The months of May and June saw ALF Morotai staff complete a six-month outreach project with five of the surf clubs around Morotai that we have set up with local communities.
The objective of the project was to engage club members and villagers in interactive activities based on Morotai Surfing Association’s values, namely: furthering the development of surfing as a professional sport amongst youth; raising awareness of the importance of protecting the marine environment and providing resources to do so; fostering self-confidence; minimising the gender gap in surfing through active support of girls and women; fostering and providing skills in the aim of advancing sustainable tourism. The Toguruga Surf Competition held in March had been a pivotal step in a sequence of phases that made up this six month project, each building on the previous one.
For this last stage, we engaged over 157 locals, ranging from young children to village government representatives and went about this using visual tools at the site of the surf break. Local surf club members designed and erected posters displaying messages they want to share with the broader community. These messages included saying no to plastic, supporting girls and women in surfing, preserving their traditional surfing culture. The posters attracted many onlookers with conversations around these topics naturally being struck up. Creating space and the opportunity for dialogue around important issues to happen organically, out of curiosity and in the setting where action happens is proving very successful for a number of reasons. It means there is no sense of separation between primary stakeholders, a diverse spectrum of the general public are engaged and at the location of the surf break where they can comprehend more directly what the consequences of the issues may or may not be, they see community members taking action and what it means to these members, village chiefs respond to what they are hearing and seeing among the community and want to know and understand more.
Action, and willing action by passionate community members is a powerful currency. Across communities that are used to hearing what “will” happen but often doesn’t, or being promised much and in reality seeing little change, action equates to trust. If you see it happening, it’s happening! Village, district and island government take notice, the more so as they see it coming from the community. With education standards some of the lowest in the world in this region, action is also quickly and easily understood. Learning by doing is the norm and therefore concepts developed in this way usually have not only long-term impact but lead to local innovation. If we are looking to regeneration and regenerative futures, communities living in some of the most biologically diverse and pristine ecosystems need to have their voice heard, and in a way that is meaningful and actionable for them.