It looks like March 2012 is going to be the craziest one I have ever had, and even though it is only the 4th March I have already drunk copious amounts of tea, and feel a bit like Alice falling down a rabbit hole, and not quite knowing which way is up or which corner to turn, whether to become big or to stay small, and not really knowing who to listen to, but following my heart and hoping that all will work out right in the end.
The week began with translating all of our legal documents into English from Georgian and making sure that the legal speak was also correct. Not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have to explain to a notar that the word ‘male’ should in fact be ’email’ and they are different things entirely. A lot of time was spent registering us as an NGO, and in fact the whole thing seems to be a lot simpler on the British front in terms of registering as a UK charity. We have managed to raise a small amount of money, but the issues and mistakes in translation mean that our application has to now be re-done, and submitted again, probably at more cost because of a problem with the translation. Which is really very frustrating, though also simple at the same time! Since we also don’t have our own property or base for the project and are reliant on the good will of school, it also makes registration tricky as we need a proper address in order to register. We cannot set up our bank account until we have our registration number, and the bank cannot provide us with their sponsorship for the project until we have our account set up. Nor can we apply for funds for project from large organisations like the United Nations or European Union until we have the bank account and registration complete, even though it seems there are lots of funding opportunities out there, if we can just get our paperwork together. So we are missing deadlines left, right, and centre, but really need this money in order to progress to the next level, and now the pressure is really on to get things done yesterday.
Jump Alice, Jump
It’s very exciting and there is a definite sense of a change in pace, but I’m also at the edge of a precipice. There is no going back now, nor do I want to, but in order to move forward, it means that I need time to do everything and to meet our commitments, and this means leaving my job at school so that I can focus on finding the £500k that project needs to do absolutely everything it wants long term, but more importantly, I have to find the £120k needed for our summer expeditions, by the end of May at the latest. I definitely should have brought a lot more tea bags!
We now have a patron, which is fantastic, but that also comes with a pressure to do things properly, not just in Georgia, but also Internationally. A lot of people are looking to invest in project and we are about to get a lot of media coverage, so everything has to now step up a gear.
An Amazing Team
The team have really come to together now, and it feels like they really get the vibe and the overall sense of the project, and are even contributing lots of great ideas and being really energised, which helps me no end. I have no doubt that we can do this, and achieve everything we have set out to do, but it does mean that I have to take a leap of faith. Leaving work is risky, and it could be all or nothing. If we get funding it will mean I can give salaries to the 8 staff members who are all voluntary at the moment, and I can work full time on project. But it means I have to stick to a really tight budget and may need to take on some private teaching work to see me through. It’s a huge risk, but staying at school also means not having time to commit to project. I knew things might come to this, and I thought about this long and hard over the Christmas break, hoping that I could make it through to summer, but my heart and soul is in project, and seeing the kids and parents and how truly amazing they are, I know that they are all relying on me and I have to do my best by them, even if that means having no income. If I mess up, then I am letting everyone down, and having earnt their trust after so much hard work, I see both sides of that coin.
International Award and the Queen
This coming weekend we have our International Award Training (known as Duke of Edinburgh Award in the UK, the Duke of Edinburgh is married to the Queen of england for those of you who are not entirely sure who is is) and I have loads to organise: rooms, tea and coffee, dinner for 26 people, hosting, airport transfers, paper and materials, and other such things. These are not things I excel in on the whole, at least not in another country without the language, and with a zillion other things to do. But I am also up for the challenge, and I love that project is making me do lots of things and develop lots of skills that I previously would not have chosen to do, website design being one of them, and standing up in front of a group of people being another. Now I do them all the time and am no longer a nervous wreck and they have become a part of my normal daily routine. And I love these accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem to others. I’m also getting better at managing people, having meetings, and on the whole feel a lot more confident and happy in myself as a result, and whenever I look back, I’m always really proud of what we have all achieved together.
The coming weekend is also a really big deal, especially for project and everything has to be perfect. There will be 4 NGOs training together, the Minister for Sport and Youth Policy will be there and the media will be filming some of the weekend to air on the Georgian news. This is fantastic in terms of project and also for young people in Georgia. The International Award is offered in lots of other countries, but this is the first time it will be offered in Georgia and this has magnificent benefits for young people, whose achievements will now be recognised and rewarded. At each stage of the Award (Bronze, Silver, and Gold) there is an award ceremony, and the Gold Award ceremony is usually attended by either a celebrity or a member of the Royal Family, in this case it will likely be a member of the Royal Family, who will come to Georgia and shake the hand of each of our Oceans Ambassadors who receive this award. This is like leaving a legacy to Georgia, long after I am gone and it is so amazing to be a part of the initiation of bringing the Award to Georgian young people aged 14-25.
Special Projects Group
I’m also sticking my neck on the line, because I want the Award to enable us to do so much more as Oceans Project Georgia and to help bring young people together. Prince Edward extended the Award back in 1999 to include the International Special Projects Group. And I hope that we can apply for funding through this group to enable us to set up a one of my longer term plans.
