New Oceans Project Blog
I really should try and blog about the project more. Its amazing how quickly the project seems to be taking off, and it feels good to be able to look back on all that has been achieved so far, especially on days when you feel like you are stuck in a rut.
We now have more than 60 young ‘Oceans Ambassadors’ on the books, and it is amazing how diverse their backgrounds are. They include an orphan, a young person from a refugee camp, a couple of Georgians who teach in Public Schools (not just English teachers, but a History teacher too!), some university students, and young people from both private and public schools. All of them have English as a second, third, or even fourth language, with their first language being Russian, Georgian, Ukranian, or Czech.
Crossing Boundaries and Borders
It really feels as if we are crossing so many borders already, not just in social background, but also in terms of culture and language, and experiences. Some of our Ambassadors come from homes with outsides hole in the ground toilets, and a family income of less than £40 a month, whilst the other half are children of Embassy Delegates, Ministers, Business Directors, or famous actors. But there don’t seem to be any issues on that front so far, thank goodness. The groups are starting to mingle now, and friendships are forming, which really warms my heart. I was grinning from ear to ear this week, when I saw some of the students from my old school chatting and sharing jokes on facebook with some of the wealthier kids from my new school, which is a private school. This is what the project was designed for, and already the Ambassadors are benefitting from their shared experiences and stories of life and the world. In fact, I think the Ambassadors have adapted to the difference in social status far better than any of the adults.
We now have a team of 7 Leaders and 2 behind the scenes Business Managers, and a behind the scenes web designer and graphic designer. So that feels really special. I love my team. Lothar is my right hand man, and I can’t run the project without him. Dave is official photographer, Alex is vital for presentations and recruitment along with myself, and also for the personal development side of the project, particularly when the weather warms up in Spring and we start to do more group focused leadership and team building and outdoor pursuits such as camping and climbing. Nana is our official translator, although to be honest, the Ambassadors haven’t really needed her to help with their English too much yet, and they really like to be self sufficient which is great to see. And last, but not least, Tako and Tako, the project’s official Scientists, and whom I could not do without as they are great at all the things that I am completely hopeless at, especially with the Ambassadors. Behind the scenes, my school is being super supportive, and as well as letting us have use of their building (which was sponsored by Marriott Hotel Group, and is why we have the best and nicest school of the whole of Georgia), they are also networking on our behalf and guiding the business side of things, which is superb.
Tbilisi State University Meetings
Last week we had a great meeting with the Director of Tbilisi State University, and have lots of plans to link up with his projects and facilities longer term. We now need to organise a presentation to 900 of his students over the next two weeks, the biggest presentation I will ever have given at one sitting, if it turns out that way! Which is quite an achievement given that I hated presenting prior to starting the Oceans Project, but as the Founder and Director of the Project, I somehow have overcome that fear now, as I feel that I just have to get on with it these days! Maybe it has something to do with being a teacher now as well, and being used to standing up and talking all day!!! I am sure I will still be nervous, but the fear is nothing like it was a just a few months ago when I was presenting for the Pre School.
Sponsorship Meeting with the Bank of Georgia
It is an anxious wait right now, as we are hoping to have the Bank of Georgia as our official sponsors, and are awaiting word on whether they will sponsor us or not. The news should come any day now, and this will have massive implications on the trip to London next Friday. We have yet to book flights, and we have a lot of meetings still to organise, which cannot really be done until we know flights are booked and who will be coming. I would have loved the Georgian members of the team to come with us to the UK, but sadly there will not be time to organise visas for them. But I hope that we can go again next year and take them with us, so that they can benefit from meeting new and interesting people and supporters. I’m really excited about London, but also don’t want t think about it until I know that we have the signal from the Bank. One of our missions will be to seek sponsorship from corporations for the Earthwatch expedition part of the project, and we hope that people will sponsor individual children.
Oceans Ambassadors Sponsorship
As part of that preparation, I’m now busy trying to put a presentation pack together, with a photo and piece of writing and expedition choice from every Oceans Ambassador, as well as expedition dates, flight and visa information, and which leaders will be on which expedition. This will be a vital link in our sponsorship application, and I really hope that we can win the sponsors over, as this will be an amazing opportunity for our young guys.
We also have to organise a few more presentations, but these will depend on whether or not we are in London. We have three more schools lined up for big presentations still, and have barely touched the surface in terms of recruitment.
