Accidentally traveling light

“Are you ok?”

“Why are you on your own?”

“Where are your parents?”

 

Did I really look that helpless arriving into Manila two weeks ago? I thought I was doing pretty well on my first time solo trip. No missed flights, everything on time, I even managed to navigate through four different airports without getting hopelessly lost (a big feat for me, being navigationally challenged). There was the minor issue of my luggage with all of my belongings being nowhere to be found… But I was being uncharacteristically calm about the situation – and the lovely Filipino woman who demanded the airport offered me a free night in a hotel made me smile, even if they laughed and refused.

 

When you arrive here you learn very quickly that not much works as you would expect it to. I had mentally prepared myself for culture shock so I found it was actually the small things that surprised me. I still haven’t gotten the hang of queuing in public bathrooms… But the saga of the missing bag was what really hammered the lesson home. After five long days of wearing the same sweaty clothes,  I made a 2-hour journey by habal-habal, bus and tricycle from our base at MCP in Zamboanguita back to Dumaguete airport. The sheer relief when I could see my bag stored in a cargo building was short lived when the security told me they were closed and I was to return at 6am the next morning.

“But it’s right therrrrrreeee!”

“But I’ve been waiting for daysssss!”

No luck. It’s not often you stop to consider an airport closes down when the sun goes down, but that’s Dumaguete for you.

 

All the traveling had turned my many bites ugly and I was getting eaten alive arguing with the guards. I swear, if I get Dengue Fever from this whole ordeal Aer Lingus will be hearing from me. Feeling defeated and sweaty I retreated back to a hostel for the night. At least I’d get a good nights sleep from the adventure… Wrong again. Having found myself in a last-minute room basically placed on the busy main road of Dumaguete coupled with being covered head to toe in heat rash left me missing my bed in MCP.  I eventually reunited with my bag the following morning, and even made it back in time to MCP for our first day snorkelling.  I will be forever grateful to the habal-habal driver who managed to fit my 25kg bag on his handlebars, myself on the back and manoeuvre through the massive puddles of mud left from the rain on the rough road back to base. Thanks Gerry, you’re the real MVP!

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It’s funny to think back to those first few days now on to my third week here, sitting on the balcony of our mansion in Panglao (not technically a mansion – but it at least feels like a mansion after living in one room with six people for two weeks). In hindsight, I may have overreacted on day one when my taxi driver took a wrong turn and my immediate thought was “I’m being kidnapped”. I also still cringe at myself for accepting the drivers’ word at the airport when he assured me that 2,000 pesos was a set price for a transfer from terminal 1 to terminal 3. But, despite some initial newbie falters, I’m pleased to say I’m alive. I’ve managed to improve my haggling skills and have yet to collapse from dehydration or sun burn. We’ve probably squeezed a year worth of lectures, experience and training into two weeks and it’s only the beginning. But what’s the main lesson learned from weeks 1 & 2?….

 

 

I’ve packed way too much!

 

 

 

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Getting Back To Life In The Philippines

It has been nearly two weeks since I began my 29+ hour travel experience from London Heathrow to my eventual destination of Dumaguete in the Visayas region of the Philippines. The journey was surprisingly pleasant and incident free.
It began, like I said in a busy and multi-cultural Heathrow airport. With trepidation over the increased security a direct result of the current global situation, I breezed through security with no mention of the rather alien looking Regulators in my hand luggage that are so often questioned. After a rather amusing exchange with a particularly jolly security official regarding my lack of sleep and general lack of common sense, as well as a lot of British style ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you sirs’, I was home free.
I struggle to sleep on planes, especially planes that provide me with endless movies and TV shows, beer and endless food, and 9 short hours later I found myself in Oman. With barely enough time to blink before my connecting flight to Manila, I audibly groaned at the thought of another security check. This time I wasn’t so lucky. In full view and in the way of everyone’s progress, a guard asked me to empty my bag. With various clothes splayed across a conveyor belt he stared perplexed at the set of hoses looking back at him. Thankfully, a co-worker with the largest assault rifle i’ve ever seen reassured everyone that he’d seen it before and I was free to go. PHEW!
Another 8 hours of limited sleep later I arrived at Manila airport, with a change to sleep in my favourite dark spot of terminal 3. It wasn’t meant to be however, with a few grumbles about change and ‘the man’ I walked away in my defeat as my favourite sleeping place was now a Starbucks.
With a final push and an hour and a half long flight I finally made it to Dumaguete. With 24 hours of spare time ahead of me I familiarised myself with the sights and sounds of the city. Sampling food, and various modes of transport with varying levels of success. FYI if you have the option of a tricycle but they’re charging 10 pesos more than the correct rate and won’t budge, take it! The walk across Dumaguete city in midday sun is not worth that 20 pence you manage to save.

