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“When will the next edition of the comics be coming out? Can we get more copies of the comics for our school library? Are you visiting our school again? When will that be?”

These are just some of the questions that APRIL’s Fire Aware Community (FAC) Project Officer Riana Ekawati has been receiving from eager students and principals from various schools in Indonesia over the past year.

Riana has been hard at work introducing and enhancing fire prevention awareness among young students at 81 schools (51 elementary schools and 30 junior high schools) in 2017.

An offshoot of APRIL’s Fire Free Village Program (FFVP), the FAC was introduced in 2016 as a way to introduce communities to fire-free concepts and initiatives through a range of community awareness and engagement activities.

One of them is the Schools Awareness Program, which sees elementary and junior high school students developing fire awareness by participating in interactive workshops and discussions, as well as consuming engaging publications.

The FAC team collaborates with APRIL’s Community Development team and local non-government organisations to engage these schools in five regencies in the vicinity of the Restorasi Ekosistem Riau concession area: Palalawan, Siak, Kampar, Meranti Islands, and Kuansing.

“It can be quite difficult to remind communities not to burn forests when they’re trying to clear land, and that’s why we thought it might be best to educate children first.

“It’s meant to be a long-term program to prevent them from prolonging their fathers’ burning practices when they themselves grow up. Plus if we educate the children, they’ll be able to remind their fathers that burning land is dangerous now,” Riana explained.

“Their fathers might listen more seriously if it comes from their children than if we remind them directly (ourselves),” she pointed out.

Bunga and Alam Comics

After identifying schools to engage for the Schools Awareness Program, the FAC team obtains permission from the principals of the respective schools, before visiting each of the schools to conduct fire prevention engagement.

To do this, the FAC notably makes use of its own ‘Bunga and Alam’ (Flower Girl and Nature Boy) fire awareness comics, distributing copies to the school children.

The comic, which carries the tagline ‘Bebas asap itu keren!’ (Smoke free is cool!) features two characters – Bunga and Alam – who learn about the dangers of land burning and the significance of fire prevention.

The First edition of FAC’s comic

Riana shared that she has come up with storylines for the comics so far, while a professional graphic artist is commissioned to illustrate them.

“We realize that children are pretty responsive if heroes are introduced for them to look up to – an example being Upin and Ipin from the Malaysian TV show.

“Bunga and Alam are meant to be our fire prevention heroes to the children,” Riana explained.

Riana said that introducing the ‘Smoke free is cool!’ tag line to accompany the comics has been particularly effective.

“The children seem to instantly know the slogan and understand what it means. This one sentence is enough to remind them about fire prevention – it’s a memorable sentence,” she said.

Due to overwhelmingly positive response to the comics from the students, a second edition of the comics has been published.

Riana said that the comics are not only distributed to the students, noting that copies are also given to school libraries.

“At the moment, only students in the fifth and sixth grade are participating in the Schools Awareness Program. At this age, children are already aware of whether something is wrong or right, and they can spread the fire prevention knowledge to their parents,” she said.

“But if the comics are available at the libraries, students from the other grades will be able to read them too.

“And the libraries are always asking for more copies, saying that the comics are always on loan and there is a waiting list for them,” Riana added.

Excited elementary school children receiving the second edition of the Bunga and Alam fire awareness comics

Next steps

When it comes to the Schools Awareness Program, the FAC team has received nothing but a warm welcome, be it from the students or the school principals, Riana said.

“We’ve experienced the opposite of challenges with this program. Principals eagerly ask when we will be returning to their schools, as the schools have never been visited by any other companies or government representatives to educate them about fire prevention.

“Giving them Bunga & Alam comics and showing them videos is very interesting to the children, who are willing to learn through these materials,” Riana said.

In fact, the only difficulty the FAC team sometimes faces with the Schools Awareness Program is the location of some of the schools they are trying to engage with, as they may be in rural areas which are difficult to reach.

In 2018, the FAC team will be engaging 73 new schools to participate in the Schools Awareness Program.

It will also be re-engaging 31 existing elementary schools (from last year), bringing the total number of participating schools this year to 104.

“We’ll be conducting socialization again at 31 schools which we’ve already visited, but this is because we think it’ll be useful as these 31 schools are located in lowland areas. Lowland areas are extra dangerous if they are burnt,” Riana explained.

In addition, by revisiting these schools, the FAC team will also be engaging some new students, as students who have taken part in the program last year may have already graduated to junior high, she pointed out.

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