Monday, October 28, 2013

Service and Sustainability in Tioman

As I write this the GAP experience is fresh in my mind and the impressions are still very strong. Last week I was fortunate to participate in the 9th grade GAP trip to Tioman, focusing on coral reef restoration.

The trip itself was an living example a whole lot of "best practices" in service learning and sustainability education as well as our school's school wide learning results (SLRs). Working with a local scuba company (Siput Scuba) and in conjunction with the University of Malaya and Reef Check Malaysia our group of 17 students were fortunate enough to explore a number of reefs, to work on scuba skills and to participating in the creation and set up of an artificial reef. 

For those who don't know (which included myself two weeks ago) setting up a reef can be a difficult talk Students constructed table looking structures of PVC piping and conducted the first "Dive for Debris" analysis in Malaysia (essentially an underwater clean up and debris identification program through PADI Project AWARE).  Once the area was declared clean enough to set up, the students had to identify coral reef "nubbings" (i.e. live pieces of coral that have fallen off the reef and might otherwise die). This in an of itself can be a challenging task. Nubbings needed to be collected in the water and placed on the structures directly so as to allow the coral a higher chance of survival. It was imperative, too, that the nubbings were alive and not covered by algae and this required training and a good deal of trial and error. 

Our 17 valiant divers fought choppy seas, strong currents, ear pressure issues as well as the lack of verbal communication opportunities under water while putting together 20 structures with a total of roughly 450 nubbings. We are hopeful, of course, that ISKL continues work in Tioman for many years to come and that future groups will add on to the success (cross fingers) of this program. On going maintenance will be necessary as well. It is not difficult to envision ISKL 'adopting' a reef and working to expand the entire reef in that area over the long term.

When leaving Tioman I was impressed by just how happy students were throughout the week. It's hard not to be happy when you're underwater and a first row seat to such a beautiful world!  But it's even more empowering to know that you've done a good deal to ensure that world thrives in Malaysia!   

This is but one story of many that GAP offers. GAP brought back with it similar stories from all sorts of places and all sorts of service. Just another example of an exceptional education. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Food for Thought

Last Friday (Sept. 27th) around 100 students and a smattering of parents and staff congregated in the gym for a new experience:  A food packaging event. It was a first of sorts for ISKL. It was the first time we all worked with this kind of program. It was the first time we all had to wear clinical hats and gloves and involved ourselves in such an industrial process (quite the assembly line, really) of packing and more packing. 

By the end of a two hour session we had packaged 20,000 meals with the support of an organization named Stop Hunger Now. Our HS GAP teams - all represented at the event - will be involved a bit further in identifying two things:  If food aid is a good idea in the areas/communities they are visiting and, if so, which organizations they might be able to assist directly with such aid. We are hoping that, in this way, we can involve them in the discussion, research and decision making regarding food support and development in areas that we visit. This deliberation, in and of itself, is a powerful opportunity to learn the benefits and drawbacks of food assistance.  

For those GAP groups that determine that this food will not be beneficial we will be working with local organizations in the area who are happy to receive such assistance. 

In addition to assisting communities locally and internationally, our hope is that this will be a small step toward giving our students opportunities to engage in service related initiatives. ISKL already boasts a wide array of service initiatives, from our HS community service to our ES Red Hats program. But in attempting to find ways to allow service to define who we are we need to recognize the power of all service, particularly if it is coordinated by students (as was the case with this event, whose executive committee comprised of 10 juniors). We are hopeful that, as we move forward through this year and those to come, we can steadily build our service ethos and allow service into our mindset and behaviors.

ISKL's vision states "to walk in a harmonious environment where care follows closely behind; learning is stimulated, curiosity is sparked, vision is cultivated and action is inspired."  To this end such authentic experiences through service can contribute a good deal to the molding of a better future.