The first 3 month block of our Girls’s Go Surfing Programme sponsored by the U.S. Embassy has seen 40 girls from 9 years to 20 years old experience the thrills and confidence building that mastering something that seemed, at first, perhaps a little daunting but upon trying and persisting, discovered was well within their capabilities and SO MUCH FUN!
It’s been a particularly rewarding time with whole village communities from male and female village elders to young children coming to support, enquire, understand and join in with the action. Although focussing on the girls, we do not limit our initial classes to just girls as this would mean we missed out on our portal to the rest of the community. Teaching a skill outside in and open area where all the villagers can come and see and join in allows transparency and, in a playful, familiar and informal environment opens the lines of communication, enabling us to address many issues, for example rubbish disposal habits, perceptions of girls and women, in a non-threatening manner.
Locals tell us that they feel very happy and proud that their children are learning a new skill and enjoying it so much. And that they love watching it, especially the local women! At one village, Bido, they come and sit under a beautiful large tree often nursing a baby, and we can hear their whoops of excitement when the girls stand up or fall off!! We also get to chat with these women and gain insight to their lives gaining valuable data about social realities, for example diabetes is a serious issue in the village, one woman showed me her foot missing three toes which have recently been amputated, equipment enabling them to monitor the insulin levels in their blood are five times more expensive in Morotai than Jakarta and local health outposts don’t have any. The village men ask general questions, curious about where we are from and keen to share who they are. After surfing class, we’ve enjoyed coconuts freshly picked from one of the locals shinnying up a coconut palm, evening meals in locals’ houses as we are all hungry after many hours in the water, joint surf outings so girls from different villages can surf together and share how they feel and begin to create a girls’ surfing identity and long chats about Morotai, surfing, English, tourism, fish, the rubbish on the beach, dancing, how old people get married, why we want tanned skin and they want white skin! This has enabled us to build bonds of trust and friendship.
And the best result of all? Girls’ Surfing is already spreading to other nearby villages. They are already sharing their skills and creating a surfing sisterhood. We met a young girl of ten years old in a village who gave me a big smile, threw me a shakka, and told me a friend of hers from Tawakali had taught her how to surf! She wanted to know when we would begin a programme in her village as she had friends who want to learn too. To see the joy, pride and excitement on her face made my heart beat faster. Go Girls! You got this wave you are riding…..
Buho Buho and Morotai are quite literally sinking into the sea. Old giants of the jungle stoically put up a last stand against the inevitable, some managing to stay alive while part submerged if they are located near a river mouth with a lower level of water salinity, others like the eerie old tree on the beach at Buho Buho are long dead but still standing.
Eastern Indonesia is unique in the present global plate configuration, being situated at the T-junction between the world’s two main active orogenic belts – The Alpine-Himalayan and Circus-Pacific belts. Consequently the tectonics of this region must be understood as a zone of interaction between three major plates.
In addition rising sea levels due to climate change are felt most acutely on small islands located along the equator. For Indonesia, an expert has warned that rising sea levels of unto 90 centimetres before 2050 means 2,000 islands and 42 million homes are on track to be submerged.
What does this translate to now in terms of locals’ lives and livelihoods?
Talking with village elder, Marius (sixty something years old he believes!) we gain an insight into the social implications for everyday life.
Marius was born and grew up in his family’s house that (luckily) still stands, now right on the shoreline at high tide! He recounts a childhood spent playing on the “big beach” where he could run some 40 metres from his house to the shoreline at low tide. Today at low tide it is approximately 7 metres.
Fishing from the beach was a norm when he was young. There was no need to go out in a boat to deeper water. The catch was always more than enough and it didn’t take long to catch enough to feed the family. Now the opposite is reality. Locals go out in boats to try and catch fish. Often they don’t catch enough to feed their families (and maybe sell a few). It costs more to go fishing, has a greater carbon footprint, takes much longer and yields less.
The villagers are currently busy building a rock and concrete wall as a barrier between the encroaching sea and their houses. December to March is surfing season in Eastern Indonesia. This translates to 5 metre waves pounding the beach, causing rapid erosion. If the wall withstands the first big swell of the season it will be remarkable. Barriers in any form, and for any reason, are rarely effective and don’t offer long-term sustainable solutions.
Understanding the consequences of climate change to locals’ daily lives and routines is a first step. Looking together at how these realities can be addressed from a social perspective that has environmental benefit and enables a peaceful future, the next.
