Like the eight that came before it, this week has been full of surprises. After a slippery climb to three breath-taking waterfalls, donning sweaty shark costumes for crowds of children, our first days of sunshine in weeks, a rousing meeting with the mayor, and a scramble to make sure everything is in place for our launch party – we are tired and happy. We are cherishing our last days together and reflecting on how far we’ve come and all that we’ve learned.
We spent Monday hiking to Kuyawyaw Falls. After waking to dark clouds and relentless rains, we welcomed the quiet beauty of the falls and the forest, and were able to discover a tourist destination that felt like an escape from the norm. Hungry, tired, and a little wet, we headed to lunch at Tita Bea’s organic farm where we were greeted by friendly dogs and plates of delicious food. We devoured chicken inasal, bangus, palabok, eggplant salad, and turon before touring the greenhouses and learning about the farm’s operation.
On Tuesday, we were introduced to the Save Sharks Network Philippines (SSNP) 2018 Shark Conservation Roadmap. The fellows were split into teams of two to accompany the SSNP team to barangays for shark and ray conservation IECs each day this week. We traveled to Calitang Elementary School near Nacpan beach with the trio of volunteer teachers from Spain (“las chicas”) on Tuesday. We observed the interactive IECs, and Giorgi read a story about a group of shark friends to a classroom of eager children, the most calm and well-behaved I saw them all day. The highlight, of course, was when “las chicas” sauntered onto the basketball court in full-body shark costumes and posed for pictures – the crowd went wild.
After weeks of dreary weather, the shining sun on Wednesday morning truly felt like a blessing. We spent the day finalizing aspects of El Nido Official and making edits using the feedback from last week’s successful workshop. Now it was time to plan for the future of our project. Throughout the fellowship we’ve re-visited our goal to create a communications platform that is sustainable. With our departure growing nearer, we wondered what role our website will play in El Nido’s dynamic future. Who would be responsible for maintaining it? Would the mayor continue to support the site? As we prepped for our pitch to Mayor Rosento the next day, we discussed our thoughts and hopes for the future of El Nido Official.
Thursday morning brought both Annies, Lin, and Giorgi to the El Nido mayor’s office. Annie C and Giorgi led the meeting, walking through the key features of the website and our brand story. The mayor’s excitement was palpable as her smile spread to all of our faces. At each pause, she would jump in with an idea for one of the pages. Without fail, Annie C would reassure her that we had already included it, demonstrating that we had succeeded in creating a comprehensive website. Having the mayor’s support is key for the future of El Nido Official, and having her approval and encouragement was a win. She gave us the go-ahead for the launch party, and promised an executive order to make the website truly official. We drafted the El Nido Official management protocol on Friday morning, and continued to plan for Monday’s party. Invitations were printed and delivered, shirts and stickers designed and sent to the printer, and location details finalized. Despite being busy, it has been slowly dawning on us that these are our last few days, and our last full week. Naturally, endings prompt reflection.
We’ve learned a lot over the past nine weeks.
We’ve learned the importance of positivity, a good sense of humor, and friendship. I’ve never had a job where I laughed so much. That’s not to say we didn’t get any work done – ask anyone who was at our “Connect El Nido” workshop last week and saw the time and effort that went into the website we created. But living and working with this team of fellows has been truly a joy. It’s apparent in many times a day we erupt into uncontrollable laughter and how many inside jokes we have (“joke lang!”)
We’ve learned the value of teamwork. Just as no two days have been alike during this internship, no two fellows are alike, and for that we are grateful. We are a diverse group with distinct personalities and interests: business, computer science, environmental science, tourism, international affairs, human development, and biology. We come from two different countries and regions. And our website reflects that: inclusive, representative, and nuanced.
We’ve learned of the beauty and wonder of nature. While not all of us came into the fellowship with a background in conservation, I can assure you we are all leaving with a deep respect and admiration for the environment, and the ocean especially.
We’ve also learned that the best divers are the most relaxed. Moving slowly and breathing deeply you use less oxygen, disturb fewer creatures, and observe your surroundings. If the protected area is not managed correctly and the local government cannot communicate with tourists and residents, what makes El Nido so special – the rich biodiversity, breathtaking landscape, and quiet beauty – will not last. We believe that well-managed tourism can foster inclusive economic growth and encourage the protection of cultural and natural resources. We’re inspired by the work Ms. Mariglo has been doing with El Nido Resorts for over 20 years. The future of sustainable development and tourism requires integrated planning by the El Nido government, educated travelers and consumers, accountable tour operators and businesses, and buy-in from El Nido residents. We hope our website and workshops can contribute to the assembly of these essential stakeholders toward meaningful communication and cooperation. For development that will sustain we need to slow down, observe our surroundings, and make room for all.
As a last hoorah, if you happen to be in El Nido next week, stop by our launch party. We promise it will be wholesome, but lit.