By Sadia Pineda
“For a human character to reveal truly exceptional qualities, one must have the good fortune to be able to observe its performance over many years. If this performance is devoid of all egoism, if its guiding motive is unparalleled generosity, if it is absolutely certain that there is no thought of recompense and that, in addition, it has left its visible mark upon the earth, then there can be no mistake.”
These opening lines from Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees, a fictional tale about a man who single-handedly reforests a valley in Provence, describe the qualities of mindfulness and caring; for understanding ourselves in relation to everything around us and inherently acting right. By the end of this short story, the fruits of the tree planter’s selfless consciousness for the earth are borne; the land grows healthier, the government listens to his concerns and laws are made to protect his forests.
The resemblances between this story and docufilm Thank You For The Rain are clear, with people like the film’s subject Kisilu and his community revealing those same ‘truly exceptional qualities’ that prove consciousness and humanity. However, the real-life nuances of climate change, poverty and geographical discrimination faced by the farmers in Kenya make for a constant, unending struggle to fight what the rest of the world has caused.
Thank You For The Rain was co-directed by Norwegian filmmaker Julia Dahr and the film’s own subject Kusilu, looking at the struggle farmers in Kenya face against the unpredictable rain due to climate change. When there’s a drought, there’s no livelihood and motivation to farm; when there’s a flood, houses collapse and crops ruin. After 5 years of documentation throughout the film, it eventually becomes clear that no amount of planning and fight will get them through the inconstant climate; and so, they take it to the top, with Kisilu speaking to those in institutional power at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.
And one voice can change a lot. Over those 5 years, Kisilu created networks of farmers in his region of Kenya which he would rally each and every day. His community pledged to plant trees every day, he brought in seedling nurseries and created actual future planning which didn’t exist before; all while keeping his family going despite lack of food, wealth and even shelter. But when it gets to the top tier the truest voice, with the most experience and purest of intentions for the earth and its people, does not get heard. Kisilu travelled to the Climate Change Conference, spoke bluntly of the poverty in his villages and the clear effects of C02 emissions on the farming community, and was hopeful; until he realised that decision-makers in the richest countries care more for preserving their wealth than equity.
Thank You For The Rain will be screened in Swansea and Cardiff this month as part of Gentle/Radical’s Decolonising Environmentalism symposiums, bringing the conversation of climate change and decolonising environmentalism to Wales in accessible and open language. When we talk about climate change, we talk in statistics, figures, generalisations; and because of that, we’re speaking the same language of those decision-makers at the 2015 conference – which ended in non-binding agreements and a general lack of commitment. If we instead center these conversations around the experiences of those whose livelihoods rely on the agriculture that’s being destroyed, listened to their language of consciousness, and their inherent understanding of the climate’s natural balance and order; then maybe we can be an active, understanding part of the wider discussion on what to do next. Environmentalism is an issue that does not affect the institutions and world-powers on the scale that it affects those on the ground, living in poverty – so it can only truly be spoken of in deinstitutionalised and decolonised settings, company and language.
Thank You For The Rain will be screened as part of Gentle/Radical’s Decolonising Environmentalism events, bringing together film, speakers and discussion around climate justice.
Decolonising Environmentalism comes to Swansea on the 30th June and Cardiff on the 1st July
See their Facebook page for tickets and more info: https://www.facebook.com/gentleradical/
Credit for the picture: Julie Lillesæter – Copyright Banyak Films & Differ Media 2017