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When the Water Cooler Runs Dry

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Last month at the office, the water cooler ran out and we had to wait three days for a fresh supply. To avoid the dreaded tap water, I brought two water bottles to work, filled with filtered water from home. This got me thinking about how this ubiquitous office perk is such a big deal, while we in the US have perfectly safe tap water. In fact, Seacology has provided 14 fresh water delivery systems to communities that do not have safe and reliable sources of drinking water.

Flooded Water Pump.jpgIn many places around the world, safe water is impossible to find. When I lived in Samoa, the campus had a filtering system and we boiled or treated our water with iodine. It wasn't as dire as in Uganda, where I brushed my teeth with mouthwash instead of water. And travelers can barely touch an ice cube or fruit juice in countries like Mexico and India. The picture at right illustrates one of the problems water shortages can cause: here, a boy in West Bengal, India is pumping water in a flooded area. The Water Encyclopedia says that "floodwaters can contaminate cisterns and improperly designed wells, compounding problems caused by river currents and inundation." And yet here in the United States, we hardly consider what it would be like to live without our tap water - and we still buy expensive bottled water because "it tastes better" or we like the commercials or the pretty packaging.

This year Seacology launched our first project in Kenya, on Wasini Island, where there is no known natural source of fresh water.
This week kicks off the 10th Pacific Arts Festival, this year hosted by American Samoa. Twenty-seven countries are expected to participate in the festival, bringing their talents, tastes, and tales to Pago Pago in American Samoa.

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The Pacific Arts Festival began in 1972 and is held every four years in a different host country. Previous host countries have been Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, Australia, Cook Islands, Samoa, New Caledonia, and Palau. The festival includes workshops as well as performances and allows each participant country to share and learn from each other. Indeed, the theme of the festival is Su'iga'ula a le Atuvasa: Threading the Oceania 'Ula'.  Ula is the Samoan equivalent of lei and according to American Samoa's Governor, Togiola T. A. Tulafono, the theme represents the "coming together of Pacific people to share their values, traditions, and spirit on the soils of Samoa."





Climate Change and Human Rights

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What I admire most about Seacology's work is that we help both island environments and island peoples. As an anthropology major, it has always been clear to me that what I value most in this world is the cultures of people--their social systems, family structures, arts, food, customs. Of course I know how important the land, sea, flora, and fauna are, but I recognize that I was attracted to Seacology because the organization works directly with people--to preserve their cultures, improve their communities, and protect their ecosystems.

Children of Sila Village, Fiji.JPGSo I was delighted to read that the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a study to examine the impact of climate change on human experience. The Maldives, Fiji, and Tuvalu were among those island nations that brought this proposal to the Human Rights Council. The decision promotes the same kind of culturally-aware environmentalism as Seacology's projects and is a landmark decision that will elevate the attention to climate change and all its effects.

Ifoga: Samoan Atonement

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Samoan culture has strict ways of showing respect to one another, and the ifoga (pronounced ee-FONG-ah) is perhaps the best example of the severity of atoning for one's wrongdoing. The ifoga is a ritual apology where the offending party demonstrates remorse by begging for forgiveness.

Pandanus.JPGBefore dawn, the guilty party arrives at the home of the person whom he has offended and kneels outside the home. An important part of the ifoga is the fine mat, or 'ie toga, considered of the highest value in Samoan culture (pictured at right). Ie Toga.jpg'Ie toga (ee-ah TONG-ah) are woven with pandanus leaves (pictured at left) and take months, if not years, to complete. Fine mats represent the wealth of the weavers' community and are presented as gifts. 'Ie toga are so labor-intensive that they will never be used on the floor. Once those receiving ifoga have forgiven the guilty party, they accept the 'ie toga as a symbol of the atonement and forgiveness. Regardless of any legal action taken by a court, the ifoga remains an essential part of Samoan culture as a demonstration of sincere remorse and respect. More information is available from Samoan Sa'o and Te Papa Online.

On February 20 Samoan police presented ifoga to the family of a 69-year-old man who was killed by a police officer who was driving away from Salelologa Market on Savai'i Island. The family accepted the ifoga and the police officer will also stand trial for the crime.

In 1976 the Samoan ifoga came close to Seacology's Bay Area home. In early September of that year Herb Caen, the famous San Francisco Chronicle columnist who coined the term "beatnik" and wrote in 'three-dot journalism," angered the entire Bay Area Samoan community.

Movement in Egypt: Soccer and Dance

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Last month Karen's post described Seacology's ten new island projects. Among these, Egypt represents a new geographic location for Seacology. Well-known for its ancient pyramids and rich cultural history, Egypt also boasts a successful soccer team and alluring belly dance.

Egypt Soccer.jpgAs with most non-American countries, Egypt's most-watched sport is football--soccer to us Americans. This month Egypt's soccer team, the Pharaohs, won its record sixth Africa Cup of Nations and its second consecutive title. A crowd of 35,500 and no doubt countless fans all over the continent tuned in to watch the dominant Pharaohs edge the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon 1-0. Steve Vickers of BBC Sport notes that coach Hassan Shehata is only the second coach to win successive cups.

At left are Egypt's Mohammed Said and Cameroon's Gilles Binya.

Middle Eastern dance, more commonly referred to as belly dancing, incorporates movements of the hips, torso, and arms to communicate the dancer's emotions and reactions to the music.
I often find myself out of the loop, popular culture-wise. I don't have television, didn't know what Pink Berry was until recently, and still have no idea who "Jamie Lynn" is (other than she is on all the covers of grocery aisle magazines). So when I was looking for a reference to Vanuatu on the internet, where Seacology is about to launch two new projects (on Maewo and Moso islands), I was shocked to read that there was a Survivor series there. Not only that--Seacology has projects in nine of the sixteen countries deemed remote and exotic enough to merit a full season of reality TV. (These are Australia, China, Cook Islands, Fiji, Malaysia, Micronesia, Palau, Thailand, and Vanuatu.)

