Stairway launched the EACY program in 2013, and by early 2014 the Sea Adventure School (SAS) was a floating reality. The first year we were sailing with school children during their summer vacation. It was a logistic nightmare to coordinate with all students on an individual basis, and as it turned out, it was not a very efficient utilization of our resources.
In 2015 the SAS was endorsed by the Regional Office of the Department of Education and we started a very fruitful collaboration with the local high schools. The SAS exposure was now contextualized in the students’ formal schooling, and during that school year, we exposed around 900 grade 8-9 and 10 students to the mind blowing beauty of our local marine life. During the same period hundreds of students and teachers from elementary and high school visited Stairway to see the environmental theatre play “The Lorax”, performed by the children in our Family Home Program. Performances are always followed by an informal forum, in which everybody can share personal concerns and suggest what we all can do as individuals or as a group to make things better. The theater along with the SAS has so far inspired 400 young people to sign up as members of our EACY Club. Nine of Puerto Galera’s 13 barrios now have EACY Clubs.
In order to anchor SAS and EACY deeper in the minds and the hearts of teachers, educators and decision makers in our local community, we recently started a round of SAS trips for that particular group of adults. We started out with 35 teachers from Puerto Galera National High School, who spent a Saturday on SAS. What they experienced is probably best illustrated through the comments given by National High School Principal, Vic Agellon, who wrote:
“Puerto Galera National High School family is aware that Puerto Galera is blessed with such diverse marina organisms, but being in the place where they really reside is a different story. It was our first time to really enjoy the sea. Seeing different fishes up close and personal was life changing. We are always vocal about marine preservation and the Sea Adventure made it much stronger. The experience was an eye opener to the real condition of our seas and mangroves. After the Sea Adventure, our perspective on caring for the environment has changed and the passion to be an advocate for the protection of our seas and coasts was rekindled.
We would like to express our gratitude to Stairway Foundation for giving us the opportunity to be part of the gratifying experience. The valuable insights we gained from this undertaking will be embedded in our hearts. We truly enjoyed the up-close encounters with the sea creatures. Kudos to the people behind the worthwhile endeavor!”
Although not expressed as distinctly, we have had similar positive feed-back from our trips with local barrio officials. Their experience on the Sea Adventure trips was manifested in promises of issuance of barrio ordinances to protect the marine environment. One barrio official pointed out that their beach front has now been categorized as “not-so-good for people to swim, snorkel or dive” because of the high level of coli form bacteria from the disposed wastes of some hotels and resorts that go directly to the sea. He continued: “I am telling you, the amazing sights we saw today will become like our beach if we don’t act right now. Please don’t emulate us. Hopefully, we will be able to restore the sea waters of our village under our current recovery program and bring it back to the similar sights we saw today.”
A statement like this in front of all the other officials from the other barrios could prove extremely useful. His barrio has always been envied due to lots of tourist business, but hopefully his sharing will help inculcate that all development in tourism must be planned in a manner to make it sustainable. If not, the temporary economic boost will come at an unacceptable price.
Next in line for a trip on the Sea Adventure are our new mayor and his administration. They have started their term in office with clear aspirations and actions for a sustainable development in Puerto Galera. Let us hope they will prove to deliver over the coming years. (Read related article: Puerto Galera: A biosphere reserve in distress)
In 2014 our newest program, EACY (Environmental Awareness for Children and Youth), was a lone initiative in Puerto Galera. Today, we are seemingly working in a different and much more receptive environment. Getting EACY and SAS to where we are now has not exactly been a streamlined progression. There have been lots of waves and other less foreseen obstacles in our way, and there have been times where we had to navigate off the planned course. However, we have always maintained the trust and the support from the people who have helped us initiate and develop the entire EACY program. And for that we are very grateful!
Cheers to the small victories in our global battle for sustainable development!