Community Leadership Training

Life on Kia is swell; I am currently basking in the success of my magnum opus here on the island.  As of last week, I successfully designed, planned, organized, budgeted, and conducted a workshop for the fishermen and women of the island.  The workshop spanned 3 days and focused on marine conservation and the scientific principles that influence marine resource harvest.  The workshop was entitled: ‘Community Leadership Training’ and promoted our conservation mantra for Kia: ‘Preserving Sustainable Life.’  The fishermen and women here depend on marine resources.  Fishing is a source of protein and sustenance for families, a source of income, and most importantly, a way of life.  Preserving sustainable life encompasses conserving populations of marine organisms to maintain biodiversity and healthy ecosystems as well as preserving a harvestable resource to support a culture and a livelihood.  Workshop participants were christened as ‘Community Conservation Ambassadors’ and were tasked with sharing the message of what they learned to their respective demographic groups within their communities.    

 Day 1 was an introduction to marine conservation.  I talked about the world’s oceans, the people that depend on them, and the current issues and problems plaguing marine ecosystems worldwide: overfishing, coral bleaching, pollution, and climate change.  We talked about the causes of these problems, their impacts on marine ecosystems, and how humans can alter their behavior to reduce the intensity of those impacts. 

Day 2 focused on biodiversity- its meaning, importance, and the natural and human-induced factors that limit its presence and distribution.  We talked about endangered and endemic species in Fiji, the role of producers, consumers and decomposers in ecosystems, the importance of keystone species and indicator species and how everything in natural systems are connected to each other and how a loss in biodiversity compromises all these components.  
Day 3 was the technical day.  We delved into fisheries science and some of the fundamentals of population dynamics.  I stressed the importance of sustainable fishery management and the considerations that must be made when harvesting marine resources.  We covered local fishing regulations, techniques and methodologies, and the importance of using traditional knowledge to provide a baseline for monitoring marine resources. 

Each day consisted of a lecture, interactive activities, discussion sessions, and of course…food.  The ladies of the village specially catered the event and did a fantastic job.  They prepared authentic Fijian dishes for lunch and baked goods for our morning tea breaks.  They dressed up for the occasion, crafted center-pieces out of local, native plants and flowers, and served participants with a smile.   They did such a phenomenal job; their involvement added a special touch to the entire event.  
Even though the event was held for a limited number of participants, the entire community contributed to its facilitation.  One man used his boat to taxi participants from other villages, the children helped set up the community hall, the young men built an easel to hold the white-board, and women volunteered their dishes to be used for lunch.  It was heart-warming to see the entire community coming together to support our event. 
Each intern was responsible for leading a content-enriching activity to reinforce the information covered in lectures.  We constructed a marine food web and toyed with removing and adding components to the web to see how they influenced its flow.  Participants were particularly fond of the role-playing activity where we assigned them roles as different members in the community and gave them a scenario to contemplate that would drastically alter the dynamics of the island, both ecologically and culturally.  We reviewed a case study and had very productive discussion sessions.  Participants were fully engaged and asked many thought-provoking questions.  

Over the 3 days we talked about food webs, trophic cascades, nutrient cycling, recruitment, predator/prey relationships, endemic and endangered species, economics, supply and demand, waste management, ecology, wildlife management,  human dimensions of resource management, stakeholders, ecosystem services, reef formation, keystone and indicator species,  sedimentation, coastal erosion, fisheries science, and strategic planning.
Me with 'George', the chief of the village
I got such positive feedback from all the participants.  Everyone had questions, shared stories, and even asked me to conduct another workshop the following week!  Since this was the first time C3 had conducted an event of this magnitude, the participant list was restricted to 10 invitees, however, there was so much interest in the village, others wandered in and sessions often consisted of upwards of 40 people.  Participants were engaged the entire time and were so interested in the material.  I got compliments and congratulations from everyone in the village and encouragement to continue such endeavors in the future, with requests to conduct more workshops, more often, in more villages.  Overall, I am extremely pleased with the outcome of the workshop and consider it one of my greatest personal and professional successes to date.
C3 interns, local assistants, and newly christened conservation ambassadors
Me with workshop participants