Between 2005 and 2010 the Ragdoll Foundation produced a ground-breaking initiative designed to celebrate the strength and power that children have when living “against the odds”. It premiered in the UK on Channel Five and twelve films were completed with additional financial support from the Department for International Development (DFID) and Channel Five. The project began as a collaboration with Save the Children and additional on the ground NGO support was also received from Oxfam and UNICEF.
The programme content of What Makes Me Happy is child centred and designed to entertain as well as educate.
Each programme is based on the experiences of children in very different situations: housing estates in the UK and Holland; mountain villages in Nepal and Vietnam; industrial cities in China, Colombia and Bangladesh; the desert in Ethiopia; a refugee camp in Occupied Palestinian Territories; a post tsunami village in Sri Lanka; and remote villages in South Sudan and Uganda.
By helping viewers to develop a more accurate picture of an area, we can begin to lessen any fear of the unknown. We can also give them the opportunity to measure their lives against the lives of the children on screen in a positive light. The discussion this gives rise to, can be very revealing and begin to change attitudes that may lead to a more hopeful future.
To give the films honesty and to make the stories as real as possible and as close to the hearts of the communities as possible, we set up workshops in each of the countries. By actively involving a wide group of children within each country to develop the story, we ensure that the films stay true to the children’s own experiences and give the children and their communities a stake in the production.
By exploring ‘happiness’ we create positive energy and ultimately a series of films that have equal status on the broadcast platform. Each film runs approximately 12 minutes with completely diverse and original stories that are both entertaining and informative. There is no need for voice over or sub-titles as each story is easily understood by pictures alone and language is used only as representation of the culture. Target age group is 8 years old.
An important facet of this project was to build up relationships with local film makers and to use as many local personnel as possible. This not only gives each programme a style of its own, but also enables film makers to cross the cultural divide and get their work shown internationally. Many of the film makers were relatively inexperienced and we hope the opportunity of working on this series gave them a new experience and a wider profile. The programmes have been screened at numerous international film festivals and been awarded many trophies from festivals held in the USA, Canada, China, India and Iran.
What Makes Me Happy has a format that is particularly successful in building empathy with groups of children who are highly politicised or seen as a threat. The series encourages the viewer to identify with the child first, rather than the popular stereotype. This is a great benefit in breaking down stigma and building empathy with groups such as former child soldiers, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced or persecuted minorities at the local as well as national and international levels. More generally these groups of children are very under-represented in media and virtually ‘forgotten’ by the outside world.
What Makes Me Happy was produced by Annie Gibbs for The Ragdoll Foundation from an idea by Anne Wood, Founder and Creative Director of Ragdoll Productions Ltd and Trustee of The Ragdoll Foundation.