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Egyptian cartoon hero cleans up the Red Sea
Bakkar, the eponymous hero of a popular all-Egyptian cartoon series, is into tackling environmental problems. Directed by award-winning Mona Abul-Nasr and produced by Cairo Cartoon -- the West Asia's first private animation studio -- Bakkar revolves around the adventures of a young Nubian boy from rural Upper Egypt. The first Egyptian cartoon on television, Bakkar is widely applauded as a breath of fresh air amidst the dubbed western cartoons currently dominating Egyptian children's tv. It is a nationwide hit among adults and children alike, regularly pulling in 40 million viewers -- two thirds of Egypt's population. Bakkar hits tv screens once a year, aired daily during the month of Ramadan. For the past year, fifty-two animation and computer graphics experts have been working round the clock to produce this Ramadan's Bakkar series.
In an inspiringly new approach to environmental problems, Bakkar uses accessible media forms to spread awareness of the urgency of Red Sea conservation. We see the boy-hero encountering situations that reinforce environmentally responsible behaviour, and the importance of conserving the fragile desert and marine ecosystems of the Red Sea Protectorates. One episode, for instance, features Bakkar and a Red Sea Ranger heroically plotting the rescue of endangered animals from a villainous zookeeper: the idea is to expose children to the negative effects of collecting marine life, fishing, and digging in protectorates. This year, Bakkar's energy is channelled into promoting the sustainable development of Egypt's coastlines and waterbodies. The Red Sea is home to abundant complex ecosystems: mangroves, salt marshes, intertidal zones, islands, marine habitats and deserts. In recent years urbanisation, poorly designed and managed developments, pollution and excessive tourism have degraded their ecological integrity. Bakkar's rural Bedouin roots stand out amongst Egyptian tv characters, who usually hail from urban centres: Bakkar is a true cartoon spokesman for rural Egypt, giving a voice to urgent rural issues.
Bakkar's environmentalism is the fruit of a collaboration between the Academy for Educational Development (aed) and Cairo Cartoon. The alliance is a development of the aed's Green com project, which aims to increase public awareness of the Red Sea Rangers' nature interpretation program. In 1999 the Egyptian government launched the Egyptian Environmental Policy Programme (eepp) to address the country's most pressing environmental challenges. Green com's role in eepp was to provide communication support to promote the programme's policy objectives on Red Sea conservation, energy efficiency and solid waste management. To date, Green com has also trained 150 teachers at sixty schools in the Red Sea area, to expand knowledge and understanding of basic environmental issues and encourage its incorporation into classroom teaching.
Audience research demonstrates Bakkar's ability to communicate environmental concepts to children. An independent evaluation found that before the broadcast, none of the 7-11 year old children surveyed were familiar with the Red Sea protectorates, and only 2 per cent had heard of the Red Sea Rangers. After the broadcasts, the percentages jumped impressively: now, 45 per cent of the children surveyed knew about the protectorates and 42 per cent understood the role of the Red Sea Rangers. Ten year old Mennatallah Hossam explains, "I like Bakkar because he always does good things...I would like to watch cartoons like Bakkar all year, not just during Ramadan."
Bakkar's success in reaching Egyptian children has spurred on the show's producers, who are planning more environmental adventures for Bakkar and the Rangers during Ramadan next year. The series has also brought accolades to the director: Mona Abul-Nasr has won four international prizes and 14 national first prizes for her work in animation and film.
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