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 episode we travel to northern Kenya, where for twenty years we’ve followed Erdo, whose nomadic way of life is under threat. Northern California where Stephanie Standley’s born into a world where business clashes with concern for the environment. And Southern China – where a modern industrial revolution will transform the life of baby Kay Kay.
Stephanie’s future depends on the Pacific North West Forest: her dad, Kent, works in the logging industry. The Redwoods are the biggest trees on earth. In 1992 they’re coming down at a rate faster than the Amazon rainforest. This forest once stretched for two thousand miles from California to northern Alaska. But today only about a tenth of the original forest remains.
The same year 1992 we travelled to Northern Kenya just as baby Erdo came into a completely different world. He’s born to the Turkana Tribe. Cattle rearing nomads who’ve roamed the land for as long as anyone can remember. Erdo’s mother, Esther, is one of two wives in a polygamous marriage. The old way of life is under threat here too. The community is under attack by armed cattle raiders. Erdo’s family have just fled for their lives.
On the other side of the earth, Kay Kay was born. In completely different circumstances. In China – the world’s most populous nation. China has a One Child policy. Kay Kay is the only child her parents will have.
When we revisited each family in 2000, this is what we found. In China, Kay Kay is now eight. Her city Guangzhou resembles a huge building site. With new developments seemingly everywhere. Her dad can now afford a motorbike. So he can work and live at home. And every morning – Kay Kay gets dropped off at school. Her parents’ long working hours mean an unusual childhood for Kay Kay. She has to spend her evenings alone.
In northern Kenya Erdo is also seeing very little of his dad – but for different reasons. Esther has succeeded in her plan to leave her husband and send her son to school. An hour’s walk from the house his mum built. Erdo is now a school boy.
By 2002, in America ten year old Stephanie’s still a country girl. She’s been raising a pig for auction at the Willets annual fair. In Kenya, In order to give her son a more secure future, Esther has moved from nomad to corn grower. She’s convinced education will make the crucial difference for Erdo’s future.
When we first filmed in China just after Kay Kay was born, rapid development meant serious pollution. Now Kay Kay’s growing up in a cleaner, more liveable, city of Guangzhou. Her parents are earning nore and have bought a new appartment. Despite the improved living conditions, the demands of work still mean the family can rarely be together. Kay Kay’s mum manages just three hours sleep between shifts.
By 2012, Erdo had come to Isiolo town close to where his mother had settled, to try to find work to help her out. For nearly a year he struggled and fell in with street children. Until by a stroke of luck, FURSA, a small Italian voluntary group stepped in and rescued him. FURSA has sent him to school. At 19, he’s in a mixed class of twelve year olds. This is what Erdo’s always wanted! His aim now to graduate and move on to higher things.
In California, Stephanie has graduated from high school. And she’s working at the local supermarket to help pay next year’s college fees. True to her love for animals she’ll go to veterinary college. When Stephanie was born her dad Kent worked in a timber mill. But California State imposed new laws protecting the ancient forests. The logging industry shrank, and the mill her dad worked in closed. Kent now works for Mendocino, the local county, helping to protect the environment.
In Northern Kenya Erdo’s life has once again been turned upside down. Ethnic unrest has swept through the area around Isiolo town. Erdo’s mother Esther has fled her homestead. FURSA have moved Erdo to a more secure environment where he’s being taught a trade. Says Erdop: “My mother is the most important person in my life. She’s never turned her face from me. She’s only ever taught me the best she can. She encouraged me to go to school – and always want us all to go to school.”
In China, Kay Kay is off to university where she’s reading first year economics. Getting there is a two hour journey by bus. The population of her city Guangzhou has swollen – a third of those here are now migrant workers. Polluting industries have had to relocate. In the coming years Kay Kay’s educated generation will enter the workplace. And Kay Kay is in no doubt about the challenges the future holds for all of them. Kay Kay believes protecting the environment is vital for the future: “We shouldn’t be careless about the future and only bother ourselves with today… This is what I worry about the most because the environment is deteriorating. The reason I’m saying this is because if we destroy nature then nature will punish us.”
When we began filming during the ’92 Earth Summit we had no idea how the lives of our children would evolve. They’ve grown up amid peace, violence, family breakdown and family support. Amid growing prosperity and enduring poverty. Pollution and clean-up, the pull of the countryside and the great rush to the cities. Twenty years on from Rio, their eleven lives – and one death – show it’s time for a new agenda.
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.
FURSA is the Children’s Centre in Northern Kenya which rescued Erdo from the streets.
For more on the California redwood forests, visit the Redwood Forest Foundation.