I’m often amazed at how quickly the weeks seem to fly by, and how I always feel like I have achieved nothing at all, despite all the hours of effort. Progress comes in waves, sometimes I feel like I’m on a treadmill, churning out work and having no social life at all, then all of a sudden there are moments when I stop working and all the efforts gone by, just fall into place and things are achieved. Its a very strange phenomenon. Probably akin to planting a seed, and it doesn’t matter how many hours you sit by and watch that seed, it will always just grow as and when it is ready, regardless of whether you are watching it or not. Though, I’d never advise taking your eye off it entirely…that could be a disaster!
I never feel like I have achieved much at all when it comes to my baby, ‘Oceans Project Georgia’, but it is only when I sit down to write my blog, or when I am applying for funds, or I speak to someone who has never heard of the project or asks questions, that I actually realise how far we have progressed, and I am always stunned and very proud.
This week has been one of those weeks. Meeting with lawyers, registering as an official NGO, meeting with the bank, and filing applications for future projects to a sum of at least half a million pounds. Its a scary prospect, but also really exciting, and I’m ready for it in so many ways. How did this little idea that I had way back in May 2010, suddenly become this official thing which people applaud me for? I was just doing the things I loved, and despite the number of hours invested in the project, it has never seemed like work, and if I had my way, I really would eat and sleep project. I actually get annoyed when I get hungry or tired and have to stop my work. There is also something so rewarding about finally finding something that you love so much and are good at in life, where you are your own boss to a point, and where others are happy because of the efforts you put in on their behalf. Its funny, because I went into medicine looking for this feeling, but even though I was involved in saving lives, it never had that same sense of achievement and there was no time to stop and reflect or to have that human connection.
But Oceans Project is different all together. The 80 young people ‘Oceans Ambassadors’ now whittled down to around 44 of the absolute best and most consistent Ambassadors, make me proud every day. I only see them for three hours on a Saturday during our project session, unless I’m meeting with them for coffee to discuss their entry to the United Nations environmental competition in Sweden, or meeting to go over the shooting of their short film ‘Oni’. But outside of that face to face time, is when the magic really happens. They are constantly on facebook, sharing links about articles they have read, researching for their Earthwatch expedition for the summer, coming up with ideas, or talking to me about becoming Assistant Leaders on the next project.
Invitation to a School Film Premiere
This week I was invited to the ‘school premiere’ of a film written and filmed by four of our Ambassadors, and at the speech they thanked Oceans Project, even though they were the ones who came up with the idea and did all the work. There was a community there, watching that film, staff, students, parents. I was immensely proud, and I couldn’t believe how grown up they all looked, standing on stage, dressed so smart, looking confident, giving speeches and presenting to an audience. I couldn’t believe these were the same shy and quiet children who started project with us in September, and whose first group presentation was given with them talking to their shoes, backs to the audience. Looking at them now, all profesional and voices projected, with speeches well rehearsed and prepared, it was difficult to believe that they were only twelve years old. To be a part of their project and to be thanked was a great feeling, and I can only imagine how much more they will develop over the next few months of project. Soon they will start shooting their film with Film Producer Nikoloz, currently busy with his big budget movie ‘Jeans Generation’. And then they will be travelling to another country for the first time in their lives, two of them will be working with groupers and sharks, the other researching climate change in the French Alps. They also have the opportunity to work as Assistants with A’List actors on Jeans Generation over the summer holiday, and are helping me to write the Oceans Project workbook. They also want to become Assistant Leaders on our next intake of Ambassadors.
The whole experience was mind blowing if I am honest! More so, because their parents came up to me after the presentation, whilst the kids were receiving flowers and congratulations on their film, and the parents were teared up, and thanking me for starting up Oceans Project and for giving their children such an opportunity. I often find this so strange to hear, because it is the kids who lead the way, they are the creative and energetic ones, and I just do my best to enable them to be the best they can be. Its because of their characters and the efforts of their parents, that they are such amazing individuals, and I can in no way take any credit for that. I just give them a time and space to meet like minded young people, they do the rest. I’m always nervous when I meet the parents, because I’m always humbled, and as a Brit, I’m hopeless at accepting compliments or hearing people saying nice things about me, and I always feel like a fraud and totally unworthy of such kind words. In the hospital, you could save a person’s life and never get a single word of thanks, only complaints! Even though you worked yourself into an early grave doing everything you could for that patient and their family. But, I’m always touched when parents tell me that their children talk about nothing else from the minute they wake up to the moment they go to bed, and I can understand that, because its exactly how I feel about project, but I am like that, because that is how the kids are and how they energise me and make me feel. Often a strong contrast to the rich and lazy kids, who are full of excuses, and rat me out at every opportunity at school because I’ve told them off for failing to even bring a pen to class for the previous two terms. The kids on Oceans Project are the doers of the world and the ones who I feel represent the Georgia that I know and love, but who often don’t have the same opportunities as children at the other end of society. Its probably the same around the world, with the elite few having all the opportunities but not appreciating them. But given the chance, I would spend every moment with the Oceans Ambassadors and they have some great ideas and a huge potential, and I have to make sure I listen to them and follow their direction at every opportunity.