We decided that it was best to close admission to the current group now, and as of tomorrow, we will be selecting only the best candidates for expeditions, so that we can support them as much as possible. Any Ambassador who fails to attend for three sessions without good reason will now be off the project. Tough, but necessary not that we have such a big group. Especially since we need to find sponsorship for many aspects of the project and also need to purchase Duke of Edinburgh Award packs, but need to know how many 14-24 year olds we have.
I’m pleased to say that we also have a serious number of younger guys on the project, who are really enthusiastic, although it can be tricky managing the very big differences in age groups sometimes, as we range from 8-25 now. But last week, we asked them to think about which expeditions they wanted to go on, and so now we have quite an even split of numbers and a mix of ages, so tomorrow we will see how they work in that team. The aim now is to get them thinking and working as a team, ready for their expedition in summer next year.
I am so relieved that I dropped the pre school teaching though. Things are just far too hectic these days, and pre school was a lot of time and energy. Now we have closed this group of Ambassadors, we can put our energies into developing them and raising sponsorship now. But can also recruit for a second session which will run on Saturday afternoons from January, and with an expedition over the Christmas holidays. We also need to work out how to add a university group, and a group in Batumi on the coast of Georgia, and possibly in Kutaisi too, plus a summer school.
London is going to be crucial for us as a project. I’m especially looking forward to meeting up with BBC Oceans Presenter and expedition leader Paul Rose next Friday evening. SInce the Oceans Project is based around the BBC Oceans series, I need to talk to him about a lot of things, and also to arrange dates when our guys can talk to him on the satellite phone, especially when he goes to Antarctica in a few weeks time. We also need to talk about a visit to Georgia, and the possibility of a workbook, and of him and others from the series joining us on our Earthwatch expeditions or snorkel course in the Spring.
I’m also really keen to meet with Nigel Winser and James Fry from Earthwatch and to talk about our expedition logistics, and whether they have any ideas for fundraising and sponsorship, and also how to extend the project in the future, and to make beneficial links for both parties.
I’m looking forward to meeting with many different explorers, and putting dates in the diary for our Ambassadors to talk to them, and also I’m excited about a very special aspect of the project…the book! Plus meeting with some television documentary makers and UK based magazines about potential interviews and publicity.
The Book Idea
I have this idea in my head for a book that we can use for publicity and to raise funds, and I hope that we can get Pinewood Film Studios involved with this. The idea is to write and publish a book entitled ‘Oceans Project: Memories of the Sea’. I’m going to ask everyone I know, and also lots of explorers and celebrities to contribute a photo, drawing, picture, memory, or story, about an experience they have had with the ocean, and what it meant to them. I’ll then publish this collection, and hold an auction for the original, or perhaps a signed copy of the first one. Hopefully I can get all the diving and wildlife magazines involved too. It’ll be great fun to organise, and something that I would really enjoy doing, so hopefully I can get some ideas and inspiration over the Explore weekend at the Royal Geographical Society when we visit next week (fingers crossed for the finance!).
So, my friend Erin got back to me with some ideas for business cards this week, and they look fantastic, so I hope that we can get them organised in time for London, as we will really need them. Here is a sneek preview!!!
I still find it kind of funny to be referred to as the ‘Founder’ of the Oceans Project. It wasn’t long ago that it was just a crazy idea in my tiny little mind!!! Now, it is amazing to think how far we have come already, and also what potential (hopefully) lies ahead!!!
I’ve been blogging for a year now, and I made a vow now that I have been in Georgia a year ago last week, that I should try and do more with the blog, and learn some new things. So perhaps I will insert one of those poll thingies in here, and see if anyone replies. The vote is for the best business card, that you think best represents the Oceans Project:
Visit from Georgian Film Director Nikoloz Khomasuridze from Nikoloz Films
On Saturday we watched a clip from BBC Oceans, episode 2: The Southern Ocean. Lothar, one of our Project leaders is from Australia, so it has been great to have an Ozzy give some first hand accounts of life in Australia and for our Ambassadors to listen to some of his stories and to ask him questions about Australia and Tasmania. As a History teacher, I think it was also interesting for him to learn more about the connections with Britain, convicts and slavery, and also to see some of the underwater creatures from his own country. He has been a great asset in telling them about Tasmanian Devils and Aborigines. This was quite a new experience for some of our students, as they are fairly isolated when it comes to knowledge of the world outside of Georgia, particularly in terms of other cultures, so it was quite a good way to introduce them to some cultural differences to their own.