What fascinated me is that this television series--which has similar shows in nine other countries--is giving attention to these remote places. Of the 42 countries in which Seacology has projects, the United Nations classifies 37 as Developing or Least Developed. Seacology is working where people have the most trouble refusing the tempting offers of developers and keeping poachers away from critically endangered Leatherback turtles.

So just where are Seacology's projects?

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Last August Seacology's Philippines field representative Ferdie Marcelo attended the opening ceremony of Barangay Rizal's Seacology-funded multipurpose building. The barangay (the Filipino term for "village") requested this community building in exchange for preserving 247 acres of a mangrove forest park (185 acres of which are now a no-take zone) for a minimum of 20 years. Seacology has seven projects in the Philippines and this post is dedicated to the food of this Southeast Asia country.

Last June I attended a family party to celebrate a couple's 45th wedding anniversary. The food spread was enormous, representing the delicious food of their homeland, the Philippines. There was pork adobo (pork stew) and mechado (beef stew) that went quickly, two full roast pigs (lechon), pancit (a noodle dish with vegetables, chicken, and pork), salads, rice, and a huge batch of lumpia, the traditional Filipino egg roll.

Lumpia Platter.JPGAlthough I, a vegetarian, couldn't eat the lumpia, I was serving the rolls to the masses and many people asked for them to be heaped on top of their already-full plates. Lumpia traditionally contains ground pork, garlic, onion, carrots, and cabbage, and I am lucky enough to have a Filipino auntie who eliminates the pork so that I may partake of the delicious pastries.

Both lechon and lumpia are traditional celebratory foods of the Philippines. An eHow article on "How to Celebrate New Year's Eve the Filipino Way" says the celebration should end by roasting a pig on New Year's Day to serve with pancit, adobo, and lumpia. I hope that the multipurpose building in Barangay Rizal is the site of many such celebrations, allowing the local people a gathering place for their community. Maligayang Bagong Taon! (Happy New Year!)

Philanthropy can be cultivated from a young age, whether in the form of a lemonade stand to raise money for team baseball equipment or walking door to door collecting pennies for a fundraising drive. Some recent young donors to Seacology are inspiring me to dig in my own pockets this holiday season:

Since 1998 Huff Elementary School in Mountain View, CA has been raising money for Seacology. This past year I had the honor of giving a presentation to the fifth grade students at Huff, and I was impressed with their knowledge of Seacology and their enthusiasm for our projects. The students presented me with their donations, collected from parents, friends, and neighbors who sponsored their walk-a-thon. Huff Elementary's annual donations total almost $13,000 and are a true inspiration.

On this model Seacology recently launched an Adopt-an-Island program for teachers and their students. This free program is dedicated to promoting youthful giving and facilitating environmental education in the classroom to increase awareness about environmental threats to islands.

Naikorokoro kindergarten.JPGStudents from the Cayman Islands and Fiji in front of a Seacology-funded school in Naikorokoro, Fiji.

As a Word-of-the-Day email subscriber, I relish the exploration of language that increases my vocabulary. I am fascinated by etymology, especially the words that derive not from another language's roots--like "panjandrum," a word for an important person or pretentious official, coined in the 18th century in a piece of nonsense writing. So when I began researching the Hawaiian kapu ("forbidden") system that prevents overfishing, I was surprised to learn that Captain James Cook had brought the Tongan and Fijian word tabu back to England, which became our word--taboo. The Austronesian language family of Southeast Asia and the Pacific reveals related words for "forbidden"--tapu in New Zealand and Tahiti and kapu in Hawai'i.

Kapu Sign.jpgGrowing up with a Hawaiian-Chinese father, I was accustomed to seeing KAPU written on his dried aku (tuna) and tako (octopus sashimi), but further investigation of the kapu/tabu system reveals an ancient method of conserving natural ocean resources. At Seacology we ask islanders to establish and manage terrestrial or marine reserves, and the tabu system reveals why this approach to conservation respects islanders' traditions. The traditional tabu system outlined fishing limits to prevent depleting marine life (in addition to restrictions on eating, a chief's rights and privileges, etc). Seacology's no-take reserves respect this ancient tradition, preventing overfishing and protecting all marine life.

Leapfrogging to New Technology

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The term "leapfrogging" refers to the development concept where a developing country bypasses less efficient technology to take advantage of more advanced technology. An excellent example of this is the cell phone. Cell phone towers are being constructed all over the world, and buying a mobile phone has proven far more effective than ordering a landline phone to rural places.

Solar-powered cell charger.jpgIn Africa, where Seacology recently expanded its reach to Pemba Island in Zanzibar, many people are buying cell phones. The Kenyan man at left is showing two forms of leapfrogging: a cell phone and a solar-powered charger.

Leapfrogging has been explored in numerous articles, demonstrating its importance to the developing world: In Business Week's "Upwardly Mobile in Africa," the special report discusses how cell phones have fueled business growth and allowed people to call for emergency services like medical help. Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist, calls the cell phone "the single most transformative technology for development." Abwao Oluoch's article on AllAfrica.com discusses the mobile phone industry in East Africa, and Jason Pontin's New York Times article "What Does Africa Need Most: Technology or Aid?" debates the benefits of humanitarian aid and new technology. Mr. Pontin's article discusses his visit to the Technology, Entertainment and Design Global 2007 conference in Tanzania, coming to the conclusion that Africa needs both aid and technology.