 

Arrival day

Thus began life at MCP. Where do I begin? The food, the people and the setting were all fantastic. Not to mention the amazing bunch of doggos all with differing personalities and quirks. My favourite had to be the regal and majestic compass though, a delight to be around! The unforgettable two weeks I spent here have been truly great. Exploring the area, in particular Casaroro Falls, learning about all the different projects and internships happening in one place and meeting so many different people from all walks of life. I cannot think of a better place to complete the training for the Zoox programme. I only hope I can go back again one day. Hopefully to do some serious stats, but even just for the infamous Saturday nights, great trees, and the basketball hoop.

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Seagrass, a hidden treasure

I remember as a kid I never really liked seagrass. It often felt slimy, looked dirty, got entangled in my hair. I preferred the sand, burying my feet in it, making sand castles with it. The fact that I got sand in my hair didn’t seem to bother me as much as the seagrass for some reason.  How amazed I was roughly two decades later when I learned about seagrass and how to distinguish it. HU, HM, HT, EA, TH, SI, CS, HO what? I never expected that seagrass could be that interesting. Seagrass is a valuable coastal resource capable of indicating change, providing a food source, and creating a safe habitat for sea life.

You discover a whole new world as the seagrass becomes alive beneath you, revealing its hidden treasures. Hovering over it you can detect the small oxygen bubbles it produces, you can distinguish waspfishes, filefishes, collector urchins, seastars, pipefishes and seahorses, all searching shelter and feeding grounds.  Seagrass beds account for 0.2% of  Seagrass and pipefishocean floor but absorb 10% of global carbon buried in the sea.  Knowing that almost an area of an entire football field gets destroyed every 30 minutes, I can’t even begin to imagine the impact further up the ecosystem. Threats – human influences such as nutrient loading (N in particular), algal blooms causing a shift in species composition, algae directly competing with the seagrass for light reducing their photosynthetic efficiency, over fishing, destructive fishing techniques, push nets and land reclamation – are all major factors contributing to their decline. With a quadrat we had to identify and estimate the coverage level of the seagrass. After our eyes adjusted we looked for veins, serrated ridges, rounded leaf tips or even bat(man) shaped edges. Looking for clues and subtle changes, you feel like a true explorer.  That is exactly what Zoox is about. It lets you explore new interest areas and shows you the relationship and interconnectivity of marine ecosystems and how they all influence each other. Apparently, it doesn’t take longer than a couple of hours to get rid of a childhood misconception.

The first two weeks of the Zoox Experience Program we stay at the training center of Marine Conservation Philippines (MCP) on the island of Negros Oriental. We are being taught about the science of marine conservation, global laws and policies, marine monitoring of coral and seagrass, blue carbon, shark conservation, professional development and responsible diving in separate modules.  An interesting mix of lectures no university offers with such a hand-on approach. Moreover, we share the premises with the staff, interns and volunteers of MCP. Coming from different backgrounds, we all share the same passion: the ocean. Some help to protect it while scuba diving, conducting reef surveys to identify substrate, invertebrates and fish. Other organise community outreach programs, educating and raising awareness among children, fishermen and government officials. Still others conduct research on alternative livelihoods, Marine Protected Areas, solid waste management, mangrove nurseries and blue carbon offsets.