This week was also amazing, because Paul Rose from the BBC Oceans series agreed to be our official Patron, as well as joining the Oceans Ambassadors on their Earthwatch expeditions over summer, and agreeing to put them through a ‘try dive’ (scuba dive). As a new not for profit organisation, that kind of support is just fantastic, and though we have received a lot of support from the very start, it is always great when people are prepared to put their well earned name and standing to our little project. Paul is an amazing guy, and I can’t wait for the kids to meet him in person, as I know they are of the same energy and passion and who knows what will be the outcome of that!
This week we also received our Operators License from the Duke of Edinburgh International Award and are the first to offer Duke of Edinburgh in Georgia, which historically is a great achievement for us and for the future of Georgia. We also had some great meetings with other organisations interested in joining forces and our network is growing. Can’t wait until our training weekend!
This week was also great because myself and Nikoloz decided that we would work together to raise the money to buy a building that would enable us to run Oceans Project and a Film Academy and we hope to be ready for this by 2014, by which time both organisations will be more established and we will have the best chance of raising the funds we need. This is perfect from my perspective as I’m a firm believer in the power of the media as a tool for education, and if this is done on a peer to peer level, then even better. Our Ambassadors are really creative and love art, and it is something that Georgians really relate well too, so we hope to build up a significant film industry here in Georgia and to use film as a means of educating about Georgia, the Caucasus, geography, environment, and the great biodiversity of Georgia. For example, to run a summer wildlife film making project with Ambassadors researching the plague of locusts in the heart of the Capital, working with scientists to collect data on them, and documenting this on film for interested parties around the world to see. The plague doesn’t happen every year, but is something unusual and doesn’t occur in every city in the world! We also hope that the Ambassadors will film the scientific research and activities they participate in during their Earthwatch expeditions and will share these with friends, family, and school mates as a way of popularising science, a subject which is not popular with many students, who prefer to study law and journalism. Georgia needs scientists.
Ambassadors and Film Making
I’ll give you an example of why I believe that our Ambassadors making films about science is so important. I’m a huge fan of the Caucasus Nature Fund, set up in 2008 with offices in the USA and France with the aim of protecting and conserving the flora and fauna of the Caucasus, including Georgia (http://www.caucasus-naturefund.org/). I love the work they are doing and am a massive supporter of them, and they made this great video about the Caucasus Leopard which faces extinction here:
The film is really well made, and has had 127 hits in three weeks of being on Youtube. This is a video that I am showing all of my Geography students at school, after they were inspired the BBC Planet Earth series and Amur Leopard. None of them had any idea that there are leopards in Georgia or that many of the species in the BBC Planet Earth series, migrate across Georgia, or similar creatures live here. Yet many Georgians love fashion and if you ask the students why they think fur is fashionable, they are horrified to suddenly realise where their furs come from. After watching this video, one of the Oceans Ambassadors who is also in my geography class, was inspired to make his own video about the Caucasus Leopard based on his own research as he felt strongly that people should know about this leopard and the possibility of it becoming extinct, so here is the video he made for his homework, bearing in mind he had no footage of his own and English is his second language, and he is 13years old:
I was staggered when I saw that his video had received 1157 hits within just two days. I showed it to all of my Geography classes. They had talked and not been particularly interested through the CNF video, but because a fellow student had made this video, they were curious and sat in total silence as they watched. Many of them cried. Now they have the option of making videos for every Geography lesson, are doing all the work themselves, and learning much more than they would get from me if I just stood at the front of the class and spoke to them or got them reading from textbooks. And what’s more, I can show other classes these videos during our lessons, and they are now competing to see who can make the best videos and to be the most popular student. I’m stunned! I’d experienced this before, in my public school, when I showed 12th graders videos of their schools made by the students who were the same age as them. They’d had no interest in the English topic when it was from the book, but showing them videos about the same topics, but made by peers in other countries, it was suddenly cool and acceptable to be learning. Here are a couple of other videos about the topics we covered in Geography this week:
So the idea of creating a Film Academy which utilises film making for educational purposes is perfect for Oceans Project Georgia, and as a viable business prospect. It should bring business to Georgia, and enable us to train up young people in film, environment, and English. A prospect that I’m really excited about…so watch this space! We have until February next year to get our application together, will then wait to here in July, and hopefully by October will have the funding we need to build our Academy.
