Zambia Red Cross a ‘global champion’ in climate games

Published: 5 August 2014 16:51 CET

By Hansika Bhagani, IFRC

When the Zambia Red Cross Society invited its volunteers to take part in a game that would change the way communities learn about climate change and flooding, they eagerly signed up. They sat down to play UpRiver, a game designed to teach fundamental concepts of river flow, forecasting, and flooding, using sponges and cups of water to mimic the flow of river water and to illustrate basic principles of upstream-downstream flows and floods.

The pilot project was designed in collaboration with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Zambia Red Cross Society, and game design team Engagement Game Lab. The Climate Centre’s Associate Director for Research and Innovation, Pablo Suarez said the involvement of the Zambia Red Cross Society was inspiring. “We are very grateful to the Zambia Red Cross for embracing innovation. We understand that like many other National Societies the team has more work than can be managed with the resources they have,” he said. “They have found in games an opportunity for engaging stakeholders all the way from community groups to the national government level in accelerating the learning and the dialogue. Zambia Red Cross has been a global champion in integrating participatory games into their ongoing work.”

Suarez has been working with games for learning since 2008. “In Ethiopia I had to explain something very complicated to illiterate farmers and I just improvised a game using stones. Every farmer started with two stones, and if any child in the community got malaria the child’s household had to pay 10 stones. Seeing that nobody had enough, they quickly figured out they could pool their resources. They created and owned the idea, which is basically the idea of insurance or collective disaster management. Since then I’ve been improving and diversifying and working with others. We have recruited professional game designers and other humanitarian workers who are talented facilitators. Since 2011, we have been growing very rapidly. We have been receiving grants to go deeper and now it’s a well-established modality and approach that people seem to like a lot.”

In Zambia, piloting UpRiver has been an exciting new initiative for Wisford Mudenda, the Zambia Red Cross Society’s head of disaster management. “Since trialling it with the volunteers, we had a lot of feedback which we sent back to the game developers in Boston. In September, the game will come back and we will be able to start using it at a community level. We have disaster management structures which will play these games with the community and see if they are workable.”

Suarez is confident UpRiver will have an impact in the community when it’s launched in September. “In the communities where we have had the fortune of going more than once, the game experience is remembered fondly and is frequently viewed as an eye-opener and the moment that created the appetite for people to want to learn more. One can see in the eyes of the participants the positive influence of the game experience which is fundamentally about experiential learning,” he said. “It’s not learning by listening, it’s learning by actively engaging in an experience that enables people to construct knowledge based on figuring out how the game system works.”

As well as UpRiver, the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre is working on a number of different games to illuminate varying weather and health issues around the world. “We are also designing games for donors to understand the value of acting before disasters, especially when science forecasts indicate that a disaster is more likely than usual. There is a precious window of opportunity where a little bit of support from donors can make a big difference for preparedness. This could be about tropical cyclones, rainfall in the upper Zambezi likely to cause flooding in the lower Zambezi, or about El Nino which is likely to lead to drier conditions in southern Africa,” Suarez said.

For interested National Societies, Suarez notes that while a number of the Red Cross Red Crescent games have been trialled throughout many African National Red Cross Societies, games are available for free, and publicly. “If people want to use them they can download the materials or watch a training video. It’s important to note that because these games are intensely interactive it can be challenging to facilitate games for those who are not experienced facilitators. We have some games that are simple and a lot of fun and easy to facilitate. These games scratch the surface and they do that well. But then we have some other games that require having tried it before.”

See the range of Red Cross Red Crescent’s Climate Centre games here: