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The “Insider’s Diary” is back! Our last blog entry featured a detailed account of all the wonderful activities in Module 2 from our Academy of Agents of Change program and the response was so overwhelmingly positive, Robert was more than happy to do it again for our amazing readers and supporters. This time, he shares what our inspired Agents of Change would go on to learn and achieve in Module 3.
Narrated by Robert Balfour – Program Coordinator, Academy of Agents of Change
Module 3: “I am My Community”
Dates: April 19-21, 2013
Place: Isabela Island, Galapagos Archipelago
Our participants woke up early on Friday the 19th and gathered in the main dock of Puerto Ayora at 7:00am in order to board our speedboat that would take us to Puerto Villamil on the island of Isabela. By 7:30am the whole group was onboard, “outward bound”, and heading once again southwest to familiar grounds but uncertain of what new adventures awaited them the next 3 days.
After the two-hour journey through the calm waters of Galapagos, we arrived at Isabela and Paul and Constanza quickly organized our first meeting in the main buildings of the Galapagos National Park. There, both our Outward Bound facilitators explained how different this module was going to be from the first two, especially because each Agent was going to work hard on organizing and developing his/her own initiatives. This meant spending more time indoors than in the previous modules while we talked and debated about how to achieve our objectives. Our participants seemed disheartened at first, but eventually came to understand the importance of all the activities and objectives we managed to accomplish.
For our first activity, Paul and Constanza invited the whole group out to the beach and presented a first challenge that our eager Agents would be required to go through. In order for each participant to understand the concept of systemic thinking, the main concept behind this third module, Paul introduced the dynamic of the “electric fence”. He tied a rope between two mangroves on the beach and the idea of this activity was that each member of the group had to pass this “fence” without touching it while every participant was connected (by touch) to someone else in the group. After making sure that the group understood the importance of safety in such a way that each one could still pass over the “electric fence”, we saw the whole group begin to build strategies to accomplish the challenge. Juan Andrés took position as team leader and helped organize the rest of the group. He started giving out advice on how to successfully pass all his teammates from one side to the other. Later on, we saw how each participant, viewing him/herself as a cogwheel in an intricate system, went through the activity caring for the safety of the whole family while keeping in mind the end objective to be achieved. The activity proved to be a great metaphor of what acting systemically should be.
By 10:00am, we were ready to head back to our main quarters and start working on our initiatives. After Juan Andrés explained that by concentrating and giving all his energy to the task he was able to help the rest of the team get through the “electric fence” activity, we immediately turned our focus to the specific initiatives. By using graphics to consolidate ideas, the participants organized themselves by first thinking about the main problem in their community that they wanted to address. Next, they thought about what part of the population was affected by this problem. Finally, they brainstormed around how they were planning on tackling this problem. By the end of the activity, each Agent had also started to see who and what the key elements were within the system that they were addressing, thereby analyzing and planning ahead for future outreach.
We dedicated all of Friday to this activity and by the end of the day, the group was ready for an early night, but not before we relaxed and played some games in the lounge area of the hotel.
At 8:00am on Saturday morning we were having breakfast and an hour later we were back in our classroom getting ready for our next activity. In order for our participants to learn more about how to think systemically and act accordingly, Paul had organized a new activity that would take up the entire day. Our group of Agents had to investigate and learn how the municipality of Puerto Villamil dealt with the garbage the whole population produced on a daily basis. This meant that each Agent would go out, interview key people regarding this problematic issue, and later on report to us what they had learned. This would not only prove the effectiveness of tools they had developed during the previous module regarding communication, but also demonstrate the value of looking to those intrinsically connected to the solution of the problem. Our Agents would be learning how to harness the valuable information collected and apply it towards a clear objective.
After two hours of walking around port, we had the whole group back in the classroom ready topresent what they had learned. They were surprised that the island had implemented a clear program regarding the classification of garbage, and yet the main garbage disposals around port were not properly used. They were also intrigued by the fact that mostly all of the recyclable and non-recyclable waste is taken out of the island free of charge and sold out in the mainland – but that there is still so much garbage to be seen around port, especially around public areas. Lastly, they were concerned about the effect on health, tourism, and the community that the amount of garbage could have not only in the short-term, but also the long-term. The results presented by the group were a perfect segue into setting up the second part of the activity. Taking into consideration that on Sunday our Agents would meet up with a group of adolescents from the island of Puerto Villamil, they were tasked with organizing an activity that would both help them to know this particular group of youngsters from their neighboring island while also creating a positive impact in the community. After considering the possibilities, they settled on doing a cleanup of the main park of Puerto Villamil. They were given a small budget that they could use to buy materials, water, and any other elements to help them with their activity. They also organized themselves so that each one had a role and an activity that they would have to perform the next day. By late Saturday afternoon, each Agent was practicing what they wanted to tell the group from Isabela, timing their introductions and setting up the main objective.
Sunday the 21st, our last day of the module, arrived and our group was ready to meet the 6 adolescents from Isabela. Both groups met up on the beach and as of that moment, Paul and Constanza gave full responsibility to our Agents to organize the group, the activity, and the objectives that they wanted to achieve. They began by introducing themselves, telling the new group a bit about who they were, what they had been doing in Isabela, and the experiences that they had encountered in these three modules. Paul, Constanza, and I witnessed how the Agents appeared extremely confident in what was a new experience for them, speaking with purpose and handling themselves very well as they presented the activity to our 6 invitees.
By 10:00am, our whole group was in the main park of Puerto Villamil, busy cleaning up all the garbage that we could find and dividing it into organic, recyclable, and non-recyclable categories. We were greeted by many of the port’s inhabitants; they were curious to know who we were and what we were doing. After finding out, they congratulated us on our initiative to help clean up the main park. By the end of the activity, we were all surprised to see the amount of garbage we had collected and were sad to have envisioned the possible consequences a lack of environmental consciousness could bring our way in the near future.
We finished our activity by thanking Daniel, Pablo, Miguel, María Belén, Jennifer and Fiorella for having partnered with us on thecommunity service initiative and we invited them to join our program again next year!
3:00pm in the afternoon found our entire group packed and ready to go back to Puerto Ayora. This was our last visit to the island of Isabela and we were all grateful for the many adventures we had lived through on this wonderful island. We had hiked 14 kilometers to reach the main caldera of an active volcano, snorkeled in pristine waters with sharks and tropical fish, met people from Puerto Villamil, and planned our next steps for carrying out our initiatives. We said goodbye to the island and just as were waiting to board our speedboat, a Galapagos Penguin swam by the dock chasing a small school of fish, a closing reminder of how truly incredible our islands are and how important it is to take care of them.