As anyone who has participated in conservation in developing countries can tell you, you won’t get anywhere without the support of local communities. They have to trust you, respect your knowledge and your institution, and have a vested interest in the outcome of your work. In short, they have to want you to be there or you won’t accomplish anything. We were fortunate in that this was largely accomplished by how friendly and welcoming Filipinos are – we didn’t have to fight to win people over because the community of Salvacion welcomed us immediately.
Getting to know the community was one thing, but getting to speak to them about our program required more effort. The Filipino coordinators of our program spent a great deal of time getting to know the local leaders and educators, and after appearing at several community meetings earned us the opportunity to work with local university students. University students in the Philippines are 15-19 years old, and as it turns out, they can graduate without having ever taken a natural science class. At most, some of our students had taken a single ecology class, but marine resources were not discussed at any point from primary school through University in Busuanga. We had two approaches to working with these students; the first was awareness-raising, in which we gave lectures about the importance of local marine ecosystems and other local issues in marine resource management. These sometimes even included games or activities to demonstrate conservation problems like the tragedy of the commons and competition between local and commercial fisheries – anything to get the students involved!
In addition to educating students about their natural resources, we also tried to build the capacity of the community by teaching these students some basic IT skills so they would be better able to find jobs outside their community or in the tourist industry – jobs that don’t rely on the exploitation of marine resources to provide a family’s livelihood. These teaching sessions allowed us to make inroads with the community both in raising awareness about our conservation goals and earning the respect and trust of local leaders.