Shake flippers with Waddy

(photos here)

“WADDY!!!!!” exclaimed Ely grandly, in his resonant presenter’s voice.  The stage-front crowd looked expectantly at the walkway.

Nothing.

“Waddy?!…Waddy…WADDY…where are you?”

Finally, I saw Archie (a new field assistant) slowly emerge, leading the Waddy-wearing Zion slowly out of the head teacher’s office.  Romeo supported her other flipper.  Waddy tentatively stepped toward the closest set of stairs, paused, reconsidered, and waddled along to a less steep route, and approached the crowd at a slow pace that could be interpreted as being either very stately, or very timid.

Waddy's stately procession

We were in the barangay Pancol in Malampaya Sound, for our second outreach activity for the Pancol Elementary School Girl Scouts.  Like the Old Guinlo fiesta program, this was somewhat last-minute, as we were so packed with fieldwork that planning outreach necessarily takes a back seat.  But, since this was going to be a classroom-based program instead of a fiesta activity, we spent more time planning out a proper lesson, including a showing of part of a TV show filmed about the waddies last year (GMA 7’s “Born to be Wild”), followed by a series of fun activities.

Upon Waddy’s arrival, the grinning children screamed with laughter.  They were in awe – they probably had seen Waddy fewer times than the kids in Old Guinlo.  Waddy tried to get closer to shake their hands, but they ran away – they were actually a little afraid of the giant dolphin!  Ely coached them through it, though, and got a few children to shyly shake hands/flippers with Waddy.  “Shake hands with Waddy, he’s your friend!”

Despite their trepidation about this huge animal, they were delighted.

This was the start of the second half of our program – the fun activities part. Earlier that morning, we’d cruised over to Pancol in the PAO boat, wearing our matching shirts (related to a previous WWF Philippines’ outreach campaign, not at all relevant to dolphins, but we looked like a team!).

Ely carrying the precious pabitin

The head teacher at the Pancol Elementary School greeted us, and after a short scramble to take care of last-minute prep, we launched into our presentation for a room-full of green-clad Girl Scouts.

Ely and Zion (and everyone here) are very fond of the local Peace Corps volunteer Ryan; I’ve grown resigned to the fact that I will never be the favorite American in these parts, but that realization is made much easier by the fact that I also admire how well he’s become a part of the local community and learned the language, and how motivated he is to make a difference here.  Also, his work here is related to marine conservation and fisheries.  So, he was recruited to join us for the day.  “What should I present?” he asked a couple of nights before.  “Um…we’ll have some general marine conservation things…mangroves and coral reefs and whatnot. Sorry, it’s not super prepared right now…”  “That’s ok…that’s the mode of operation I’ve grown used to around here.”

Ryan talks about mangroves

I really enjoyed the classroom-based program, because it gave us a chance to really teach the kids more about dolphins and conservation without the distraction of a fiesta atmosphere.  But the true highlight was the activities portion of the program, which took place around the outdoors stage.

Zion, having proved to be an adept Waddy dancer during our music video day (we made an intro music video for these programs…well, I was just feeling silly one day, but ended up editing it into something useful), was coerced (I suspect she actually enjoyed it) into being Waddy for the day.  I ran in the office to check on her as Ely was preparing to introduce her.  She was standing around, staring vacantly, wearing the Waddy legs.  “You ok, Zi?”  “Yes…I am a little…tense…”

But she pulled it together, and did an amazing job embodying the warm and friendly giant dolphin.  It was a ruthlessly hot day, and as the dance contest wore on (it took a while to get the timid children to get into the groove…I jumped in to try to encourage them), I grew increasingly concerned about Zion’s risk of heat stroke…but once we got some kids dancing, I cut the music off, and Waddy waddled back to the changing room.

We had the dance contest, TAMALI, trash race, plus a drawing contest, with the different activities assigned to different age groups.  Cristela (our other new research assistant) helped the 5th and 6th graders, who drew conservation-related pictures and slogans, while we ran the other activities.

As before, school supplies for all activity participants!  But, also as before, the pabitin elicited the highest degree of excitement of all the activities.  These girls were less terrifying than the Old Guinlo crew, though.

Pabitin!

After the program wrapped up, and the head teacher thanked us for a day that they “would never forget”, we were treated to lunch and then prepared for the high school program, which we’d scheduled for the afternoon.  While waiting, I uploaded the videos that Archie had taken during the day; slowly, a curious group of students gathered around me and grew into a small mob, giggling with glee when they saw themselves and their friends on my computer screen.

Turns out, we had to reschedule the high school program for some other day. I was not sorry to be going home earlier than planned, as I was exhausted.  It had been a long, but fantastic, week of dolphin surveys and interviews, and this incredibly fun and rewarding day of outreach was the perfect way to end it.

Photos posted here
Videos to be posted…someday…

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