Candy for Conservation

Our first outreach event was at the Old Guinlo fiesta last month (I’d posted photos here, along with those of Waddy’s journey from WWF Philippines’ office in Puerto).  It was an informal affair, which we essentially winged (and here I appreciated the easy adaptability that people here seem to have for the unpredictable), as our packed field schedule doesn’t leave much room for outreach planning.

I showed up to Old Guinlo that morning, laden with notebooks, pens, crayons, markers, and Irrawaddy dolphin postcards that I’d made for prizes.  Also, with candy. Lots and lots of candy.  We met at Ricky’s house (our informal gathering place in that barangay) for breakfast, following which Ely disappeared.  Zion and I waited around a bit, and then were told that he and Romeo were in the Protected Area Office (PAO) just across the path.  I was a little annoyed: “Doesn’t he know that we’re totally unprepared? Why wasn’t he at the house, ready to plan things? Sheesh. Really now.”

That irritation quickly turned to bemusement when I walked into the PAO and saw Ely and Romeo diligently assembling thin bamboo strips into a 1m x 1m grid.  “It’s the pabitin!” Ely explained.

That explained nothing.  What’s a pabitin?!  “You know…you tie candy to it.  You don’t know pabitin?!”

Turns out, it’s similar to a pinata in that it’s hung up by a rope and made elusive to eager candy-seekers below.  But there are no blindfolds or bats, just candy-hungry hands.  Zion and I got to work preparing bags of candy.

All the while, I was trying to prepare the actual presentation part of the program.  “Is there music for Waddy to dance for?  We can use the sound system? Have you found someone to wear Waddy?”  Ely, the master of logistics (seriously, he is amazing), had it all taken care of (he was the one who coordinated with the barangay to get us into the fiesta schedule in the first place).

We then moved on to map out the brief orientation we’d give, the information we’d cover, and the trivia questions we’d use for the game TAMALI (teams of 6, each person has a letter of the ‘word’ TAMALI – TAMA means correct, MALI means incorrect, and the team has to hold up the right four letters in response to True-False questions).

And then, it was time to go.    Ely and Romeo took charge of the two pabitins, Ricky carried the mysterious blue package (Waddy), and Ricky’s wife and daughters followed along.  As we walked along the pathway, they were calling to the kids, “To the main plaza!  You’ll get to see Waddy!”  Upon seeing the pabitin, the children grew wide-eyed and followed along, watching Ricky and Romeo tie the candy-laden lattices to the basketball hoops in the plaza.

We were up against the rain, and so had to wait in the barangay hall for a window of precipitation-free time before beginning.  I watched the fiesta bingo going on in the shelter of the stage across the plaza, the lnes of people at snack stalls, the men hanging around in various stages of inebriation, the children frolicking around.  Finally, the rain paused, our Waddy-wearer geared up, and we jumped right in.

Ely introduced us all, I gave a (necessarily brief) speech about me and my research (and how “today, Ely will be talking to you about Irrawaddy dolphins, because my Tagalog isn’t very good yet”), and Ely carried us through.

First off: dance contest with Waddy!  Waddy stepped out to much fanfare (and almost inadvertently kicked some little kids in the face as he struggled down the steps), and boogied on down with kids.

Those kids really knew how to shake it – I was impressed.The 10 finalists were then asked to tell us about their Irrawaddy dolphin sightings.

Then, a quick lesson about Irrawaddy dolphins, bycatch, and conservation in Malampaya Sound.  Followed by a game of TAMALI.  At this point, the rain had returned, and Waddy had to seek shelter in the barangay hall.  From across the plaza, I saw Romeo (very serious-faced) fanning off the overheated Waddy with a notebook.

Finaly, a trash-collecting race.  This helped allay some of the guilt I felt about all of the candy wrappers that I was sure would be scattered about thanks to the pabitin.  We’d forgotten to bring sacks.  No problem, said Ricky’s wife.  Make the kids find their own sack as a part of the contest.  Brilliant.

While inspecting the hauls of trash, it dawned on us that it would’ve been good to decide how to judge the winners of the trash-collecting race beforehand.  By the size of the pile of trash?  Weight? Number of pieces?  Lesson learned. After many confused exchanges and repeated inspections of the bags, we (somewhat arbitrarily) went with number of pieces.

The kids all seemed to really enjoy their prizes – I made sure all of the participants (or, as Zi said, “even the losers?!”) got a ballpoint pen, while the winners got crayons, notebooks, markers, and the postcards.  But, of course, school supplies pale in comparison to….CANDY.

It was time for the pabitin.  Little kids on one pabitin, bigger kids on the other.  Ricky started with the pabitin for the little guys.  And wow, I have seldom been more afraid of little kids than I was when I watched those tiny tots absolutely and ruthlessly DESTROY the pabitin.  The bigger kids were no less terrifying (though Romeo made them work pretty hard to get their candy).

So, it was a fun day, despite my newfound fear of candy-hungry kids.  We taught the kids some new things about the dolphins and conservation, and sent them home with some school supplies.  They cleaned up some trash (I’m telling myself that Ely’s instructions to them to properly dispose of their candy wrappers were strictly followed…).  And, I hope, we contributed at least a little to their appreciation of their dolphin neighbors.

What amazed me was how easily my team ran this program, given our very limited preparation.  Ricky and Romeo weren’t even officially “working” that day, yet they willingly helped out.  Ricky’s family also stepped in and helped organize the groups of kids for the various activities.  It just all happened, without much direction from me other than “I want to do outreach, and this is what I want to teach the kids…go!”.  I’ll write more about my fantastic team later – but this is just one of many examples of how I am almost constantly impressed by them (and also extremely grateful to have them working with me).

And I’d just like to add an acknowledgement to Mavic Matillano for letting us borrow Waddy, and to her and WWF Philippines in general for their previous (and excellent) educational outreach in the area.

Photos posted here
Videos to be posted in late September/early October