Thanks to Zoox, new worlds unfold before your eyes the more you learn about it, and with knowledge comes caring, and caring brings about the necessary change to protect the Earth and its oceans. A learning school for true changemakers, everyone to find its own way!

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To New Beginnings

After learning about Zoox in September it feels weird to actually be here. It always seemed so far away, but I’m so excited to actually be here now! First look at the Philippines has been amazing. Everyone has been very welcoming. Starting with my seat-mates on my 14-hour flight from the United States. They were very helpful. I knew the whole lay out of Manila airport before even arriving. Some people had to pay for a taxi to take them between terminals. They told me exactly where to get the bus for free. They offered loads of information and made my nerves calm down a bit.

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After the first week we all went to Casaroro Falls. The falls were breathtaking. The walk to get there took more breath than I was expecting, or should I say the walk back. Getting to the falls was full of excitement. Once we got there we jumped in and I immediately turned into an ice cube. Then it was back to soaking up the sun. When we were done we made our way back jumping from rock to rock and counting the steps- roughly 300 steps! Lets just say I am definitely getting my exercise here in the Philippines.

 

Soon we will be leaving Zamboanguita and traveling to Panglao to start assessments on Green Fins members. I have enjoyed Zamboanguita and staying with Marine Conservation Philippines. It was nice to meet a lot of different people and get to know them. The cooks here at MCP have also been amazing. Definitely not going hungry here. Now the next six weeks where I will have to cook for myself, that’s another story. I have learned a ton these first two weeks and I cannot wait to see what the next six weeks hold in store for me.

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The Power of the Presentation

With the June – August Zoox Experience Programme just a few months away, our Programmes Officer Alan provides some of his best tips for successful delivery of training and presentations.

Dress to fit the role and expectation.

As much as I hate to admit it, being the same person in each of the above photos, fromAlan.jpg an external perspective, the only person I would trust to present to government staff on environmental policy is the person wearing smart trousers and a shirt (Picture 3). But it is all about tailoring your look to the role. If you fit in with your audience they are much more likely to accept what you are saying as they already feel like they are on a social level with you. Training a dive centre’s staff in a suit is not the best way to action change just as attending a government meeting in a vest will not earn respect.

A good rule to live by is to be better dressed, than the least well-dressed person in the room. Look like you belong and you will be accepted as a peer, whatever the scenario (moustache and cravat optional!).

Give individual attention to each of the people you are speaking to.

This is especially true for smaller groups of up to 30 individuals. During a 45 minute presentation, you can give each audience member a cumulative minute of attention. By making eye contact and speaking directly to individuals they will feel much more engaged in the presentation or training and less likely to fall asleep! If it is only a small group in a classroom then get everyone to introduce themselves at the beginning, make them a part of the experience and get to know them. This way you can tailor the delivery of information to the individual. For example correct oil disposal to the compressor boy and boat captain, not throwing anchors to the boat crew and role model diving behaviour to the dive guides.

Minimise your use of notes – be guided by your tools

By remembering the verbal part of your presentation, it will allow it to flow more naturally rather than looking down at notes or cards and then losing your place, frantically searching and flipping cards, dropping them on the floor, attempting to reorder them unsuccessfully before crying and dying.

Instead be guided by your visual presentation, if using slides then “extend” your screen to the projector and keep track of what is next using the presenter mode on your laptop. This way you can guide your speech and whatever you do, never just read words off a slide!

Don’t Fidget

Usted 3e your hands to emphasise your points. Draw in your audience with body language. Keep your arms slighter wider than your body, face the palms up. While not fidgeting, don’t go the opposite way and make every move eccentric, leaping from one side of the screen to the other! Watch a couple of Ted Talks and look at how they move, how they talk and how they stand. Build this in to your presentation skills.

“Put down that clicky pen, leave the pocket fluff alone, keep your hair out of your face, and phone in your bag.”

Stick to the timing

Value other people’s time! If someone shows up to a 45-minute presentation and it takes an hour, then tdownload.jpghey will be frustrated and clock watching wanting to leave. If the presentation is shorter than scheduled, then people will not feel like you have given enough and will leave unsatisfied. Not sticking to the timing also has implications if you are speaking at a large conference. Everyone will be expected to speak within a carefully planned time slot and not sticking to the allotted time has knock effects for the rest of the program. So, make sure you are well rehearsed and don’t be tempted to add something in on the spur of the moment unless you know you can squeeze it in.

