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We recently introduced you to Robert Balfour, our wonderfully passionate program coordinator in the Galapagos who is bringing all the activities of the Academy of Agents of Change to life for our young participants. This week on the blog we have an extremely special treat provided by Robert himself – a rich, detailed account of the experiences from recently completed Module 2. So sit back, relax, and get ready to be transported to the Island of Santa Cruz as he takes you along for the ride!
Narrated by Robert Balfour – Program Coordinator, Academy of Agents of Change
Dates: March 21-24, 2013
Place: Island of Santa Cruz
We have finished our second module and our Agents of Change were thrilled with the incredible experiences that our Outward Bound facilitators had organized for them. We camped for three nights in the highlands of the island of Santa Cruz where we enjoyed the typical cool and humid temperature of this area; we kayaked in the peaceful waters of Turtle Bay and we jumped from the cliffs of “Las Grietas.” Our Agents lived through these incredible experiences with a positive attitude. With the help of Ashoka’s Youth Venture approach to social change, they also began to give a clear direction to their social initiatives. Read on!
Our group of 8 Agents of Change plus Paul and Constantza, our Outward Bound Facilitators, all met up at 7:00 AM in the main park of Puerto Ayora in the island of Santa Cruz. By 7:30 AM we had our entire group on the bus and we headed towards the natural reserve of “Cerro Mesa.” This reserve is a private initiative to help protect an area situated on the western side of the island with projects involving ecotourism, bird watching, and camping – all with a beautiful view from a lookout point on top of the iconic “Cerro Mesa.” Our Agents, still sleepy from waking up so early in the middle of their holidays, kept quiet, gazing out the windows and noticing how the vegetation gradually changed as we ascended to 600 meters above sea level to reach our base camp.
Once we arrived, Paul welcomed the whole group to our second module and began our activities with a simple task. Each participant had to write down their names on a small piece of paper, fold them, and put them in a plastic bag. Afterwards, they all had to pick one of the pieces. The name they collected would become their shadow and they had to make sure that that person was safe the whole time; they had to observe him/her and see what he/she does throughout the four days of the module. With this first activity Paul gave out a clear and simple message to all of our Agents…
After the initial welcoming, we hiked up to the summit of “Cerro Mesa” and enjoyed the view of the northern and western sides of Santa Cruz. It was a clear day with a nice breeze that cooled down the typical, warm day of March. To get our Agents warmed up and awake we did a couple of rounds of the “ninja” game. At first, our Agents weren’t exactly sure what to think of having to scream like a ninja, or assume a crazy ninja position, but after a first round all of them were so eager to play that they forgot about “playing it cool” and by the end of the activity all of them had smiles on their faces, were paying attention to the whole group, and were ready to begin working on their initiatives.
We hiked back down again and Paul asked all of the Agents to have a seat and began organizing a group dynamic that involved learning the differences between hearing and listening, differences that would prove vital for a future dynamic in which our participants had to talk with people from Puerto Ayora to learn about their necessities. After the activity, each Agent talked about how each one noticed when they were actually listening actively to the other person and not just hearing. Mellissa explained that she paid attention to the other person; Heidy said that she was aware of her emotions when listening actively, while Bryan noticed that he observed the other person with much more concentration. Nory was excited to discover that listening took her conversation to “another level” and that she was able to gather more information from what the other person was saying.
This dynamic proved to be an excellent stepping-stone for the next activity. Paul paired up all of the Agents and asked them to have a conversation with their partners centered on what they felt passionate about and what their social initiatives were. Paul, Constanza, and I observed as each pair sat down around our conference room and began talking. After a while, we all gathered back again inside and listened as each one related what the other person had told them. Mellissa explained how Diana felt passionate about theater and that she would love to combine theater with education in order to give talks about sexuality to adolescents on her island. Juan told us how Sugeidy loves working in her mother’s garden and that she wants to motivate her community to plant endemic plants of the Galapagos Islands in their gardens. Each one talked about their partner’s initiatives and it was clear to see how excited they were about the possibility of actually being able to achieve them and having a positive impact in their communities.
We finished that first day after various activities in which their sole objectives were to have each agent discuss their initiatives, listen to the suggestions of their fellow Agents, and begin to understand all the hurdles that they must pass in order to achieve them. By 11:00 PM all our Agents were in their tents resting and listening to the timid sounds of insects and night birds.
