Perfect Synergy – Reef-World, Stairway and Sharks

So with the ZEP all finished, the inevitable question – what next?  For me the answer was to stay and dive deeper into Reef-World activities.  I am really excited to be joining the team.

A year ago I left the security of paid employment and embarked on forging a way forward in a career in conservation; so signing a contract and getting my first salary was a special moment.  There have been a lot of uncertainties along the way and at times it has been unsettling not knowing when I’ll have the comfort of income or a home again. Then there are the times when everything just falls into place.

Last week was one of those special times, I had been experiencing a feeling I finally identified as homesickness.  The word usually describes missing the family home or a particular place and while I do deeply miss family, friends and places I lived, for me it was more the yearning for a home.  I have lived in Asia for the past ten years, in Maldives, Bali, Cambodia, Singapore and the Philippines, apart from 4 months in Belize last year.  That was one of those uncertainties – leaving my home in Asia for the other side of the world where I had never been, but I fell in love with Belize it was a huge wrench leaving.  It made settling in the Philippines more challenging.  Constantly moving around has been exhausting, I counted 10 different rooms I had slept in just in the first two months of 2014.  With all the unpacking and repacking, waking up to a different cacophony of noise in each location, from tricycle drivers outside the window to talking mynah birds and of course the ubiquitous roosters.  While I’m extremely grateful to Stairway Foundation for providing me with accommodation, friends who put me up and the travel opportunities I’ve had to visit and work in beautiful places such as Dumaguete, Moalboal and El Nido, I felt like I needed a base.  So I was delighted to find a cute little studio flat to stay in with a view of the mountains and Orion shining down from the clear skies at night.  So there’s no shower, but the joys of being able to have a coffee before leaving the house in the morning or raid the fridge at night more than makes up for it!

Home for a while.

Another highlight last week was a Shark Awareness Day.  After I did a Green Fins presentation at Stairway I saw a posting on Scuba Junkie’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Scuba-Junkie/194941142120?fref=ts), about their upcoming Shark Week and shark sandcastle competition.  Sea Save were also posting about their ‘Give ’em the fin’ campaign – to collect photographs of people making the diver shark sign to be collated in a mosaic.  (https://www.facebook.com/Seasave/app_1379091692315675) This will be displayed at ADEX, where I will be representing the Green Fins project in April.  I gave Shark Savers presentations to children when I lived in Singapore and myself and Anita, (my project partner, who happens to be an art teacher), had been discussing how we wanted to get to know the Stairway kids better – so it was perfect synergy!

You couldn’t wish for a nicer bunch of youngsters to work with, as soon as the activity was announced they set to researching sharks.  They were really engaged during the presentation and asked lots of questions before settling down to make detailed drawings of sharks and choose one to be the model for their sculpture.  Armed with shovels, buckets and kitchen implements and accompanied by the trusty Stairway dogs we set off like the seven dwarves to an idyllic spot on the beach where the river joins the sea overlooked by mountains and shady trees.

Working with sand on a hot day can be challenging as it keeps drying out, but the young sculptors were not deterred; even when their hard work crumbled they worked together in teams to rebuild.  One team continued to develop their sculpture after the finish time to create a sea lion as prey and a frothy water effect by sprinkling white sand.  They really are a testament to how effective the Stairway residential program is – all the youngsters are former street children from Manila who have been given the opportunity to spend a year at the centre.  They are given a supportive, nurturing environment to help them gain self esteem, education and life skills for the future.  The program uses creative activities as a form of rehabilitation and the therapeutic process enables them to develop new skills, values, behaviours and attitudes.

Stairway Foundation Inc, (SFI), also raises awareness about children’s rights and child sexual abuse prevention.  We got to see ‘Cracked Mirrors’, a performance about sexual exploitation of children.  It is an incredibly powerful way to get across the message that we need to ‘Break the Silence’ around this issue.  Stairway provide training for individuals, groups and institutions working directly or indirectly with children such as police, teachers, social workers, students and NGO workers as part of their advocacy and capacity building program.  You can see an excerpt of ‘Cracked Mirrors’ and animations which also deal with these issues on their website.  www.stairwayfoundation.org/

In addition to this, SFI have a Community Assistance Program.  One aspect of this is working with the Baclayan Mangyan School.  It is located up a mountain and is attended by indigenous children.  There had been problems with attendance as it is a long hard walk for many children, especially in the rainy season and by the time they got there they were too tired to concentrate.  Stairway now have a farm on the mountain and provide healthy food for students who come to school resulting in a big increase in attendance.  They also provide school supplies, a health clinic and volunteers who work with the community.  A trip up Baclayan mountain is an amazing experience; the views of the bay are stunning.

The work that SFI are doing and what they have achieved is so inspiring.  I feel honoured to be able to be a part of their new program in collaboration with Reef-World, a ‘Sea Adventure School’, but that will have to wait until the next blog …

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