After the Tsunami, film making on the beach at Patong, Thailand, working with Muslim Children – making film, music, and animations

I’m conscious that I’ve not written much about the time I spent late last year with Jonathan Furness in Thailand. I’ve written a news article now, and here it is:
Ultralab commissioned by British Council to work in Thailand with communities after the Tsunami
It is hard to believe that the beautiful beach town of Patong was ripped apart by the forces of nature. Over 283,100 people were killed on that fateful tsunami day in December 2004. 129 Britons lost their lives and countless others were affected by destruction of home, belongings and loved ones. Today, Patong Beach in Phuket is beautiful, the sea is warm and clear and the sand is pure and white. The shoreline has been totally rejuvenated through the building of new hotels, restaurants and homes all smartly painted in bright colours and bustling with life.
The beach is scattered with holiday makers, playing games on the sand, couples bathing, and on the sun beds, children playing in the sea while paragliders sore around in the sky above them. It is clear to see that some form of normality has returned to this once tourist hotspot since the 15 foot and following 30 foot wave struck and brought disaster to this community.
As you walk along the beach you’ll be approached by someone selling everything from jetboat rides to fruit and from radio’s to musical instruments. The beach is a trading place for anyone and anything. Wherever there is a tourist, there is a fleet of outnumbering traders ready to sell. Talking to a sunbeds attendant I asked him how business was. The trader tells me that business is not what it used to be,there are less people on the beaches and prices for everything have been reduced. But the sea will not scare the traders away. “I have children” he says “I have to do what I can to feed them, wouldn’t you?”. I did not feel it appropriate to ask him where he was on December 26th, some things you just don’t talk about with these people.
Walking along the sands are Nan, Rus, Al, Ha and Wit, young Muslim children. They hold digital video camera’s and are engrossed in filming their surroundings. These young people are part of a group filming on the beach as part of a digital creativity project with Ultralab, Anglia Ruskin’s leading learning, technology and research centre. Ultralab, well known internationally for inavative approaches to education through the use of new and emerging technologies, was invited by the British Council to support minority Muslim children from the region of Pattani in Thailand.
Nan, Rus, Al, Ha and Wit and the other 40 children involved in the project lead lives worlds apart from British children. They live in small communities in Pattani, an area of the country where Western citizens are advised not to travel, due to frequent bombings and other forms of terrorism. The dangers of Westerners working in such a region meant the children were bought by bus from their homes to the coast to work with Ultralab making a film portraying life in Thailand.
Jonathan Furness and I worked in close collaboration with the British Council to plan an experience for these young people who do not use technology within their education. The plan was simple, to train them in five days to create film, music and animations which reflected their feeling towards life in Thailand. The output, as expected was incredibly creative, reflecting it still amazes me how creative young people are when when they have had absolutely no access to technology in their lives, these children had never touched a computer before, some had never watched television.
I’ve worked all over the world with children, from the peace process work in Northern Ireland, to major television projects with BBC television, and TVNZ in New Zealand, Korean education integration projects and now working on the beaches of Thailand. I’ve even filmed on a lifeboat for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) which was called out on active duty while Ultralab were working with the lifeboat service to use technology to enhance their ‘coolness factor’ in the eyes of young people, I think it is safe to say that working for Anglia Ruskin’s Ultralab, you never know what is coming next!
Ultralab has a global reputation for drawing out incredibly creative work from people of all ages and we’re always in demand to disseminate what we know; while conducting new research into how to bring out the best in people, through providing them with the tools and skills to bring out the best in themselves. In this case, by giving children state of the art equipment, all loaned at no charge from our friends at Apple Asia and telling them in groups of five to make a film exactly 100 seconds long without any limitations on what they can do or say, the audience being global.
rus_video_skills.jpgRus reflected in her ‘video diary’: “Hello my name is Rakiyah Sama, you can call me Rus. It is my honour to be a part of this project, I have received so much knowledge including: computer skills, making movie skills, how to edit a film; I learn technique which can be applied. I used to wonder how things were made on TV, now I have learned and that is an advantage! The trainers from the UK are very friendly and we have practised speaking english with them but sometimes we do not understand some of the things that they say, but if we try harder, one day we will! Thank you very much!”. Click to watch this text as a movie.
Lots of the young people made films on the beach attempting to show how normality had come back to their community, they also made clay animations and musical songs in the tradition of their country. Each child recieved a DVD containing all the work created during the two week workshop.

Some of the children we were working with had never met people from the west and were continually asking about life in England, education, family and daily lives. Working through translators is always a challenge, Jonathan and myself worked through a series of translators who were brought in specifically to support the project. This was particularly challenging as some of the technological terms we used had no equivalent Thai words. This meant that we and our translators had to work twice as hard to make it clear to the children, exactly what was possible with the technologies and our expectations from them.
At the end of the second week I went to Bangkok alone to work with educators at the Thai Knowledge Park (TK Park). TK Park is based in a shopping centre in the middle of the city and is a resource for the community to be creative. Another department from within the British Council paid for me to work with TK Park staff how to get the most out of technology creatively. I spent a week working closely with a wide age range of staff. National television channel TV5 arrived to cover the news that ‘Anglia Ruskin’s Ultralab’ were in Thailand working with people of all ages to support future learning potential. We made national news bulletins throughout the day as a lead story talking about how creative I think Thai children are when given access to technology in order to achieve their full potential. Word has spread further across Asia and other countries are now considering involving Ultralab in a digital creativity project in the future.
Those who know Ultralab will know the lab’s biggest success stories have come from taking risks which challenge the conventional and encourage radical innovation. Ultralab’s instantly recognisable logo and brandname emits a rich history of quality innovation and is much sought after as a project partner by governments, educators, businesses and community groups globally. Ultralab is continuing to attract new innovation in the field of digital creativity.
Some images from the event:
David Mathias from The British Council Reflects:
It was really good to have you both here and such a rewarding experience for all concerned. I learned a lot myself and was able to go into a school in Bangkok and run a similar workshop, this time for four days. I’ll be streaming it onto the web just as soon as I can find time. I also have the CDROM of the news broadcast you mention. Did I send you a copy? If not, let me know and I shall sort it. Cheers, Dave.
Click here to read what happened next in Bangkok (and watch the video report).

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