 Animations are ugly!

Boings, Lazers, Whizzes, Bouncing and Spins are best left in your high school IT classroom. No matter how fun you think they are it will make your presentation look amateurish despite all your hard work setting their timings. Making small amounts of text ‘appear’, as necessary, is the limit.

 Design it well

Comic Sans is ugly, Arial is (relatively) beautiful. Remember this!  Stick to simple fonts that are easy to read and your audience won’t be lost. Also think carefully This is in no way easy to read.jpgabout your colour scheme. Never use yellow and white together (I remember a terrible 2 hour lecture from a PhD student back when I was an undergraduate. I am sure her subject was
interesting but she has used yellow text on a white background. It was simply impossible to read) and spare a thought for the colour blind before you use red and green. Often it is best to stick to the basics. Dark blue or black on contrasting background is your safest bet. And don’t forget to include plenty of pictures. Visual stimuli are much better at capturing the attention than mountains of text which will go unread, or detract attention away from what you are saying.

 

But most of all relax and have fun. If you are enjoying the presentation then your audience will feel this and reciprocate. Be bright, smile lots and be safe in the knowledge that it will soon be over!

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Looking backward and forward!

After 8 weeks spent with my chaps of the Zoox Experience Programme, here I am… Cebu city! … where I am waiting for my flight that will bring me back to Manila in 24 hours.

It is quite weird to be back in a big city after 8 weeks of isolation near Zamboanguita and on Malapascua. Everything appears much more populated, bigger and noisier, which it’s obviously not just an appearance, but the difference is even more blatant!

I had to leave Malapascua a bit sooner than expected. Two days of fever and an infection provided me with the “nice” opportunity of visiting Cebu’s hospital; thankfully, nothing too serious, with antibiotics becoming my new best friend for seven days.

The early departure has resulted in a longer stay in Cebu for waiting for my flight. In the meantime, it has provided me with more time for some reflections on the two months I have just spent in the Philippines, as well as the next ones!

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It may be the end of ZEP, but for me it’s also the start of a 7 month travel through Southeast Asia: Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos … here we come! This is also only a goodbye to the Philippines, as we will end up here again before going back to Europe.

 

I am now in this weird situation where nostalgia and excitement are mixing.

Looking backward… the ZEP was an experience I will not forget!

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Steph, Kate, myself, Jenny and Angie on our first week in the Philippines.

 

On one hand, I will miss the other volunteers Kate, Steph, Jenny and Angie, as well as the Zoox team, Alan and Sam, with whom I have learnt a lot and had a lot of fun. I have so many good memories that it is not possible to list all of them; all I can say now is THANK YOU for this amazing experience!

 

 

On the other hand, I will miss my time spent on Malapascua collaborating with dive centres and local dive guides, while getting all this practical and professional experience working on marine conservation projects. It was sometimes intense and tiring, but always interesting and rewarding, and this experience has given me useful new perspectives on my professional career.

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Beautiful view of Malapascua from the boat !

Looking forward… I must not complain… it does not look bad at all!

7 month of freedom through Southeast Asia is quite a nice perspective.

At the very beginning of ZEP, I presented myself as being a sponge, absorbing and digesting all the useful information provided during the training.

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I have enjoyed it so much, that I don’t see any reason to stop. However, I may decide to evolve and become another species of sponge. Indeed, instead of digesting new information and professional experience about marine conservation, I will start absorbing new Asian cultures, adventures and encounters to make me grow!

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A little shark love

I wasn’t always such a shark lover. After watching Jaws as a child, I refused to go in the swimming pool for weeks. Those days are long gone though and I have become an avid shark advocate.