We woke up early on Friday and began organizing the group for all the activities we were going to have throughout the day. Our daypacks had a bottle filled up with plenty of water, sunscreen lotion, sunglasses, bathing suits and a box lunch. By 9:00 AM we headed down towards town and began our walk towards one of the most beautiful beaches in the archipelago: “Turtle Bay.” We walked west for 30 minutes amongst “Palo Santo” Trees, Opuntia Cactus and Acacias while listening to Darwin´s finches and mocking birds. Turtle bay is a two kilometers long white sand beach that has crystal clear blue water, marine turtles that nest along the sand dunes, marine iguanas that rest on the sand after diving for their food and plenty of marine birds that fish, nest and rest along the coastline. In other words, Turtle Bay is the perfect scenario for an Outward Bound outing.
We walked to the protected side of the beach where mangroves around the sides form a perfectly shaded bay. Our group left our daypacks aside and Constanza began the safety talk regarding how to properly use a kayak. 20 minutes later, all our agents were sharing two-person sit-on-top kayaks and smiling at the possibility of things to see all along the coastline. But Constanza had other plans and made sure that each agent experienced kayaking outside of their comfort zones. The activity was organized so that one of the Agents on the kayak had to paddle for the first hour blindfolded while listening to the directions that the other Agent gave out. They changed roles after that first hour as we continued to paddle all along the secluded bay. Our Agents were thrilled with the activity and loved the experience of having to describe the scenery that they were watching to their blindfolded partner.
We stayed in Turtle Bay for the rest of the day doing other activities that were related to building up their initiatives and having them describe in greater detail what they are about and how they relate to the other initiatives of their fellow Agents. By 3:00 PM, we started our walk back to Puerto Ayora, got on board our bus and headed up again to the humid highlands where our base camp awaited us. We finished that day remembering all the activities that we had taken part in, and how each one was so important for team building, getting to know more of one another, enjoying our incredible islands, and how we are interconnected with our communities.
If our Agents thought that Friday was a day filled with activities and learning opportunities, Saturday came to be an epic day in our Agents’ journeys.
We woke up at 6:00 AM and prepared our daypacks for a whole day excursion. Once again we made sure that they had plenty of water, sunscreen, a box lunch, swimming suits, and clothes for a night activity. By 9:00 AM we had gone down to port on our bus and started our excursion with a visit to “Las Griestas.” This is one of the most important leisure sites of Puerto Ayora and is located just outside port, 20 minutes walking distance. We invited all of our Agents to be aware of how many people visit this site, pollution levels through visitor activity, and efforts to keep the site clean. We asked them how this site is important to them and to describe the changes it has gone through since they were young.
Two tall cliffs on either side that run parallel all the way into the sea form “Las Grietas.” In between the tall cliffs lays water that has a mixture of both fresh water that comes down from the highlands of Santa Cruz and salt water that filters in from the sea. A classic activity is daring to jump into the water from one of the cliffs as high as 8 meters. Our entire group enjoyed the cool waters, observed the amount of people that came in, and some of them, like Heidy, faced their fears of heights and of swimming and jumped from the cliff and swam the entire length of the “Grietas.”
After that we headed towards town and visited the beach of the Charles Darwin Research Station. This is another important leisure site for Puerto Ayora and receives many people especially during weekends. We enjoyed swimming in the sea, had our box lunch and observed people enjoying a tranquil Saturday afternoon. Afterwards we headed toward town again where Constanza had organized our next activity. Each one of our Agents had to go around town interviewing people on what their true necessities were and had to investigate how they related to their own social initiatives. This gave a great opportunity to each individual to practice their listening capabilities and to express their own thoughts regarding their social initiatives. We reunited at 5:30 PM in the main offices of Lonesome George & Co. where we had a brief opportunity to listen to what they learned and how they managed themselves while interviewing their neighbors and other people within their communities.
By 7:00 PM we walked towards the main park of Puerto Ayora and joined the staff of WWF who were busy getting ready for their own global initiative: Earth Hour. For one hour, various cities around the world agreed to turn off their lights in main public buildings and tourism sites to bring awareness to the impact that human beings are having on the environment. Puerto Ayora agreed to collaborate on this collective initiative and our Agents became active members helping to organize the event, turning on candles all over the park and later on joining in all the activities that were organized for the event.
At 10:30 PM we headed back to our base camp and by 12:00 AM we could only hear quiet conversations of our Agents inside their tents getting ready to sleep.
Our last day we stayed up in “Cerro Mesa” lifting up camp and finishing the last details regarding the Agents’ initiatives. By the end of our second module, each participant had gone through dreaming about their social ventures, writing an outline of future objectives, jumped from cliffs, met new people from their communities while learning about their necessities, and joined thousands of cities around the world for Earth Hour. Bring on the third module! Our Agents can’t wait to get started.