The idea was simple: we would track the impact of Rio and our rapidly changing world, through their lives and their stories. Over the last 20 years we’ve returned to film key moments in our children’s lives. In 2012, we’ve caught up with our children again, and find out how they have fared and their hopes, fears and ambitions for the future – a unique diary about what it feels like to grow up in our fast-changing 21st Century world. The result is three 45-minute documentaries, released to coincide with the Rio Earth Summit 2012.
In this first episode we travel to Brazil where Rosamaria was born within yards of the Summit. To Papua New Guinea where Angela was born just as a new gold mine was being opened. To Latvia, newly free from Soviet rule, where Martens was born. And to the north of England where Hayley was born just as her dad was being made redundant.
Twenty years after we started filming we’re back in Rio where it all began with the Earth Summit. What’s become of Rosamaria, the little girl from a broken family in Rio’s Rocinha? Rosamaria now has an eighteen month old son of her own – Gustavo. And the father? He’s gone. Like her father before her, he’s abandoned them. Rosamaria now has a new partner. Wallace is the new father figure for her son. And she’s pregnant again. But, this time it’s different.
“Wallace is the father of my new baby. He is a great man. He is someone that God put in my life. I’ll do anything to keep him. Whatever he can do he’ll do for me.”
The shanty town of Rosamaria’s childhood is looking increasingly like a normal town. Investment from state authorities and private companies have brought new housing estates, a twenty four hour health centre, and yes, even a swimming pool. That’s something that ten years ago she could only have dreamt of.
We’ve also returned to Papua New Guinea to catch up with Angela born on the small island of Lihir where a new gold mine promised to bring development. Angela’s now 19 and a student at the National High School of Excellence where she is sitting her final exams. Angela was well nurtured by her parents who helped her meet the challenge of getting to her country’s most prestigious school. But now she’s here she finding it hard going. “The courses that we’re taking are a bit harder than my ex-school. At home, if I needed help, I used to go and ask my dad to assist me in doing my homework. But when I came here there’s no one I can go to.”
Exams are finally over, and Angela is heading home. But the island she was born on nearly twenty years ago has seen big changes. Lihir is home to one of the biggest Gold Mines on the planet, producing around 22 tons of gold per year. Originally given just a 25-year lifespan, the amount of gold has exceeded expectations and the mine is expected to operate for decades to come.
Says Angela: “Before the mine came my ancestors had a vision. They said in the future Lihir would become a city. I think the mining is both good and bad. On the good side, they’ve made the road, and provided infrastructure and schools. But as for the environment, the mining has caused a lot of damage… I hope in the future that I will become a doctor. That’s what I always wanted. I want to get married and have children. But I’d like to get a job first.”
On the opposite side of the world in Latvia, Martens is also now 19. He lives in the same room he had as a baby. Latvia’s joined the European Union which is helping to fund the clean-up of the Soviet era factories. Long years of Russian rule have sharpened the sense of National identity. Something to be celebrated. But a quarter of Marten’s generation are unemployed. The economy’s been in recession.
Martens isn’t put off by the recession. He wants to open a business – and thinks he knows what. He’s gone to catering school. “The plan is to have my own restaurant. But I have to get experience first. I am serious – I will open it. I’ve had obstacles in my life – I have always overcome them. I won’t let things stand in my way. We’ll fight, improve, and survive. And we’ll overcome this crisis and make Latvia a better place. In time we’ll get there!”
Back in St. Helens, UK, what’s become of our first Earth Summit child, Hayley Turner? In 2003 Hayley’s parents separated. Not long after, Hayley’s mother became seriously ill when doctors failed to diagnose her condition with water pressure on the brain. As a result Lynne is partially blind. Says Lynne: “She’s had a lot to cope with and she basically turned from being my little girl with her own life and friends into my carer. And that’s also made her have to grow up rather quickly. In essence I suppose she’s been robbed of her childhood.”
Just as Hayley was born, the coal pit her dad Brian and the town of St. Helens depended on was being closed. Since then Brian managed on a string of freelance contracts. He worries the future may be harder for Hayley. “For an eighteen year old now who’s struggling to find work… I think it’s a very hard and a very difficult time for them.” Years of economic decline have had an impact on Hayley’s generation. Many of her friends already have children and living off benefits. But as for Hayley, “I’d rather fight for it all. Go to university. Get a decent education and a decent job.”
Just four of the eleven lives we’ve been following across the world since birth. An epic endeavour. When we started we had no idea how events would unfold in their lives – some looking very much up, and others marred by tragedy.
To look back on the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, see the UN pages on that conference.
And here is the website of this year’s Rio Earth Summit 2012
Over the years after the 1992 Earth Summit, tve produced films following up the lives of 11 babies born that year, filming the children in Brazil, China, Norway, Kenya, India, Latvia, the UK, South Africa and the US. The first one was made in 1993 – Growing Up.
Growing Up II, made in 1996, is the second installment of what happened to these children and their families.
Another follow-up film, Growing Up 2000, was an Earth Report looking at some of the children in 2000.
For more on Latvia, see the BBC’s country profile.