As I am sure you are all aware there is a war on sharks right now. A full blown war that sharks, all types of sharks are facing. They are caught for their fins, their oily livers, used for food and of course because they are perceived to be big, bad, human eating predators.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that 50% of sharks are threatened or near threatened (http://www.iucnredlist.org/). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It uses a set of criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world. With its strong scientific base, the IUCN Red List is recognized as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity.

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Shark liver oil is sometimes used in cosmetics and vaccines. So a shark may have died for your vanity. Many brands of sunscreen, make up and moisturizers contain shark liver oil or squalene. It’s favoured for it’s moisturizing properties. A United Nations report lists more than 50 shark species that are fished for their oil, several of which are currently listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Sharks have oily livers which helps them maintain their buoyancy without the need for an air bladder. There are lots of alternatives to squalene, including olive oil or wheat germ. However alternatives are usually more expensive than shark oil. Like Unilever, L’Oreal is currently completing the phase-out of production with shark-based squalene and its substitution with the plant-based ingredient. Beiersdorf, LVMH, Henkel, Boots, Clarins, Sisley and La Mer (an Estée Lauder brand) also have either made the decision to stop using shark-based squalene or had a policy to never use it in the first place, according to information the European headquarters of these companies provided to Oceana. 

Sharks are also prized for their fins, which is made into shark fin soup. Shark finning targets 23-73 million sharks a year and the majority of the shark is thrown back in the ocean. Less than 10% of the shark is used, it is extremely wasteful. Many finning operations are illegal operations and most sharks are alive when their fins are cut off and they are thrown back in the ocean to drown. The top shark fin importers are Hong Kong (58%) and China(38%). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization identified the top 20 countries that are responsible for 80% of the Global Shark Catch. Indonesia, India, Spain and Taiwan account for over 35% of that catch. These figures are also probably a conservative estimate of what is actually going on.

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Sharks are slow to reproduce with most species of sharks only reaching sexual maturity after 12-15 years. They also have a lengthy pregnancy of 9 to 22 months with a resting period between litters. Furthering the shark crisis.

Sharks aren’t the man eating, killing machines they are portrayed as in the media. 98 people last year were attacked by sharks with 6 being killed. Considering the number of people who enter the oceans, if sharks wanted to kill more of us, they easily could. Shark attacks are reported world wide and with more people having phones can check those articles more quickly, increasing the fear. Humans kill more sharks in a minute than sharks kill people in a year. 
One study in 2014 by Tulane University put the chance at dying from a shark at 1 in 8 million, compared with 1 in 90 for a car accident, 1 in 1,600,000 for impact by a space rock, or 1 in 195 million for winning the PowerBall lottery. Cows, vending machines and ants all kill more people annually than sharks. 
How can you help sharks?
Research the ingredients in your cosmetics, everything from hair conditioners to lip gloss. Don’t buy cosmetics that use shark oil in their products.
Don’t eat at restaurants that serve shark fin soup.
When you order fish and chips and they tell you that it’s made of flake, you are probably eating shark (especially in the UK and Australia). Tell them you don’t want to be contributing to the extinction of a species.
Don’t use Fed Ex for shipping. Switch to UPS who does not accept shark fins. 
Don’t fly with airlines that allow shark fins to be transported. 
Support companies that are fighting for sharks, my favourite is: http://dorsalclothing.com/
You can make a difference in the survival of sharks. Spread the word, get involved.

 

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Why Malapascua?

Dear friends, my time in the Philippines is almost over. This tiny island called Malapascua has been my base for the last 6 weeks working as a Green Fins Coordinator. But why did the conservation program bring us here? There are 7107 islands in the Philippines, why Malapascua?

Malapascua has a thriving dive industry. There used to be 8 dive operators on the island, now there are 21. Diving is the only reason to make the effort to come here, to be more specific Thresher Sharks are the reason divers come to Malapascua – to dive at Monad Shoal. These sharks look very distinctive with a long tail fin that can be the same length as their bodies (2-3m). The tail fin is used like a whip to stun their prey.

