Animal puppets teach children in Ecuador how to save the Earth.
Josey Duncan| September 2008 issue
A jaguar and a toucan are an unlikely pair in nature, but as puppets, they’re teamed up as the stars of an Ecuadorian television series dedicated to teaching children how to save the Earth. Along with other animal friends, they sail around the world on the Arcandina (“the Andean ark”) dealing with environmental issues. María Elena Ordóñez, an educator and lifelong nature-lover, started the show for kids in 1996. “The goal was to reach their hearts and then their heads, and present a new consciousness,” she says.
The Ark’s pilot is the fantastical Verde Guardian (“green guardian”), a cross between a computer and a plant. Adversity comes in the form of Ratasura, a garbage- and pollution-loving fat rat. His lack of consideration for Mother Earth provides ample opportunity for others to educate him, as Ordóñez hopes kids watching the show will do for their parents and friends. Episodes feature solutions kids can incorporate at home, such as encouraging their families to conserve water.
Ordóñez and her group have developed videos about topics like saving energy and planting native trees. They’ve also put together a CD about making a better world, which they hand out in classrooms.
Since its inception, Arcandina’s popularity has grown. The program is broadcast in Venezuela, Colombia and on Sopresa TV (a cable network for Hispanic children) in the U.S. And the Arcandina crew has received the attention of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which conducted studies that found watching it as part of a class program upped children’s environmental knowledge. For Ordóñez, these findings aren’t nearly as important as the letters she gets from people who grew up watching Arcandina and now have careers in environmental fields. This proves Ordóñez has not only taught children to love nature, but to help save it. Says Ordóñez: “We can build again what we have destroyed.”