This week’s episode (minute 27.18-38.30) featured some rainbows, roaring 40s, the Nord ship wreck, Hipolites, deep diving and nitrox, diving computers, the British shipping their criminals and convicts to Tasmania, Port Davey, the Bathurst Channel and Sunken Valley, sea whips, basket sras, filter feeding, and the draught board shark.
Next we watched a clip from the BBC Planet Earth series, (minute 11-18, from Ocean Deep). This was the first time I had shown a clip from this series, and the kids all looked mesmerised as they watched the weirdest looking creatures on the big screen in our room! Things that they never imagined possible, and which probably convinced them all that aliens really do exist!!! We saw manta rays, talked about plankton, submarines, sea spiders, sawtooth eels, dumbo octopus, and the very strage vampire squid. I find it quite sad that no one in Georgia has even heard of David Attenborough, and no one has seen many of the beautiful and amazing BBC documentaries before. It is such a good way of encouraging them and getting them curious to know more about the oceans and the world, and is far better than words. SOmetimes it seems to be hard for them to believe what they are seeing and to think about things existing outside of the television screen.
I would love to meet with the BBC and ask them about the possibility of turning the Oceans Project into a BBC Education series. WIth the DVDs and a CGP style book to go with it, so that it can be used anywhere in the world. I’m hoping to meet with the BBC about this if we can get to London, and I really hope that they see the potential for this.
The film was a nice way to introduce film making and to think about the people who made the beautiful footage that we had just seen. Tooni Mahto, one of the BBC Oceans presenters is currently working with Manta Ray in Australia, so both the BBC Oceans and BBC Planet Earth series fitted in perfectly with talking about her work with rays, and I can’t wait to hear what questions they will ask her once we arrange a live chat with her from Australia.
This week we asked the Oceans Ambassadors to think about which Earthwatch expedition they would ultimately like to go on, and we had a staggering amount of archaeology requests. Earthwatch also have a new archaeology project, looking at dinosaurs, and many of the Ambassadors loved the look of this, so I will need to speak to Nigel and James when we go to London to see about the possibility of this as one of our expeditions. It is hard to gage what things the guys will be interested in, and often their interests are totally opposite to mine, but it was great to see them talking in teams about which expedition to choose and why. The verdict was pretty much archaeology or dolphins! But I wonder, whether that is because the other expeditions are just totally out there and that they cannot relate to them, or to the true concept of being on expedition as yet? It is kind of hard for me to gage really, as I have a good understanding of what an expedition will involve, but the kids have no idea really, and cannot really comprehend it, having never been abroad in the majority of cases.
Some of the Future Archaeologists:
They are really starting to get the whole ethos now though, and that is promising. One or two of the younger Ambassadors are higher maintenance than I would like right now, but every week there is definitely a marked difference in their behaviour. Not just on the project, but also in my geography lessons too, and other teachers have also reported such changes in them, so that is truly encouraging.
There was much anticipation about meeting Film Director Nikoloz. We didn’t tell them anything about it until the day, just in case the meeting fell through for any reason, as we thought they would be really disappointed. It was funny to see them suddenly become quite nervous when he entered the room, but Nikoloz was great and within the hour they were all very much at ease and couldn’t take their eyes off him.
First, he introduced himself to them, in English and then in Georgian, and asked each one of them to introduce themselves too. They were really nervous, but they stood up, and in English gave their name and a little about themself, and what they wanted to do for a living.
I was immensely proud of every one of them, and on the whole they behaved really well apart from the two youngest boys who haven’t quite got the idea about the project yet. I really hope that they improve substantially otherwise they won’t be going on an expedition anywhere. But I’m not ready to give up on them yet either.
It was interesting to hear them all talk about their aspirations, and there was a definite trend. All wanted to be either a Journalist, Lawyer, or Actor. These are all fairly typical jobs in Georgia, and I was a little sad that none of them had any aspirations to be scientists or biologists or conservationists. But I understand why. The government has only just started to contribute towards funding places on university courses for these subjects, and until recently there were almost no jobs in this field. This is why it is so important that we have our two scientists Tako and Tako on the project, and I really hope that giving them some experience in this field, will plant a seed in them and a passion for the environment and for natural sciences. Especially on expedition, and if by the end of the project, we have convinced just one person to look into a career in natural sciences, then I will be more than happy.
Nikoloz spoke about himself and his work, showed them some art work that was done for the storyboards and costume departments, and told them about his plans for making films with them over the next few weeks. We also had a bit of a discussion about whether it is a good or bad thing to base films on historical events, but to merge fantasy and history, or whether it might ruin or change our versions of real events?
