International Ocean Conservation Programs
So how does Ocean conservation work overseas??? As we walked in the stifling heat on a narrow dirt path that cut along between the village and ocean, we looked ahead through the brush and palm trees and could see a clearing in the distance. As we got closer, the trail opened into a grassy plaza where we could clearly see a gathering of men sitting on a woven matt under the shade of a large tree. I looked at the arrangement of the men sitting around a kava bowl so I could understand who was who and what the power structure was in the village – around a kava bowl, everyone has their specific place. I took mine, the place of honored guest, and Carin – the only woman present sat next to me. It was time to do business, Fijian style.
Ocean Conservation in Fiji
Ocean of Hope was back on the road in Fiji last month where we made two village visits. First, we returned to the island and community school on Malake, Fiji to check on our progress there. Malake was our first Overseas Classroom project and we continue to work with them. Malake is a traditional Fijian village whose men spearfish by freediving, mostly at night. They spearfish to provide food to eat but it is also their single source for the currency then need to buy the things they can not produce themselves. Initially, we supplied a copier, paper and toner which are being used to produce workbooks and exams which were both in critically short supply. This continues to be a huge benefit to the school as it provides them with their day to day working materials. The children were sitting on the floor to do their work so we also purchased a dozen chairs. You’ve never seen children so wildly happy about a chair. Later we sent two large boxes of English language paperback books. Materials to teach English are always in short supply and it’s critical for the children to learn English because nobody else in the world speaks Fijian. So if Fijians want to work in tourism or for companies doing business internationally – which are desirable and higher income jobs – they must know English. Moving forward, we will be sending another batch of children’s English book.
We always start by asking local people what they need so we met with village elders and the principle; we discussed the needs of the school and identified a generator as being first priority. Currently, they have no electricity during school hours which is significantly impacting the school so we are working with them to purchase one. They are also short on text books so we are working to set up an account with a local bookstore where we can authorize purchases for the school. The principal, Mrs. Taito is working closely with us on these projects. We are getting a list of needs, costs and preparing a budget.
We distributed 100 Project Aware Kids kits and teacher’s guides donated from Project AWARE. We could have donated 1000! This is our newest, front line tool in ocean conservation via education. The teachers love them because they not only teach ocean conservation, which many islanders know surprisingly little about but also double duty as English learning tools which are always in short supply – so it’s a double win!
You can help children discover the exciting world of sharks, coral reefs, whales and more. But the AWARE Kids program is not just about teaching. The Activity Book contains aquatic missions challenging kids to get out in the world and take action in shoreline cleanups, water conservation and recycling.
During our visit, the entire school turned out and performed a meke or traditional dance ceremony. It was both a generous gesture and great to see the kids having so much fun. They love celebrating their rich heritage and we have loved seeing the kids grow up over the past two years.
New Ocean Conservation Programs
Our second stop was the village school of Ravi Ravi on Beqa Island where we have started a new program. There, they have both primary and secondary schools. The secondary school is brand new and now children don’t have to leave the island for secondary education – this is huge. As usual, all serious discussions in a village in Fiji are done around the kava bowl and we had kava and discussions with the head master and village elders on the needs of the school and are now in the process of setting up a similar system where the school can purchase needed educational supplies paid for by OHF through local shops in the capital of Suva. In working with schools, we are now asking them to provide us with a list of what they need so we can prioritize those needs and create a forward looking budget. It was interesting to see that the headmaster enrolled the help of all the teachers in creating the list we were given and individual students who needed textbooks were listed by name. Additionally, we also donated 100 Project Aware Kids workbooks to the school! This process began with us presenting a teachers guide to the headmaster who in turn consulted with all the other teachers. It was then decided that the workbooks would be adopted for education at the school.
Ocean Conservation in Indonesia
Our next stop was New York City, the Big Apple, where we went to Beneath the Sea – the largest consumer dive show in the US. And you may ask, what does that have to do with OHF? Good question. One of our strategies and personal beliefs is to do ocean conservation work wherever our dive travels take us. And at Beneath the Sea, we met with the management of Misool Eco Resort who are our “on the ground” people for administering programs in Indonesia.
On Misool and the surrounding islands, there are a number of community schools that were built by the government and then mostly abandoned. The teachers that have been sent to teach at these schools are neither paid by the government nor well trained. They are paid, occasionally through a community fund but when the community has no money, the teachers are not paid and often do not show up to teach. Our immediate goal in Misool is to assist with teacher salaries and arrange for teachers from larger cities in Indonesia to come and train them. In Misool, teacher salaries run about $85-$125 a month. Until the schools there are operational on a consistent basis, effective education will not be possible so that’s where we are starting. We are getting information from Misool so we can work up a budget here as well and will be getting them Project AWARE kits in the next month.
What We’ve Learned About Ocean Conservation
We are always learning new lessons and more effective ways of doing ocean conservation.
Moving forward, in all villages we will have an educational slideshow entitled Your Amazing Ocean where we share with the village images that we have taken of the local reefs and fish. It creates a sense of pride and ownership and for many, is the first time that they have ever seen what the reefs look like underwater. We got this idea after talking with teachers that told us that many people in the villages don’t know that much about the Ocean.
The Project Award Kids workbooks have been a big hit with the teachers and students alike. We have found that it is necessary to do a training session with teachers using the material because even though we make teachers guides available, sometimes they need someone to work with them on how it will actually be used in the classroom.
OHF has established local representatives on the ground that will work with us on an ongoing basis to implement and monitor the work we are doing. It is critical to have local partners.
Thank You for Supporting Ocean Conservation
Thank you for your trust and support. We want you to know that we are careful stewards of your gifts and always look for ways to create the greatest results for time or money spent.
We continue to pour hundreds of hours of our own personal time, our money and hearts into OHF. Because we run our international Ocean of Hope programs concurrently with our dive trips, Global Dive Expeditions provides almost all the operating expenses for OHF so over 99% of all donations go directly to programs where they are really make a difference. This is almost unheard of in the non profit world. Our legal services (Rapier & Wilson and Hunton & Williams), banking services (American National Bank of Texas), logo and graphics work (Villy Werner), printing services (Minuteman Press Greenville Rd, Dallas) and accounting services (Larkin and Rainey PC) are all donated. THANKS GUYS!
We believe that a grass roots, educational approach to creating an entire new generation of ocean stewards and explorers is already starting to pay dividends. Small right now, yes. But we’ve only just begun.