If we get the special projects funding (around £9000), then it will enable us to set up a three year project to incorporate some of the marginalised people in Georgia. Since May 2011, we knew that we wanted to work with the street children in Tbilisi and also with the Roma community, but were not sure how we could go about this, and it was a risk because if we started to work with these groups, then children from more traditional Georgian families would not be allowed to associate with us, and winning the trust of parents and schools has been incredibly hard as it is. But, the special projects programme means that we can now apply for funds to run an outreach programme and try to engage some of the street children and Roma children in the Award, and this will probably take place over a summer holiday when it is warmer and the children are more visible on the streets.
As of September 22nd 2012, we plan to run our second Oceans Project group, but had already decided that we wanted to involve other countries via video link in our sessions. We had some ideas, but again, were not sure how to go about running this, but the International Award looks to fit our needs perfectly. We already have several IDPs (Internally Displaced Person’s) in our current group, from Abkhazi and from South Ossetia, and we really wanted to develop our outreach work in this respect. At present Abkhazian young people do not have the opportunity to mix with young people in Georgia and vice versa. This has been a difficult area for many NGOs due to the instability of the political situation between the countries since the 2008 war between Georgia, Russian, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. But we hope to run the International Award and Oceans Project with our young people in Tbilisi, and connected via video link to young people in Abkhazia, Ireland, South Africa, Romania, Armenia, and Pakistan, with them all coming together in summer 2013 for a special expedition with Earthwatch. This way we hope to do some peace work and to establish strong friendships between the communities. we already have the contacts in each country and the young people and leaders, but are just lacking the funds so that we can purchase a laptop and internet access for us here, and of course the funds for their Earthwatch expedition next year. BUt I am sure we can raise the money for this, and now we have worked with our pilot group of young people, the project is ready to go, and if we can get our workbooks published by September then we can even send each participating country a copy of the workbook and BBC Oceans DVD. It would be fairly simple to run, relatively inexpensive but would really strengthen the bonds between the young people involved.
Yesterday the parents of our current Oceans Ambassadors came to watch their expedition presentations, and again, it really filled me with a huge sense of pride, love, and also reminded me just how much people are depending on me to raise this money. I think every parent cried when they saw their young person presenting in english, Georgian, and Russian, in a professional way, and passionate about their subject, be it sharks, coral reefs, archaeology, or the Amazon jungle. The team work was superb, they were organised, and all of the Leaders were incredibly blown away. I think we all realised just how much impact our project has already had on these young people, and it really gets you when you start to imagine how they will be on expedition, and also after expedition. It was amazing to have parents come up after the presentations and to be so happy to meet you, and full of praise and thanks, and such an honour to have been part of their lives in even a small way. The Ambassadors want to come back with the next group and to work as Assistant Leaders, and they are all busy writing and drawing for our educational workbook, as well as being busy making our short film. The experience has been magical, and I have the feeling that I could live off their love and enthusiasm at this rate, as I want to get this money for them to go on expedition, more than anything in the world. This is the video that the shark conservation in Belize team made, and I think I am only now at the point where I don’t start crying every time I watch it, and it has taken some doing not to turn into a blubbering wreck! The narrator is 13 years old, and English is his second language, he has never been scuba diving or snorkelling before, never been to Belize, so please just remember that as you watch it. He is such a special person, and his family were also choked up when they saw it for the first time yesterday:
My 60 Day Mission: AKA how to raise the Stakes
Driven by pride and passion for Oceans Project Georgia, I’ve now left my teaching post with the intention of putting in every last ounce of energy and drive into making this work, all or nothing. Massive risk, but I have to give it a shot as this really is my dream and my baby. We had the initial CrowdFunder pitch approved, and now I have sent the final pitch for checking. We have some really good rewards in exchange for investment, and though I have set our target to raising £5000 (the amount needed to become a UK Registered charity), I aim to raise as close to the £500,000 as possible, but certainly the £120,000 needed for their expeditions.
It looks like a ridiculous target on the face of things, but I have 800 so called ‘friends’ on my facebook list, and if I can just get every one of those to donate £10, then it will be a huge step to achieving that goal. We also have 6o people going on expeditions in summer, so if they all give £10 towards their expeditions, that will also help, plus if they share the link with every one on their friends list, and all their friends do the same, they we have a really good chance of raising the money.
So for the next 60 days (by the 5th May, depending when the Crowdfunder application gets final approval), I am going to be promoting our crowdfunder page like a Mad Hatter, making sure it gets as much coverage as possible, tweeting it, facebook it, you name it. I have to encourage everyone I know to donate something, because if we do it, then Oceans Project will be an amazing charity doing some incredible work, and the £500,000 includes the building of our Oceans Project Film Academy here in Tbilisi so that we have a full time base, and can offer film making and photography courses, as well as creating a film industry here, and using a film making to promote conservation and geography education and to raise awareness of the Caucasus and it’s biodiversity.
The money raised will also cover the cost of our Assistant Leaders doing research with a friend of mine Emily Penn, on the garbage patches in our oceans, as well as my South Pacific Ocean row in 2013. It will also mean that our Ambassadors can meet up with International Award participants in each country they visit through Earthwatch, and we hope to get the BBC Oceans presenters to give them their first ever scuba diving lesson. So it should create a lot of good for many different organisations.
I have a mad plan for the 60 day campaign…….which is the topic of my next blog!