It has been 3 months since I left the Philippines, and having since worked voluntarily for another marine conservation organization, I decided it was finally time to write my first blog entry!
I enrolled in the ZEP in October 2011; I think it has already been pretty well explained what the four of us got up to, so instead of aimlessly repeating details, I would like to use this space to convey how much I benefitted from partaking in the ZEP programme. I gained skills and experience far beyond what I expected when I first signed up, and I feel like it has opened many doors for me in the future. It was brilliant and I would be happy to recommend it to anyone in a position like me (i.e. someone interested in working in the conservation world but with very little experience under their belt.)
I was impressed just in the first week, when given the ZOOX lectures, in particular the Global Marine Conservation lecture which essentially described how the world of marine conservation works, and how governments, conventions, NGOs etc all link in with eachother, something which despite having two science degrees, I seemed to know surprisingly little about! A great first week… But then the work began…
(View from, and of, the famous tricycle…)
Working on the Green Fins Project was a fantastic experience, in terms of gaining both quality work, and life experience. I learnt new skills and discovered I was much better at certain tasks than I initially expected! It is entirely up to you how hard you work (as is the case with everything in life!) and thankfully for me, the busier I am, the happier I am. It was very challenging trying to launch a project in an area like Mactan, which if I recall correctly, Lonely Planet describes as ‘an overpopulated mudflat’. With over 60 dive centres to visit in just over month, the task ahead certainly seemed rather daunting to say the least, but all the hard work undoubtedly paid off with a successful launch party at the glamorous Shangri-La Hotel, and over 30 dive centres signed up as Green Fins members.
You are put in difficult situations that you do not always anticipate, and made to deal with both enthusiastic but also particularly unenthusiastic people. Trying to ‘sell’ a concept to dive centres by simply knocking on the door and trying to explain why they should adopt the Green Fins Mission Statement and become more environmentally friendly was certainly not something I had done before, and it was a great experience. You will find in the Philippines that not everyone cares for the environment and you unquestionably get your share of both sides, however over time I learnt various ways to approach people with different attitudes, and of different nationalities, and it became particularly satisfying learning to gain the trust of those you initially thought may close the door in your face. Having gained the interest of the dive centres, the next step was giving training presentations to the staff, carrying out environmental assessments, and finally giving verbal feedback to the dive shop managers/owners. Each required different skills, and I certainly saw an improvement and growing confidence in myself in all areas as time passed.
(A weekend off spent on the Camotes…)
I had multiple opportunities to partake in meetings with both local and regional governments, and found myself discussing the project with officials including members of DENR and EMB, local Mayors, Chairman of the Tourism Council for Matcan, Chief of the Police Force, and Regional Director of Tourism for the whole of Region 7 (yes, I am name dropping!) I even had the chance to train government officials in the Green Fins Assessment process, which is certainly not something I thought I would be involved in when I departed England. It was incredibly rewarding knowing that the people continuing the work of the project once I had left, were trained partly by me.
It was a shame I had other commitments in the New Year, because given the chance I would have liked to continue working on the project. I had built up some good relationships there and gained the trust of many dive shop owners, of all nationalities, so it was quite sad having to leave the project in someone else’s hands. The ZEP gave me not only great work experience and a fantastic insight into how marine conservation projects work in the developing world, and how the government fits into the grand scheme of things, but also some invaluable life experience that I will take away with a huge amount of gratitude.
THANK YOU JOEY AND CLAY-CLAY FOR EVERYTHING!