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Monad Shoal is famous for being the only place in the world where thresher sharks can be seen regularly at and just before sunrise. What is so special about Monad Shoal that the sharks go there every day? These sharks are a nocturnal and pelagic (deep water) species but they come up to shallower depths of 25-30m between 05:30-07:30, not to find food, but to be cleaned. Small wrasse fish clean the gills and mouth of the sharks and remove parasites from their bodies.

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This week, I went to Monad Shoal for the first time and it was amazing!!

I was so thrilled to see a thresher shark I almost forgot to breathe! (the number one rule of scuba diving is never hold your breath!). The sharks circle around the seamount (underwater mountain) waiting to be cleaned and our guide strategically positioned us in a sandy area so we’d have a great view and cause no damage to the reef – very important to remember while diving! As we swam back towards our boat, we saw another shark at 15m, which apparently is not very common to see at that depth so that was extra exciting and we all did a little happy wiggle dance underwater! Our group emerged from the water with big smiles and feeling exhilarated.

The diving industry on Malapascua is dependent on Monad Shoal and the regular presence of the thresher sharks. The sharks are the reason divers come to Malapascua. The tourists who come to Malapascua sustain the livelihoods of the locals. Fact. Because of the sharks and the diving industry, the locals have jobs and can provide for their families.

All businesses benefit from those who come to dive, from local accommodations to bars, restaurants, shops and of course the dive centres. Tourism however is both an opportunity and a threat and must be controlled if it is to be sustainable. If the locals benefit from tourism, then how is it a threat?

To put it bluntly, divers are damaging the coral reefs around Malapascua. How is this happening?

  • fins coming into contact with fragile coral and breaking it (this is the most common cause of damage)
  • fins stirring up sand which then smothers the coral, this can also disturb animals that live in the sand
  • sitting/standing on the reefs which can break the coral
  • equipment such as depth gauge, spare regulator and camera hanging down which then can hit corals, causing them to break
  • touching corals which can break them
  • resting camera equipment on corals to take photographs
  • not being aware of surroundings while taking photographs can cause damage
  • not having good buoyancy skills means you are less able to control your position in the water

How are these threats controlled and minimised? Green Fins is the solution!

During these past 6 weeks, we have trained almost 200 dive centre staff on the island to empower them to help change the behaviour of divers so the above situations do not happen. As well as training we also gave the dive centres lots of materials they can use to help get the message across to their customers, such as this poster:

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Attention Divers! Follow these do’s and don’ts to protect all marine life and help keep the reefs healthy.

The above threats are all about corals and do not mention sharks so what is the connection between coral reefs and sharks? This diagram shows how corals support everything on the reef:

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To relate this to Monad Shoal, if there is no healthy coral, there are no fish (fish live on the coral reefs), if there are no fish to clean them, there are no sharks.

One dive centre manager made this honest statement:

“no sharks, no divers, no business, no jobs”.

By following the Green Fins advice, the impact on the coral reefs is reduced. Fact.

Green Fins works! The results of our assessments on the dive centres have shown a decrease in the negative effect on the coral reefs, which is fantastic news. The dive centres on Malapascua are adopting the Green Fins guidelines enthusiastically and in so doing are protecting not only the reef and the thresher sharks but also their business and jobs and of course meaning that divers will have beautiful healthy reefs to visit for many years.

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Thank you for reading!

 

 

 

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Have you been sunbathing? No, I have dengue fever!

I suppose after a summer of several accidents whilst working in Greece it was inevitable that I would end up in hospital at some point! However I could not have predicted how, why and when that would happen.

Accident number 1 – fell over backwards onto my bike and put out my right hand out to break my fall and ended up with a sprained wrist.

Accident number 2 – Sprained ankle this time. After stepping down off a coach my left ankle rolled over and I could hardly walk. I hobbled around on crutches for 3 days and relied on lifts to and from work, this was the most serious I had hurt myself ever.

Accident number 3 – I collided with a moped whilst riding my bike and hurt my left leg.

Accident number 4 – Whilst waiting in a queue of traffic on my bike for the lights to change, I was hit by a car, as I fell over, I just thought ‘not again!’ Luckily I wasn’t hurt at all but the bike was damaged. I just couldn’t believe my bad luck at being in yet another accident and 3 out of 4 of them involving my bike. After that I decided to walk to work!

