Sunday, 26 July 2015

SEA DAY - More than a day at the beach!

Remember that kid during school field trips who was always collecting leaves, sea shells, drawing in their diary, and passionately exploring the outdoors with not a thought in the world to apply sun screen? That was me growing up! I’m still the same person at 33, except I prefer to call my diary a Journal – and I’m more concerned with the harmful effects of the sun! I’ve always learned best in out-of-classroom capacities; in fact, those school field trips into nature remain the most memorable of my academic days. I took Walter McKenzie’s (1999) Multiple Intelligences Inventory exam recently, and I was not surprised to discover I scored high under the Naturalist category. So when I was asked by San Jose de Buenavista’s Local Government Unit (LGU) to help develop a small children’s marine museum by the sea and facilitate school field trips, I entered into an intense state of presence: I was simply OVERWHELMED! 

Our marine education learning center by the ocean!
This project was previously begun by a husband-wife Peace Corps couple in coordination with San Jose’s LGU.  The team worked to transform an old building by the sea into what appeared to be a small learning center. The building had been painted with a beautiful mural depicting the three Marine Ecosystems: Mangrove, Sea Grass, and Coral Reef.  A large preserved sea turtle was also on display.  My primary project in the Peace Corps has been to further develop the building into a full-fledged Environmental Learning Center that focuses on Marine Conservation Education. It has been an absolute delight working with San Jose’s LGU on a project I feel so connected with.
An Environmental Learning Center can be replicated by any Peace Corps Volunteer regardless of his or her sector, and such a project would be an amazing asset to any community in the Philippines – or any other country where Environmental Outreach is a necessity. As I wrote in my last blog, one of the most severe of environmental struggles around the planet is happening in the Philippines, and an Environmental Learning Center would bring awareness to both global and local problems, such as Solid Waste Management (SWM) and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation.
The community will be inspired by your Environmental Learning Center! And once other people start to see the vision materialize the community will help assist you! Our project has had nearly 300 sea shells donated to it, and the names of the shells have been put into Kinaraya - the local dialect with assistance from the fisher-folk. Books were donated to our Center to begin an Environmental library, and a local carpenter even helped me reconstruct a turtle skeleton to put on display!

Local residents help ID our new shell collection and put the names into the local dialect: Kinaray-A
Once you have created your safe learning space you can then bring people together. During the second half of 2014 our team arranged to have every grade 5 class in San Jose visit our Environmental Learning Center. Over 1,200 students from 23 of 24 elementary schools engaged in what is now affectionately called SEA DAY (Students for Environmental Awareness). The Marine Conservation based field trips were a hot success and we are currently in our second year of administration. This can be a sustainable project! Create a school package and a small registration fee, which will allow educators at the very least to replace needed supplies and materials. Short on help at your Center? Work with the community and the LGU to create a volunteer or internship program to assist your lead teacher.

MENRO staff gave Environmental outreach and education to approximately 3,000 children during our first year

Children listen attentively as our Environmental Education Specialist talks about turtle conservation

Some Creative Ideas for YOUR Center
* Create an Environmental Library: Write to Books for Peace, Books Across the Seas, and Books for Asia and request Environmental books. Ask your Filipino friends and co-workers to translate the books into the local dialect. Make “Sit-A-Pons” from braided pieces of old cloth or newspaper and create a child friendly reading area.
* Discovered some old bones on the beach? Glue them together! Use marine epoxy (~135 pesos) and aluminum wire to re-assemble. If this seems too difficult paint them with clear gloss lacquer and leave them mixed-up in a box as a “puzzle” skeleton instead. The lacquer basically turns the bones into plastic. Be sure to wash and scrub the bones and allow them to dry before applying lacquer. Several coats is best!
*Start a sea shell collection: Purchase magnifying glasses and rulers from the National Book Store to inspire deeper connections to nature.
*Create a sea glass mural: The children will love picking beach glass up along the beach during your beach clean-ups. Often, Filipino children don’t know what this is until you point it out to them! They simply love beach glass after that!
*Create a garden at your Center – or better yet – a “Food Fence”. This is great for introducing topics about Climate Change and also talking about eating locally. Getting into the gardening? Don’t stop! Start a Vermi-compost, a container garden, or sack garden! Harvest your veggies and cook them with the kids or local residents.
* Offer life jackets and snorkeling equipment for a small fee. This generates income and helps sustain your project.
* Create a trash segregation station
* Create an Eco-Bench or other infrastructure from bottle bricks. This is great to begin discussions about Solid Waste Management or when beginning a beach clean-up.
* Show environmental films if you have access to a projector. We are blessed to have a small flat screen TV hooked up in our center. Media-technology is great for showing power points, movie clips, and academic videos (or for movie nights with pop corn!). Those Sit-A-Pons come in handy again here!

Connecting to nature!

Reference: McKenzie, Walter L. (1999). Multiple Intelligences Inventory.

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