreed that they should start a little garden at school, and try to grow all the crops without using any chemicals.


In Santa Teresa there were plans of starting an educational activity for the primary school about recycling and teach the children not to burn trash or throw it on the street, but instead put it in the trashcan and start recycling. The girls at the La Lucha School decided that they wanted to collect certain parts of the trash from the school “soda” (food shop) and make jewelry, like necklaces and wallets and decorations for the school, including penholders and trashcans. They also decided that they would start separating organic trash to make compost for the garden they had at the school. At almost all of the schools the students also began speaking of rainwater collecting systems to use this water to clean the school facilities and water the gardens, instead of using precious drinking water.


At universities, we had a different approach. We would show the documentary and then have time for discussion. At EARTH University there was a positive reaction. The students told us that for them (they are all studying agronomic engineering) it was extremely valuable information, as they will be working in this sector. They said they hope to learn more about how they can take this information and not only use it themselves but spread it amongst the people with who they will be working. At CATIE, we had a different but also interesting experience. CATIE is an investigation center with a Post-Graduate program, so before we arrived we were already a little bit nervous; we knew we would be meeting the experts in the field. After the presentation, we were asked why the movie had so little scientific background. We answered that the movie was not a scientific product but rather focused on real life stories and that it presented emotions of people who closely work or live with chemicals, hoping to reach a wider public. We told them this was just a different way to make an impact on people’s thinking and that in particular we hoped to reach people that were no experts in the topic as well. A discussion began in the room and suddenly one of the researchers stood up and explained that although there were some things in the documentary that she did not completely agree with, she was surprised to see what we had done. She said that she had spent the last 25 years of her life researching this topic, but that her papers had only been read by others who work in the same area, but that we, by working with Silent Snow, were reaching hundreds of people, experts and non-experts, school kids and their families, sharing this important message and making sure that everyone understood the message and telling them that there is still so much we can do.


Our experiences with bringing Silent Snow to an expert public have been interesting. The movie has proven to be a wake-up call, also for those who have been studying these topics throughout many years. We have had the opportunity to facilitate and be present during serious discussions among the students and brought the problems effectively alive.

Presenting Silent Snow at secondary schools, however, has been even more rewarding. Imagine kids that have hardly been confronted with these kinds of discussions while living in the country that uses more pesticides per person per year than any other country in the world, due to the production of crops for exportation mainly (banana, pineapple, palms, coffee). How many kids have a father, brother or uncle who works on those plantations? Silent Snow is not an easy movie for younger adults to absorb, in particular when you see it in a classroom during daylight and with distracting, although sometimes beautiful bird-singing, noises all around you, instead of sitting in a cinema with a great sound set and darkness all around you… But if you explain what the movie is about and what the kids should focus on, and afterwards you put them to work on related topics, make them own those topics and relate these to their daily life, then something great can happen.


I wish we had a chance to go back to all of these schools and ask the kids whether they really followed-up on their ideas to revitalize their school garden, or to talk about recycling with their primary schoolmates. Silent Snow needs following up, there is great demand for the product we have developed. So many schools in Costa Rica have told us they are interested in the program. Luckily, we still have some funds to visit a few more schools in the near future. We also hope that soon a similar program could be implemented in different countries to reach more people, everywhere in the world.


With greetings,

Amanda Merkx and Guillermo Jiron


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