I made it out of Greece in one piece in September and less than 2 months later I found myself admitted to hospital in the Philippines!

Having completed the 2 week studying part of the Zoox marine conservation course, we had moved to the small island of Malapascua to start the practical work experience as assessors for Green Fins as explained in my last blog (you don’t know what you don’t know 2 Nov). After 10 days on the island I began to feel unwell – big headache and my face, neck and chest felt very hot. I had to cancel my dive the next day and I spent the next 3 days in bed, taking paracetamol to try and reduce the fever. My manager Alan thought I had dengue fever and recommended I go to hospital on day 4 of the fever. He has had dengue and so recognised the symptoms and knew what to do.

With a temperature of 38.6 degrees I set off with Alan to go to the hospital. Malapascua does not have a hospital and so we had to go to one on the mainland in the city of Cebu. We took a small rowing boat out to the big boat that would take us across to the mainland port, however because of low tide we had to then step down off the big boat to another small rowing boat to take us to shore. There was quite a lot of swell so timing had to be right to step down into it, I was feeling quite shaky but with help was able to step down to the small boat, as we made our way to shore, we were hit sideways by more waves that almost capsized us! Thankfully the car journey of 3.5 hours was uneventful, just the normal Philippine way of driving – honking at everyone, overtaking every vehicle and sudden braking to avoid oncoming traffic whilst overtaking – often on bends or going up hill!

I was admitted to the hospital after blood tests confirmed I had dengue fever. I was a bit confused when they asked me if I had been sunbathing as my face was so red – err no people, I’ve been in bed for 3 days!

The staff who looked after me were lovely and competent even though they did all look about 12 years old but without fail came to check my vital signs (blood pressure, temperature and screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-17-12-12pulse) every 4 hours and I mean EVERY 4 hours. For the whole week I was in hospital I did not get a single night of good sleep. Every night I had at least three people coming in to see me between midnight and six am – to take blood, check the iv bag, take my temperature (in my armpit) and even though it was the middle of the night, they entered with a very cheery and loud ‘good morning m’am’. I’m sorry but it is not good morning when it is clearly the middle of the night and I am asleep, needless to say the response they got from me was far less enthusiastic!

Twice a day a small army of people (medical students, nurses) came to see me on their rounds, this involved about 9 of them coming in the room, looking at me then disappearing again just as quickly, usually one of them took a quick look at the IV bag but that was it – in and out in 10 seconds.

Shortly after their morning visit my doctor came to check on me. Doctor Bimbo Tequillo. I swear I am not making up that name!

He assured me I wasn’t going to die (thanks doc!), explained the results of the blood tests and said I could stay as long as I wanted. After several days of fever, the platelets and white blood cells drop. The normal platelet count is between 140,000 to 440,000, when I was admitted my count was 58,000, over the next 2 days it continued to drop to 35,000. This did rather concern me but Dr Bimbo was not worried (he was a very cheerful chap!) so I trusted him. Dengue fever is treated just with an IV drip to keep you hydrated until the fever goes and the platelet count increases.

Dr Tequillo and the staff were wonderful, the food was not!

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I am British, I don’t eat rice and vegetables for breakfast!

Here is an example of one of my meals – burnt roast potatoes with a slice of orange!

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It was always amusing to see just a pile of carbs (usually mashed potato) on the plate. The salad or vegetables were always in a separate dish. One night I even got a four course dinner – soup, salad, spaghetti and a slice of pineapple for dessert!

After one week of lying in bed with the IV drip in my hand I was finally well enough to be discharged. Hurray! So here I am back on the island of Malapascua, enjoying the fresh sea breeze and sunshine and hoping the rest of the year will be accident & illness free!

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Capacity-building: one word for unlimited questioning!

While starting the work as Green Fins assessor on Malaspacua, I also got assigned to a personal project aiming to further develop my professional skills and support the Green Fins team in its activities.

