The wonderful world of Wi-Fi does not extend to the far reaches of Samal Island, beneath the canopy of palm trees and bamboo walls that softly muffle the sound of the laughing ocean waves. Too poetic? Perhaps. My week-long exposure to community outreach and reef restoration was fundamental in both the research of my undergraduate thesis and my growing love of the Philippines . [Warning: this post is filled with pictures.]
The main goal: save the beautiful underwater habitats while providing the local fishermen with legal and safe ways to make money and fish. The project was titled The CORAL Project: COral, Restoration, Awareness, and Livelihoods. The mastermind behind the combination of Marine Protected Areas and a functioning sea cucumber ranch was Bonar Laureto, the former executive of the Law of Nature Foundation before (my boss and friend) Viv took over the position. Viv and I, along with a small team, stayed at the lovely rest house of Ma’m Jean and every member welcomed the confused American girl with open arms and wide smiles.
Excluding Viv and I, there were five main members and a range of incredible volunteers. Before every community meeting I was warmly introduced as we traveled to different villages, talking to local fisherman and explaining our project.Russ would translate for me while I videotaped the conversations. One man showed us three fish: his entire catch after being out at sea for 9 hours. I tasted tuba for the first time-homemade coconut wine that accompanied every community discussion. I saw young children playing in their father’s arms while the men explained how the lack of fish takes a toll on their families.
Too many stories to count. There was the dance lessons I received from the local woman in the Tagbaobo community and tasting incredible fish ginger soup.
There was the hour and a half commute down the steepest, bumpiest unpaved roads I’ve ever seen, at night, in drizzle,seated in the back of a covered pickup truck. And there was snorkeling just off the coast of our house surrounded by sea snakes, brain coral, and clownfish swimming in every direction.
I could go on and on about the incredible people I met: the dedication, hope, and resilience found in community leaders, volunteers, and fishermen alike . I seem to have the same number of memories as I do bug bites but can only begin to scratch the surface of their deeper meaning.
Meaning of the memories. I figured out the bug bites pretty quick.