Using photography to be wildly creative…

Using a creative tool, in this instance a camera, English and the power of nature, our early evening explorative photography class along the shoreline of their beach with the students of Bido was magnetic.  For nearly all students it is a novelty to use a camera  seeing the world through a new lens.  A camera is a wonderful way to explore and absorb what’s around from a new angle, gaining new insights. Taking a picture on the same level as a crab scurrying along the shoreline; following the line of plastic rubbish strewn on the high tide mark.  Combining this with using a new language causes a pause, a reflection and from it come questions, realisations and ideas.  Looking at the photos students have taken back in the classroom, students are fascinated by what they have captured and perhaps have opened another part of who they are.  Talking about the problem of plastic in oceans when the plastic is at your feet and students are taking photos of it at their beach is proving powerful. Step two is devising a system to clean the beach regularly and finding a method to dispose of it while trying to reduce it’s use.  Power of emotion and connection to your environment brings action.

Action Communication happening!

Rolling out our first month of our Action Communication Programmes has been a thrill! Watching students watching themselves learn English while simultaneously learning how to use a camera, take a photograph and record a video is a scintillating experience.  For virtually all students (and most teachers) it is the first time they have used a camera and looked through a lens at the world.  Astonishment would be the most apt word.  The reflection it provokes is palpable and what we were very much hoping to see. It provides the shift inside to then move on an address wider issues with an open, newly observant attitude, noticing what perhaps had been hidden before.

Our first month of classes has covered person, family, friends, community, working from the individual outward both with language and using the camera to build an ever broadening perspective.  Seeing the emotion in the reactions of the locals approached by students (often their children) to take their photo or record a video is extraordinary.  Having a visual tool to facilitate a further dimension to interaction, learn from, produce materials to teach from that feature the learners themselves in their environment while also documenting the current status quo is extraordinary.

Employing this methodology provides another way of measuring impact too. Rather than solely using figures and skill level to measure impact, we can use emotion as a proxy to measure impact told “one story” at a time.  This shows the transformation of attitude towards a given topic by the student.  When considering behavioural change, for example how one disposes of rubbish, we hope a change in perception, rather than perspective, will be the difference between a temporary and enduring outcome.


U.S. Consulate General Surabaya sponsors Action Communication Programmes.

Smiles, smiles, smiles.  I don’t know that it is possible for Indonesians’ smiles to get even bigger but those on the faces of the locals in Morotai seemed to when they heard we had received funding from the U.S. Consulate General Small Grants Awards to run our Action Communication Programmes.

Comprising a syllabus centred on leading students from middle school to adult age groups on a journey of discovery we are aiming to develop a relationship and identity with the ocean as a diverse and dynamic group.  We choose to approach this endeavour with creative tools; photography, underwater photography, stop-motion animation, video, art, murals that bring inskill acquisition with media and technology and through the interactive creative media programmes we introduce English. Self-expression and discovery are wonderful ways to learn, empower and share. They bring impact. If it’s yourself and your dream you are following, you are passionate about it, you commit to it and you don’t give up easily. We believe a social approach, translatable at the grass roots level is vital to addressing issues of environmental degradation, climate change and developing tourism along sustainable lines from the community up. We hope our students will be proactive designers of their island’s future. Through various media tools we learn the value they see in protecting their marine environment and the ideas they have for its sustainable development as a tourism zone and how they would promote sustainable tourism for local and regional benefit.

Local people are shy, many adults over the age of 40 may not be able to read or write, their day to day life, what they have been exposed to and experienced and are therefore aware of are quite different to someone from a western lifestyle. To gain insight to their dreams, wants and needs and when asking them to share their knowledge and ideas using a creative, group, playful means enables them to feel calm, respected, understood, unafraid and confident to put forward their ideas and the wealth of knowledge they have about the environment and that it will be understood by those on the receiving end. It means they will take action.

Take 1. ACTION!



Utus Part 1- an insight to life for a local teenager in Buho Buho.

He lives with his older and younger sister and father.  His mother lives in the capital, Daruba where she has found work.  Utus left school a year ago as the family did not have enough money to send all three of their children to school.  It costs about 300,000 IDR (that’s about $22 U.S.) to pay for uniform and registration.  (Utus will return to school in June as we have provided him with a scholarship due to his hard working, honest, enthusiastic nature).
He usually wakes up at 5am and will do house chores such as washing up, fetching water from village well. Then he may go with his father to their “kibung” or “ladang” – this is an area of land in the jungle (each family has one) where they grow produce for their consumption and then some to sell. Common crops include, ubi (casava) a staple in their diet, pineapples (the most delicious you’ve ever eaten), coconut palms to produce copra, cloves and nutmeg for which the Maluku are so famous historically.  Some of the locals have kibungs close to the village, some walk about 5 to 10km or even stay overnight at a shelter they have built.  Utus often comes back with a coconut for us that he has harvested from his kibung.  What a diamond!
Utus LOVES surfing, he lives for it.  His quiet, unassuming nature morphs in to a fearless, gallant warrior when he enters the ocean. He charges! He’s not very tall, only about 4′ 5″  or that strong due to poor diet (most children are malnourished in Morotai) but his skill, timing, courage and synchronicity with the ocean and the waves mean he effortlessly strokes into the wave of the day again and again.
With no internet kids are creative and inventive….Utus loves drawing and has painted the bottom of the board we gave him for helping us out with our surf classes.
Kids have many responsibilties from an early age in communities here.  Parents are busy working in the ladangs and when kids have free time, they are ready to enjoy it! Complaining isn’t in their psyche so you have to figure out through different ways if they are keen or not to do something as they will never say no outright. The strong hierarchical structure that pervades Indonesian society is evident. If you are younger you listen and obey!  Connection is something we all seek in life and with Utus it’s all in his parting look.  If you give a smile, look him straight in the eyes and say “Bye”, his face lights up, a huge smile breaks out across his face and you almost see his heart swell in his chest.
He’s a grommet of few words generally speaking, happy to listen and absorb what’s going on, but when he does have something to say, usually when he’s very excited, there’s no stopping him.
He has an Uncle, Ferdi, who works building a new resort just up the road. He also shreds in the water and smiles wisely when he sees Utus rip. He knows, as do all the older local surfers, that they have a true warrior in their midst, humble, stoic and spirited.

Girls’ Surfing Programme takes on life of its own.

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…..

The social reality of rising sea levels.

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.




Second phase participatory community based research complete!


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 = ).



Girls Surfing Programme sponsored by U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.

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.

Our base at Buho Buho

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.



Destination Morotai. A Liquid Future’s newest home.

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.