Pre-project Considerations (en-route to Cebu, Philippines)

By: David Knight

Date: 2012, Cohort 4

Any collaborative conservationist would appreciate and readily receive an extra dose of equanimity. But calmness under pressure is hard to come by these days, especially among emotionally charged opinion seekers like me. As a supposed “relationship master,” I’m envious of those “architects of analysis” and those “drivers of decision-making” who surround me and who seem so skilled at (calmly) synthesizing, structuring, and solidifying effective thought, word, and action. At times, I wish that I could have my emotional antennae – my feelers, if you will – pinned down, my intellectual faculties enhanced, my vision refined to detect distinct contours of black and white. This would seem an ideal state for engaging stakeholders, generating dialogue, and increasing collaboration most effectively, be it in the Philippines as I will be over the next two months or in any other location at home or abroad.

As I consider the myriad challenges that might crop up as I develop relationships with and seek to increase collaboration among educators, members of the Coastal Conservation Education Foundation (CCEF), policy makers, the Southeastern Cebu Coastal Resource Management Council (SCCRMC), and fishermen in Cebu, Philippines, I feel a degree of excitement mixed with uncertainty at the vast array of possible outcomes such interactions might produce. While I am currently stuck in Guam, hoping to fly out as a standby passenger tomorrow night on what seems to be the first relatively open flight in several days – and hopefully before the tropical disturbance 60 miles to the south becomes a tropical depression or worse – I’ve been thinking about the specific challenges I may face while working in Cebu over the next several months. Here are just a few issues that have been weighing somewhat heavily upon me as I prepare to begin my work as a Center for Collaborative Conservation (CCC) fellow in the Philippines:

• To what extent will local perceptions about my being an “outsider” impact my efforts to effectively collaborate with each stakeholder group or to promote collaboration between these groups?
• Will I be able to communicate clearly with members of the CCEF, the SCCRMC, educators, townspeople, etc. regarding my project goals (i.e., why I’m here)?
• How readily will I be able to support NGO, government, educator, and community efforts to assess their own assets, needs and interests regarding coastal/marine ecosystem management and conservation?
• How will these identified assets, needs and interests specifically shape the scope and sequence of my work?
• In which barangay (i.e., village) and in which school will I be working, with what grade level, and with what level of interest and commitment on the part of the teachers to develop an experiential learning program?
• In what ways have local communities been involved in previous coastal resource management projects?
• How much progress will actually be made toward developing an experiential learning program during the two months I will be in Cebu, and how sustainable will the program be after I’m gone?
• Will I learn to appreciate the heat, humidity, and spartan amenities to which I’ll be ostensibly exposed in southern Cebu (e.g., should procuring a highly-prized tube of jock-itch cream prove irksomely elusive, can I live happily with potentially perpetual discomfort)?

Jock-itch references aside, I’m certain that all these issues will be addressed in due time, but I hope to be as prepared as possible when my work on the ground gets underway. To this end, upon arrival in Manila, I will be meeting with the head of the WWF Philippines’ Environmental Education Program, and I think this meeting will help me know what to expect from similar meetings in Cebu with other stakeholders over the coming weeks. Regardless of specific project outcomes, of upmost importance is that I seek to remain flexible and sensitive to community needs, that I emphasize progress over success, and that I remain ever cognizant of my role as both teacher and student (as Freire recommends) throughout my time in the Philippines. By doing these things, I will maximize my own and others’ potential to achieve the greatest good and to support collaborative conservation efforts most effectively.