By Reef Check Malaysia General Manager Julian Hyde
In 2007, Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) was approached by the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia to develop an outreach programme for schools on the islands off the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. These islands, all part of Marine Parks, have populations ranging from 1,500 to 3,000, and have at least one school. Little effort has been put into environmental education in these communities, and previous educational programmes on the islands have been “one-off” affairs, usually involving a simple one day activity. Continuity and sustainability were not part of the goals of these earlier programmes, and children were often left disappointed, with little or no follow up. RCM addressed these issues in designing its programme.
With funding from HSBC and BP, RCM launched a trial programme in 2007, targeted at children in the penultimate year of primary education (11 years old). The original format was based around a 2-day “Coral Reef Camp”, during which children from the schools on the islands learned about the ecosystems around them, how important they are and how they can help conserve them. A mixture of games, art sessions, competitions and lectures was designed to ensure interest levels remained high.
Based on the successful trial, RCM expanded the Camp into the “Rainforest to Reef” programme, with funding from Alstom Power. This was launched in 2009, as part of a three year programme. Sustainability was built-in and the programme was designed with two key concepts in mind:
- Multiple visits: the Rainforest to Reef programme incorporates three different activities throughout the year to build relationships among RCM, the sponsor, and the children in the schools. Trust is an important part of a successful programme.
- Long term: the initial three-year sponsorship arrangement was always viewed as a “starting point”, with RCM committed to making the programme sustainable in the long term. As part of this, staff from the sponsor company are being trained in how to deliver the programme, with the objective that by the end of the three years the sponsor will be able to continue with the programme themselves, at relatively low cost.
The programme incorporates two elements:
- Coral Reef Camp: the Camp remains the core of the programme, providing the main teaching opportunity. Extended to three days, children literally camp out on a beach or isolated part of the island, separate from their day to day lives. The Camp also includes a snorkelling trip, which was the highlight for many of the children, most of whom have not snorkelled before – despite living on the islands!
- Supporting Activities: two weekend activities including beach clean ups, art competitions, jungle walks and recycling workshops provide additional contact and learning opportunities.
RCM has received very high levels of support and input from the sponsor, with their staff involved in all aspects of the programme. Up to 15 staff at a time have participated in the activities on the islands, with nearly 100 participating in various activities during 2009!
In 2009, in a bid to extend the reach of their education activities to urban schools, RCM approached KPMG to fund a “Rainforest to Reef” programme for a school in Kuala Lumpur. While successful, the trial highlighted a number of problems with trying to take children from urban areas to tropical islands. Key among these was that the island environment is so “different” to urban kids that it was difficult to retain focus on the educational elements of the programme – they just wanted to have fun in the sea!
We are therefore in the process of modifying the “Rainforest to Reef” programme, to develop a curriculum and approach more appropriate for urban schools. This will retain the key concepts of multiple activities and sustainability, while being more relevant to the target group. We hope to launch this programme in the second quarter of this year.
If you would like more information on Reef Check Malaysia or to find out how to get involved, please send an email to email@example.com