History of DeforestACTION

 In March 2010, 12 schools and 90 students from the Asia Pacific region were invited to Singapore for Microsoft’s Regional Innovative Education Forum. This was the birthplace of DeforestACTION, originally titled “The High Noon Project” after JF Rischards’ book “High Noon, 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them”.

Students and teachers decided they wanted to tackle one global issue – as a pilot – and they chose deforestation. They agreed on the name DeforestACTION, and launched a global collaborative project with, for and by students around the world. Over the course of 8 weeks, TakingITGlobal moderated online learning activities and project planning webinars, where students and teachers took a collaborative approach to global problem solving. They formed student action groups and designed plans to address deforestation in their local communities. Using an online voting system, the students selected a number of key approaches:

• Finding ways to preserve at risk forest and creating livelihoods for local landowners

• Creating a global awareness campaign for the destruction caused by palm oil production

• Collaborating with local people and helping animals who are victims of deforestation

The students decided to focus awareness and fundraising efforts towards a project in Borneo, Indonesia.


The school students decided they needed people representing them on the ground in Borneo.  In conjunction with Virgo Production and TakingITGlobal, students launched a call for young people from all over the world to submit 90-second video applications for a film project in early 2011. The applicants, aged 18 to 35, had to have a passion for orangutans and the environment, and explain why they wanted to be part of the project in the jungles of Borneo. They also had to fundraise and rally global supporters to become followers of the project.

Fifteen individuals from Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Kenya, France, Indonesia, the Netherlands and Singapore were eventually selected to head to Borneo in September 2011 for the first 20 days of the project. They came from varied backgrounds including: reforestation, government relations, geospatial technology, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation and the media.

The Eco Warriors travelled extensively through West Kalimantan in Borneo during the first 20 days, and witnessed local communities and villages threatened by the expansion of palm oil companies and needing alternative livelihoods. After returning to their home countries, the Eco Warriors raised awareness about these communities through talks at schools, media interviews and reports, and social and online media. They also worked to get sponsors and fundraise for the next 80 days of their project.

In March 2012, the team returned to Borneo for the next 80 days of the project. They were now a group of 11, with four members unable to return due to personal, professional and family commitments. The 11 members – Elizabeth Heavener (United States), Fahrani Empel (Indonesia), Ben Dessen (Australia), Fabrice Marre (France), Paul Daley (Australia), Thomas Smith (United Kingdom), Shadrack Kalasa (Kenya), Perry Schumacher (Canada), Kodi Twiner (Australia), Mark Kuroski (United States) and Neo Chai Chin (Singapore) – formed four teams including: animal rescue, education, reforestation and mapping.

Working with the resources they had, the Eco Warriors decided to focus their efforts on performing educational workshops at schools in the Sintang region and Tembak village, and assisting the latter to develop an animal rescue and rehabilitation site in its community forest – complemented by a nursery with fruit trees and other useful species – and ecotourism (aided by aerial images and GPS mapping). Supported by the Earthwatchers programme, the Eco Warriors also assisted the villagers of Ensaid Panjang longhouse who are facing challenges to hold on to their community forest against palm oil companies.

A hundred days is a short time for the rollout of their project, and the Eco Warriors have partnered with a team of capable and trusted locals  to continue the work when they leave. A few Eco Warriors are also looking into opportunities to return to Sintang and Tembak after the 100 days to continue implementing DeforestACTION.

Rise of the Eco-Warriors Film

Documenting the project and producing a film has been part of DeforestACTION from the start. Cathy Henkel, and her company Virgo Productions, joined the inaugural project management team, and the development of the film began in early 2011 with the first visit to Sintang and the surrounding region to scout the potential for the project. Originally the vision was to make a 3D movie and TV series, and the idea attracted active support from National Geographic and investors in Australia and Singapore. Cathy was joined by Mark White and Richard Hearman to produce the film and related multimedia components.

The Virgo team filmed the first 20 days of the project in September 2011, and produced a 5-minute teaser which was used to raise awareness and continue fund-raising. The ongoing impacts of the global financial crisis and a risk-averse investment community led to a re-visioning of the project as a 2D theatrical film. National Geographic withdrew at this point, as they were committed to the 3D concept, and new partners aligned with the different, more organic and intimate approach. 3D gave way to Real-D and the new investors rallied to support the next stage of filming.

In March 2012, Cathy and a small team of seven returned to Borneo to capture the return of the Eco-Warriors, and chart their endeavours, adventures and challenges as they occurred. Despite very limited resources, the story they are capturing is dramatic and compelling and the footage dynamic and beautiful. The crew will remain with the Eco-warriors until the end of the 100 days on June 6th, and will then re-assess the broadcast and cinema release potential of the project. Completing the financing of the project and editing the footage will be the next challenge for the Virgo team in the second half of the year, with the hope of releasing the movie, a TV series and other related media in mid-2013.

Cathy Henkel,
Producer, writer, director, May 15th 2012

For more information about the film, visit www.anactionmovie.com. For questions related to the film please email info@virgoproductions.com.au


Help us protect Borneo forests!