In 1992, the year of the first Rio Earth Summit, tve started filming with 11 babies, born in 10 different countries around the world. 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 second episode, we travel to Tamil Nadu in India where Panjy was born in a society where children go to work. To the Arctic north of Norway where Emelia was born to a fishing family. And to South Africa, where, because of the unique circumstances, we follow two babies – Justin and Vusumzi.
Vusumzi and his mum Mavis live in a small house in a black township called Thornhill – one of the places blacks were moved to during South Africa’s period of racial discrimination known as apartheid. Vusumzi’s dad has just died of pneumonia. Mavis scrapes a living as a cleaner, and on money sent by her sister working in Pretoria.
Half an hour’s drive away there’s another world. A fertile lowland dotted with white owned farms. This is the world Justin was born into. This is a time of upheaval in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Apartheid has only just ended. And white farmers viewed as settlers by radical black movements are being attacked.
By 1996, progress has come to Thornhill township in the form of electricity. Television comes as a reminder to children like Vusumzi of a world of plenty still beyond their reach. Justin and his brother and sister already take electricity for granted.
Vusumzi’s life has been hit by the AIDS epidemic. His auntie who’d been sending money from Pretoria died from the disease. The most devastating effect of the HIV AIDS epidemic has been in Africa. In South Africa alone, one in nine people is HIV positive.
A world away from Vusumzi and Justin baby Panjy was also born in 1992. In the village of Eemanichpuram. In Tamil Nadu in southern India. Panjy is the youngest of five children. Her ten year old sister already works in nearby firework factories, to help feed the family, a fate Panjy’s mother hope’s she’ll avoid. India provides free education for all children to the age of sixteen. But when it comes down to it putting food on the table comes first. Will Panjy be allowed to stay the course at school and avoid the factory?
The Lofoten islands in the Arctic North of Norway: this is where Emelia was also born in 1992. Fish catches are falling as foreign fleets move into Norwegian fishing grounds. Baby Emelia’s parents worry they may lose their living.
Twenty years on from the Rio Earth Summit we’ve returned to Norway to find Emelia. Emelia is now an independent minded nineteen year old. She still lives in remote Henningsvaer in the Arctic Circle where she works in a restaurant. When we first filmed here in 1992, Emelia’s family worried about the state of the fisheries. Now after years of quotas restricting catches, cod numbers have risen dramatically.
Emelia is like countless other young people in rural areas across the world. She wants to live in a city. Over half the world is now living in cities and Emelia wants in. “This is not a place for young people. Most of my friends have moved away. The only thing on my mind is getting out of here. I enjoyed waitressing, so I want to go to catering school. But not here. I want to move to the city of Trondheim.”
In Tamil Nadu in India, Panjy is now 19 – a fully grown woman. Last year Panjy was married to a complete stranger – a fireworks maker from a neighbouring village. In these parts getting married means borrowing money. Panjy’s family is already heavily in debt.
Panjy’s mother Laxmi is shouldering the debt for this and her other children’s weddings. “The wedding bills are over 200,000 rupees ($4,000). The interest is 60%. Each month. I pay a hundred rupees interest for every two thousand.”
Each morning Panjy boards a truck that takes her and other women from the village to the firework factory. Like Panjy, many of these women were made to leave school at an early age. “I often think about having had to leave school. But concentrating on my work helps me forget about it. My husband is not very smart. He doesn’t even know how to manage a family. So I will take responsibility for managing our family.” With the money she earns, Panjy plans to help pay off her family debt, and save money for the future.
In South Africa Justin, now also 19, lives in Cape Town where he’s at university. Justin is reading a combined media and performing arts degree. He says: “I crave to be successful. So I will go out there and I will ensure that I make a success of myself.”
But when we go back to Thornhill to find Vusumzi, there was bad news: Mavis had left home to try to find work in another town, leaving Vusumzi and his younger brother alone. While she was away, she received a call to say Vusumzi had been stabbed. Vusumzi’s killer was part of this community, and had lived nearby. According to Mavis he still gets drunk and violent.
Vusumzi had told us he wanted to be a doctor and treat HIV – the disease that had taken the lives of two of his family. Now his younger brother Spamandla is following in his footsteps: “I want to do medicine after I graduate. Because my brother died with the same ambition. I also want to find a cure for HIV AIDS.”
Just four of the eleven lives we set off to follow across the world from birth. It’s been an epic endeavour. When we started we had no idea how events would unfold – 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.