Here is the title of this project:

Develop and deliver advanced capacity building for the Green Fins Ambassador Programme in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Instead of detailing the various actions I am trying to put in place to achieve the project’s objectives, I prefer sharing my reflections on what capacity building means… what a challenge!

The first objective of the Green Fins ambassadors programme was to establish a permanent presence of Green Fins in different locations where there are active members. This would ensure a continuous support to dive centres and communities for minimising their environmental impact on the marine environment.

Of course, for achieving such objective, it was rightly deemed necessary to identify the motivated local people and to build their capacity for implementing Green Fins values.

When consulting my friend Wikipedia about capacity building, this is the definition he provided me:

Community capacity building (CCB), also referred to as capacity development, is a conceptual approach to social or personal development that focuses on understanding the obstacles that inhibit people, governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations from realizing their development goals while enhancing the abilities that will allow them to achieve measurable and sustainable results.

Thanks to the advices of my other friend Google, I have received the opportunity to consult an interesting book:

“Capacity-building: An Approach to People-centred Development” – Deborah Eade 1997

While the author insists on the fact that there is a panel of definition for capacity-building, this is her understanding of capacity-building:

Capacity building is an approach to development – Strengthening people’s capacity to determine their own values and priorities, and to organise themselves to act on them, is the basis of development. (Eade and Williams, 1995:9)

telechargementThe word “capacity building” is not new to me as you can hear it being used quite often by NGOs and politicians, often mentioned as THE solution to a lot of problems, especially in development cooperation. However, when I have started concretely working on it, I have realised how complex is the issue and started to think that a lot of people are using the word without really understanding all the ins and outs.

Don’t get me wrong… I don’t consider myself as an expert on capacity-building… far from it!

Let’s say that I have a lot of open questions that, in order to be answered, will probably need a lot more experience than the one I will acquired on Malapascua… which shows the complexity of the process.

I will not be able to develop all my current questions, so here is a sample:

Is capacity building only about training?

Training seems to be one important basis for capacity building, but what would happen if people are trained without knowing how using their newly acquired knowledge?

Whatever the quantity of training provided, if people don’t understand how it applies to their own reality, training may not have the expected impact.

So… training for the sake of training is probably not an appropriate option. On the contrary, complete different tools (other than training) may need to be developed. This cannot be identified without a deep understanding of people’s needs and gaps, based on their personal experience.

 

How can you be sure that the appropriate tools are provided?

Once people’s needs and gaps are identified, it sounds logical to develop the adapted training (or tools), but how can you ensure that to training/tool is adequate?

It has already happened that training/tools completely failed to tackle the related issues because it did not take into account all the aspects of people’s life.

cartoon_australia_2657338fIt is especially true when it comes to tackling environmental issues. Indeed, if some conservation work is done with local communities, but without taking into account their social, economic and cultural realities, the training/tool may not be appropriate.

Limiting your understanding to the needs and gaps is probably not enough and extending it to the global picture would then become a necessity. In addition, it also appears important to take some distance with your own way of thinking and functioning, as what works for you may not work for them.

Who is actually learning?

Lots of people would think that capacity building is about having somebody who knows, teaching solutions to people who don’t know.

When looking at the current stage of my project, I am definitely learning more from the ambassadors than the contrary.

So, what if it was a win-win situation, where both parties were learning from each other?

From this perspective, some of the tools or procedures developed through the capacity-building activities can be adapted in other locations, and become the basis of a revolutionary process. However, we should keep in mind that this revolutionary process would never have been developed without the input of the local communities at first.

What this is all about then?

As you can see, my reflection is still scattered, not mature and needs some more development.

My current and personal understanding indicates that capacity-building is firstly about listening!

It’s appears essential to always listen carefully to the experience of local people … to their issues … to their successes … to their way of thinking … to their way of working … to their way of living.

Secondly, it is about taking the necessary time!

It will probably take years to develop revolutionary tools for capacity-building… to understand the local and global picture… to test the various ideas… to follow-up on them… and to see how it goes once you step out of the process.

I will definitely not have enough time to tackle all those aspects, but it’s a time I am really happy to devote on such interesting topic.

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Still reflecting on the absorbed information !

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