The resilience, innovative-spirit and adaptability of this community gives reason for optimism. They have a history of overcoming challenges and hardships. Drawing on the qualities which have enabled them to do this, we believe new concepts and models developed with these remarkable people will not only prove beneficial for them, but can also be employed in other locations around world to great effect. Contextualising a problem against a different background with a different perspective or approach often throws a before, unseen light on it that can result in exciting outcomes.
Carrying out the next stage of community based research to discover in greater depth what the needs, dreams and priorities of the local communities within the 30km stretch from Buho Buho to Tawakali are to be ready for the estimated 500,000 foreign tourists expected to the island by 2019, was enthralling and fascinating for all involved.
Using a variety of interactive creative workshops from poster design, to community screenings, gatherings, action activities such as beach and surf adventures we were really able to get to the heart of matters.
Learning English is the number one priority of 90% of locals from age 15 to 55 within this zone. They see it as the basic for being able to be a part of and benefit from tourism development, plus they would like to meet tourists, know about other cultures and thinking and make friends.
This form of research also enabled us to collect data on social aspects of life, the flora and fauna and the effects of climate change to coastline, for example we were told that the beach at Buho Buho is now approximately 30 to 40 meters narrower than it was 40 years causing greater erosion (Buho Buho is currently building a rock wall to try to stop wave erosion and protect houses), and smaller waves. Furthermore fish stocks are significantly lower with fisherman having to go out in boats to catch fish (and they don’t always come back with any) where previously they were able to catch ample fish from the beach. Sourcing such data through “social sources” rather than scientifically throws light on behaviour and habits and how local villagers’ daily lives are impacted and changed and what this may mean for the future as resources become fewer and are more highly contested.
We captured this process and will be sharing a short film next month giving further insight and understanding to this extraordinary corner of the world = ).
The local girls of the villages Buho Buho to Tawakali in Morotai will be learning to surf thanks to funding from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. Amazing news!
To the non-surfer the direct benefits of such a programme may not be readily apparent. So here are some reasons explaining why;
1. More women and children die in tsunamis in Indonesia than men because they are physically weaker, often are at home, and don’t have any understanding or experience of the ocean. Teaching surfing and swimming is a SKILL THAT CAN SAVE THEIR LIFE.
2. Health benefits of practising a sport both physical and mental – discipline, self belief, confidence, independence, trust in themselves and their judgement.
3. Brings groups of girls together to create of a new and collective identity of what it is to be a girl, the security and support of being a member of a group, a forum to discuss and take action on issues girls face, and gain respect from the boys/men who see them in a new light.
4. Develops a relationship with the ocean and a love of it. It teaches about the ocean environment and how to preserve and be a caretaker of it. Girls are natural caretakers and connecting them with the ocean environment has proven results of protecting and benefiting women too with opportunities within the environmental field.
5. Brings local girls into contact with visiting surfers/tourists in the water and the chance to interact, learn, speak English.
6. Skills to be employed within the tourism industry as surf guides, instructors for visiting female surfers which is a huge attraction to bring foreign girl surfer tourists to the area if they know there are local girls there too. It enables local girls to interact with girls from other countries and get different insights as to what is it to be a girl. Gender empowerment is critical to the development of sustainable tourism.
7. Offers the opportunity to become a professional athlete and compete on the Indonesian and Asian surfing championship. Local girls from Bali, Java, Nias already do so.
8. It creates an understanding and positive relationship with the ocean not one of fear. . Women pass on skills to their children, a mother who can swim and or surf will pass that skill onto her children.
9. Empowering teenage girls through sport according UN statistics is the best investment in bringing sustainable change to developing countries.
10. A creative sport with no rules or boundaries and therefore allows freedom of expression and self discovery. The belief to go after their dreams.
Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, is opening up its thousands of islands to tourism (much of which will be ocean related), is based on one of the most unstable tectonic areas of the world and is one of the worst ocean polluters in the world. It is hard to think of a more useful or pertinent skill to empower girls in coastal communities than an ability to swim/surf and understand and know the value of their ocean environment on their doorstep. Many islands in Indonesia are sinking at an alarming rate and the once abundant resources of the ocean are running out. An understanding and ability to adapt to new realities, such as how to source food will need to be addressed. Women will play an important role in this.
After spending time amongst local communities from Buho Buho to Sopi in the north during our visit, Buho Buho and its community invited us to base ourselves at their village and have given us a building from which to base programmes.