This week I came across a brilliant fundraising tool, and am now just waiting for our ‘pitch’ to be approved before adding us to the list of creative projects looking for funds. I’m hoping this will allow us to raise £5000 for the Ambassadors short film which was originally going to be called ‘You’re a Human’, but now has the better name of ‘Oni’. They will shoot the film in Tbilisi over three days, and the film is set to appear at the Batumi Beer Festival this summer, before appearing on the International Film Festival Circuit. One of our Film Academy plans is to create a Georgia based film festival for entrants from around the world, but is purposely designed for students and young film makers, rather than being one aspect of a bigger film festival. Again, a world first, and a great opportunity to promote Georgia and up and coming film makers.
Fundraising is my biggest task right now, as it will enable me to deliver Oceans Project free of charge to young people, to do my outreach work with the street children in Tbilisi, and to run as a major NGO in the long term. Expeditions are a huge part of this and I really want to link up young people from other Black Sea basin countries as well as other countries on International focused Earthwatch expeditions for teenagers.
With the current financial climate and with us being so young as a project, I’m always looking for innovative ways in which to raise funds for every aspect of the Oceans Project. We need to buy a laptop, pay for their Snorkel course, offer Duke of Edinburgh Award free of charge, and so on. Crowd Funder (http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/) and the American equivalent Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/) look to be a good tool for this, as we just need to make a pitch, and can offer different rewards for different levels of investment, which donors can choose to accept or just make a donation without any reward. Payment can be made by card from any country in the world, and if we don’t reach our minimum target, then money gets returned to the donor, which is better in my view than something like JustGiving where you feel bad if your funding needs are not met as donors have no chance of getting their money back. However, we are also able to raise more than our target and continue to do so until our set number of days is up. We need the money by summer, so our pitch will be available for 60days.
The other great thing is that we can include all the information about our pitch, including updates, blogs, videos, and documents. It is up to us to share that pitch with everyone we can and to encourage others to invest in us. Potentially, with social media and the likes, this should be fairly easy, as the more people we spread our pitch to, the more donations we will hopefully receive, then we just pay a small commission on whatever we raise, and the money gets transferred to our bank account. But we can still use the site to update folks, and to promote our project. Now we just have to wait and see if they accept our pitch! In the meantime, I’m still on a mission to raise funds and awareness of our project so the kids can go on summer expeditions.
OK, so I have saved the best for last! Most of you know that I have wanted to undertake an expedition for quite some time, and the past month or so, I’ve had several opportunities presented to me, but was waiting on lots of other factors before making any decisions. But an amazing opportunity has presented itself the past few weeks and on a personal level it is perfect for me, but I need to just meet the rest of the team first and make sure that we all get on well together.
If all goes to plan, then it means that at the end of May 2013, myself and three British girls will be headed on a 6month journey, rowing across the South Pacific Ocean, from San Francisco to Hawaii, from Hawaii to Fiji, and from Fiji to Cairns, Australia. This is a part of the world that I have never been to but have been getting excited about during geography lessons, teaching about the Ring of Fire, Hawaii’s Volcanoes, etc. It will be a great chance to promote Oceans Project Georgia and Earthwatch, and for me to make educational and geography videos for my students and for Education through Expeditions, for which I am an Educational Ambassador.
Oh, and we hope to break 4 world records at the same time! So it would mean that by early December 2013, I’d be in Australia. It would mean that I need to get myself very fit in the meantime, so my best friend who is a physio is putting a training programme together for me, and one of my crewmates is a sports physio, also helpful! I need to get myself a running and rowing machine here, and will then have to train with my team via skype! But we plan to get together over the summer holidays to select the final team mate and to do some team building and training. Still a few other factors to iron out first, including my planned adoption, but she was really excited when I asked her about her thoughts, so that was very reassuring, and paperwork will likely take a few years anyway. Just have to figure out about school now, and my being an examiner for the GCSE Geography course, and making sure that Oceans Project is funded and stable to manage without my overseeing every step. Luckily I have an amazing team of people on board and we can plan everything out.
……..let’s see what time has in store for me!