Cool Down the Earth

Playing it smart in the age of climate change

Vo Tuan Son and Truong Viet Hung
UNICEF Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung

21 March 2019

“If we cut the trees, the earth will be warmer. There will be more air pollution and it’s harder to breathe,” shouts 13-year-old Nhang, a Raglay ethnic minority child - before a classmate interrupts: “I want to play this game forever, it’s fun and interesting.”

Amid a cacophony of noise and excitement, Nhang has formed a tight circle with other pupils from Pi Nang Tac ethnic minority boarding school to play a new board game - “Cool Down the Earth”.

While playing this collaborative game is the high point of the day for many of the students and a welcome break from normal classwork, it is also communicating potentially life-saving messages that are especially important for their home province of Ninh Thuan.

The board game’s underlying objective to raise awareness about climate change and the impact of individual actions resonates for many in this south central coastal province of Viet Nam, that has been severely affected by climate change-related weather events in recent years – culminating with the worst drought in 60 years to hit it and several other provinces in 2015-2016.

As a key player in the emergency response to this intense drought with life-saving nutrition and sanitation interventions for vulnerable children and women in partnership with the Government of Viet Nam and other United Nations agencies, UNICEF Viet Nam also pinpointed the need to address the root causes and build the resilience of vulnerable communities to withstand future climate shocks.

UNICEF Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung

“If we cut the trees, the earth will be warmer. There will be more air pollution and it’s harder to breathe,” 

13-year-old Nhang, a Raglay ethnic minority child from Ninh Thuan

Cognizant that one of the most important interventions for children to cope and prevent risks associated with natural disasters is to promote life-saving skills, UNICEF identified climate change education as a solution to address inequities and build resilience to withstand future environmental and natural disasters.

With playing viewed as a fundamental, important and natural need of children, UNICEF contracted a

Vietnamese social enterprise to develop and produce two educational board games for children of primary and secondary school ages on climate change and hygiene behaviour promotion.

While “Cool Down the Earth” is focused on climate change, the “Eat - Poo - Wash” board game makes children conscious of the need to wash hands with soap as part of everyday health and well-being, especially during emergencies, with the mantra “wash – then – eat”, “poo – then – wash” being repeated by students such as 11-year-old Son from Vinh Hy primary school: “Now we know to wash our hands before we eat, even after we eat and also after we go to the toilet.”

This is especially important as the province is blighted by a prevalence of malnutrition and communicable diseases as a result of its prolonged and chronic dry spells, which can last more than 18 months.

UNICEF Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung

For many of girls and boys from Vinh Hy primary school, time spent playing the games is the high point of the day with the participatory learning approach a welcome break from normal classwork.

These innovative games are designed to be fun and engaging, with messages worded in appropriate ways for primary and secondary school children, taking into account gender, ethnicity and language barriers. The games’ content was fine-tuned by a rapid needs assessment of existing board games in January 2017 that gauged the knowledge and capacity of more than 200 students aged 6-11 years in four primary schools of two provinces affected by severe saline intrusion and drought.

Following pre-testing in April, UNICEF distributed the board games to 109 primary and secondary schools in six target provinces in June 2017 to reach 50,000 students. Due to limited funds, each school was restricted to three sets of each board game.

The games were an instant hit.

“When I learnt how to play this game [Cool Down the Earth], I taught my friend how to play. We like it very much,” said Thuy, a Grade 5 girl from Phuoc Tien A primary school.

The games encourage participatory learning and creativity as teaching in Vietnamese schools is dominated by a one-way, top-down approach.

“Often the students ask me to extend time to play the game – they love it,” said Nguyen Thi To Nhu, a librarian at Phuoc Tien A primary school.

UNICEF Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung
By standing as one in their common goal to learn more about climate change and reinforce attitudes towards safe sanitation practices, these girls and boys from Vinh Hy primary school will be better prepared to withstand future climate challenges.

UNICEF Viet Nam’s innovative approach has been welcomed by schools, teachers and children with reports of children’s enhanced knowledge and curiosity to better understand climate change and reinforcement of attitudes towards hand washing with soap and general sanitation practices. UNICEF has also gained international recognition with an invitation to showcase the board games at the 2018 International Social and Behaviour Change Communication/Entertainment Education Summit in Indonesia during 16-20 April 2018.

To sustain and scale-up the board games, UNICEF will advocate for the government and especially the Ministry of Education and Training to include them in the extra curriculum agenda in Vietnamese schools.

“The board games underline UNICEF’s ability to develop innovative and creative projects for children and adolescents through dynamic communications methods to facilitate participation and self-learning. Funds from donors and the private sector are essential to achieve these objectives and the mass production of these board games and new ones focusing on other development issues,” said Chu Huu Trang, UNICEF Viet Nam Communication for Development Specialist.

The games reflect UNICEF Viet Nam’s belief that children have a stake in the country’s future and are the present and future agents for change in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilient development.

UNICEF Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung
By playing “Cool Down the Earth”, these girls from Pinang Tac Ethnic Minority Boarding School now have a heightened awareness and thirst for knowledge about climate change and its impacts on their community.

With climate change-related natural disasters leaving Ninh Thuan in a cycle of economic and health hardships, UNICEF has made a strategic shift in response to increasingly severe climate change-related weather events to take a child-centred DRR approach in the province. This new programme implemented since 2017 is working to identify, assess and reduce the potential loss of lives, health status, livelihoods, assets and services. Specifically, it aims to minimize the impact of natural disasters - floods, typhoons, droughts - on vulnerable families, women and children. By supporting the government to implement child-centred DRR as a key long-term sustainable development strategy to cope with climate change, UNICEF will ensure communities, families and children are supported and empowered to withstand the growing severity, frequency and cumulative effects of natural hazards.

This work is important as Viet Nam globally is ranked the sixth most affected country by climate change. Current forecast scenarios produced by the Government of Viet Nam suggest an increasing trend in temperatures by 1-2 degrees Celsius by 2050, potentially causing higher incidences of droughts with greater intensity and increased rainfall that will result in coastal regions affected by a one-metre sea level rise. This will likely have bigger impacts on lowland regions with no adaptation measures, with nearly half of the Mekong Delta region - Viet Nam’s most productive region in aquaculture and agriculture, particularly at risk. These major impacts include reduced income and crop yields, degraded natural resources, damaged or loss of assets and infrastructure, reduced mobility with no access to work or services, increased human diseases with resulting decreased labour productivity.

With the impacts of climate change already being felt in Ninh Thuan and much of Viet Nam, it is up to the children of today such Nhang and future generations to take action and reverse these life-changing trends.

“We should protect the trees and prevent deforestation, and also reduce air pollution. We must do this,” said Nhang.