Logistically it made sense as it is located on the beach, with a surf break and a resort is being built just up the road which locals from the village will be employed at from next year. In addition the highest number of foreign tourists (mostly surfers), stayed here during the last high season from November to March.
We will run mobile programmes from here to the five neighbouring villages up to Bere-Bere.
Villages in Morotai are generally either Christian or Muslim except for the capital of Daruba or larger, more isolated villages such as Sopi. Buho Buho is Christian. By having a mobile component we ensure that our programmes reach both Christian and Muslim communities.
New collaboration centre in Buho Buho, meeting with the leaders of the Buho Buho youth group.
Lots has been happening with A Liquid Future behind the scenes over the last few months and we have some exciting announcements to make. The first being our new location on Morotai, the northern most island of the Maluku Archipelago.
After a string of events leading up to being invited there by the local Morotai government, we are thrilled to announce the opening of a new collaboration centre there scheduled for November of this year.
Our “Girls Go Surfing” programme is set to start at the beginning of November where a trailblazing and intrepid group of 15 local girls and women who have shown a keenness to get in the water or who have come down to our Sunday evening splash abouts are ready to further their relationship with the ocean and all it has to offer. We are all very excited!
In general girls and women in the Mentawai rarely venture more then waist deep into the ocean and never swim out of their depth. This is mostly just due to culture norms. In many parts of Indonesia having “brown or darker skin” for a woman is a no-no. But amongst the Mentawai women and girls that is not so much the case. They work outside a lot, harvesting coconuts, tending their local gardens, fishing and therefore have darker skin.
Their innate affinity with and understanding of their natural environment is evident in the eyes of many of them when they see Karen, or I returning from a surf or swimming out in the bay. Wow! Women surf too! What is it like? Aren’t you afraid of the waves? Can I try? Is it difficult? What about the reef? What about wind? Do you get cold? are just some of the questions that we get asked at a hundred miles per hour illustrating their excitement at what they are seeing and contemplating. It is wonderful.
Having taught the first girls how to surf down in Katiet, Southern Sipora where A Liquid Future used to be located, I realise that a role model is often all that these women or girls need. When there are surfboards around boys normally grab them and although some of the girls try to grab one to two, they usually come away empty handed. It is the domain of boys. That is a shame as the benefits to girls and women being able to swim and or surf are many, health, confidence, looking after the environment are just a few obvious ones. In the Mentawai the most common form of transport is a sampan – a small, narrow, wooden boat made from an entire tree with an outboard motor on it. Women with their babies and children travel on these to local markets to buy food or to visit relatives. I have sat next to countless mums with a look of terror in their eyes when the seas are rough and we are getting bounced around. They grab my arm, ask if we will be ok or if I am frightened or if I can help them if there is a problem. If I could not swim and had my baby in my arms I would be terrified too.
Often teaching a woman to swim or surf and just have general awareness and confidence in the ocean means more likely than not her children will be taught by her too. Mentawai women pass on and share their skills just as western women most often do. Teaching one woman to feel confident in the water has a ripple effect here. Here’s to making many ripples in ever increasing circles.
Every Sunday afternoon here in Mapadegat the beach becomes the place to be. Families come together and enjoy watching their children play in the sea, young people hang out and share all the gossip, surfing groms give old broken surfboards a new life in the shore break, and a playing area is cleared for a sunset game of football or volleyball. It is lovely to sit and chat to the locals, get involved in a beach game or just watch the smiles and laughter around you. It is a gentle reminder of the importance of the beach and the strong sense of community that prevails here in Mapadegat. There is little doubt that this community will see some big changes in the near future as tourism increases throughout the island. Let’s hope that this Sunday afternoon tradition can withstand these changes and the beach remains a special place for all.
We are already in the third week of our second course, where does the time go?! The first course provided a great opportunity to tread new ground and establish a good base to work from. We now have an established English learning programme with students of all ages and levels learning with us at the Collaboration Centre. As we move into our second course we wanted to spread our wings and look at new ways the centre can help the local people. With this in mind, we have established links with Flavio, the surf guide and coach from the nearby Aloita resort. He has kindly put aside 2 hours every Friday to teach a small group of local surfers the basics of surf coaching and guiding. With 90% of the teaching in English this group of local surfers will have a challenging task ahead. It is still early days but we are all very excited about the direction this new course will go and what doors it may open. Check out the photos from their first session.