Nikoloz asked them to write a story based on history and next session he will select the best proposals, and together the group will then set about making a mini film, and also working with some of the photographers from his film crew.
The plan is that, these skills will help them to work independently as film makers and photographers, so that they can then document their expeditions and anything else that interests them, and also use it as a medium to practice their English. So, I can’t wait to show you their final product. Nikoloz will soon be making another big film and has just returned from LA, so we plan to make the most of him at every opportunity we can, and hopefully to get the Ambassadors entering some of their films into International festivals and film making competitions, so that they can gain as much experience as possible. The great thing is, that this all counts towards learning a new skill for their Duke of Edinburgh Award too, and one of our aims is to help improve their stamina, attitude and patience, as they will need to learn this ready to be on expeditions next summer.
Lothar’s Birthday and Friday Night Presentation
It really was a hectic week this week, but also a good chance to enjoy a little bit of quality time with the Oceans Project Team Leaders, and to help celebrate Lothar’s birthday. It was a really nice evening, though not a long one as we were all pretty exhausted. Here are a few photos of the evening:
On Sunday we joined Europe House as part of European Union funded project to promote the concept of volunteering and environmental action within Georgia. The weather was a bit grim at 7am, and lots of folk were calling me to check that we were still going. But, incredibly, none of our guys dropped out, and the weather didn’t deter them in the slightest, which was really encouraging.
So we met at the Raddison Hotel in the centre of Tbilisi, and took the coach to a popular tourist area in Kakheti. As soon as we arrived, the local ladies rushed up to us in the hopes that we would buy candles to make offerings at the Shumta churches, and they looked rather confused at what exactly we were doing there. We were clearly not tourists, nor were we on a typical excursion! And we were about to do something very alien to many Georgians, pick up rubbish! And what’s more, we all looked to be smiling and happy about it, and about the weather!
The Oceans Ambassadors were totally brilliant all day. Never complaining, and not afraid of hard work, they just mucked in and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to be out in the fresh air and doing something beneficial for the country. Many of them were shocked to see how much litter there was, and if we achieved nothing else, then I am pretty sure that none of our guys will ever drop a piece of litter again! It was all pretty deceptive sadly, as much of the years and layers of plastic and litter was covered in a beautiful blanket of autumnal leaves, and it wasn’t until you moved the leaves, that you really saw the full situation.
Some local people were have a supra (picnic) outside, and at one point there was a nasty moment where they sacrificed a live chicken that made the most awful noise and then ran around headless for a bit. Many of the children seemed a little confused, that people would go to all the effort of sacrificing chickens and sheep as offering to the monastery, yet they had no problem in leaving litter in the church grounds. It hadn’t really crossed my mind, so I was surprised that it had bothered the kids in that way, but also really encouraged to see them thinking environmentally and starting to question things. It is one of the things that I miss in my Geography lessons and is something that Georgian children don’t seem to do very much….question things, or make connections for themselves. They are just not brought up in that way sadly, and so it can sometimes be hard to get them to do their homework properly, as they have really been brought up under an educational system that encourages them just to memorize whole passages of text, and to spout out everything they know, rather than answering a particular question, or critically analysing it.
I was a little taken aback, but not totally surprised, when the TV crew for Rustavi 2 showed up and wanted interviews about what we were doing. This kind of thing is so new to Georgia that it still makes tv viewing, and so it was great to be asked to give an interview quickly. I missed it sadly, but I know the school Director saw it on tv.
Later we went to a second site, and collected even more rubbish, before enjoying a supra together to celebrate and share our new friendships and positive actions. It was brilliant to see the kids all communicating in their only common language, English, and having fun with their new friends, and really starting to gel as teams. It was also great to meet with some parents too, and it really made me see the potential impact for the project in terms of promoting environmental awareness, in a really very simple way.
- spending quality time outside of school with kids from my geography classes.
- Hanging out with Lile for the day.
- Seeing the smiles on the parent’s faces when they saw the kids buzzing with excitement when we arrived back in Tbilisi.
- Seeing the kids toast marshmallows for the first time in their lives, and being ambushed with kid’s desperate for me to try their toasted marshmallow, and seeing how proud and happy they were.
- Being told by others that they were really impressed by our Oceans Project kids, and that they never believed they would meet such amazing children in Georgia.
- Seeing those lightbulb moments as the kids started to make connections.