As New Year and Thai Children's Day conclude the festive season, the Barge Program has taken time to reflect on the "Season of Giving'.
An important part of connecting with nature and communities is allowing students to get involved, get their hands dirty and feel invested in what they are doing. In an age of game consoles, shopping malls and wanting and needing the latest must have gadgets, many students forget how lucky they are and the opportunities they have available to them. Not only that, but also forgotten is how big a role the environment plays in providing the resources or energy that go into making these gadgets and the resulting environmental impacts caused.
The Barge Program includes a service element in many of our school trips. From teaching English in Thai schools, to helping them to build or repaint classrooms, plant vegetable gardens and renovate play equipment, to feeding and bathing elephants rescued from logging or trekking jobs, through to tree planting and forest restoration, litter picks, and building dams in community forests.
During our trip reflections, students often single out their participating in a community service project as a trip highlight. From teaching them new skills and letting them share existing skills with others, to having the opportunity to connect with new people, places and habitats that they wouldn’t usually experience. From the feeling of giving something back and learning to be grateful for what they have, a service project offers people of all ages (students, teachers and Barge Staff alike!) a chance for personal growth whilst benefitting the community or environment.
As you wrap up 2018, perhaps it’s time to think about how you or your school can be part of a ‘season of giving’ by getting involved in a community service project and how you can help change lives in 2019.
You can read more about some of our Mangrove restoration projects below
Examples of community service projects undertaken by schools on the Barge program in 2018.
As well as taking part in service projects during our school programs, our staff also volunteer their own time to join other community service projects, some local, such as joining Trash Hero’s and Precious Plastics for a community clean up in Bueng Rama IX and some multi day projects such as the visit to Nu Sep Po school.
Barge staff Join Trash Heros for a local clean up L-R Naomi, Ken, Bew, Maprang and Liz
Barge Staff Community Service Project at Nu Sep Po School-Tak.
On October 20-23, 2018, 3 members of the Barge staff team, Maprang, Bew and Ken, took part in a community service project at Nu Sep Po School, located in Tak province close to the Thai border. Staff had collected money to buy new sports equipment, to help with renovating the library and towards the purchase of new books for the school. As well as the library renovations, staff spent time running education games and activities with the school students to teach them environmental awareness and English language skills.
Mangroves and us
Save the Rainforest, save the Elephant, save the…….Mangroves? Walk down any high street or watch any TV channel and it won’t be long until you will find an advert announcing the plight of an endangered species or an ecosystem under threat. But rarely, if ever will you hear about the destruction of the world’s mangrove forest.
Shrimp farming, agricultural development, property development, industrial charcoal production, pollution and pure aesthetic reasons all play their part in the destruction of the mangrove forest. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 370,050 Hectares of Mangroves are lost every year, that’s a staggering 1% of the world’s population. Since 1960, Thailand has lost over HALF of its mangrove forest.
So why should we care? Well it turns out that mangroves have an incredibly important role in the world, something which only now people are starting to realise.
Could mangroves have helped the areas affected by the Tsunami that hit South East Asia that killed over 200,000 people on Boxing Day 2004? Many scientists now believe they could have. During heavy storms, high winds and larges waves, mangrove forests act as a natural barrier between land and sea. As well as preventing soil erosion, mangrove forests act as a cushion and absorb enormous amounts of the energy within large waves. Aceh, an Indonesian province was an area that was directly hit by the Tsunami. Satellite images off the area show that houses with mangroves between them and the sea shore had significantly less damage compared to other areas. Scientists estimate that the mangroves may have saved as many as 10,000 lives during that one disaster. Of course it’s impossible to truly prove this stat but it is conceivable when you release just how dense the trunks, tree tops and maze of roots can collectively be.
AS well as providing important coastal protection, if properly managed mangroves can provide many different commercial products for locals including: Charcoal and firewood, fibres and natural dyes, building materials, food
“Ok, so they may help people who live close, but they don’t help me…..” Well, actually they do!
With weather records being set annually, global warming really does affect us all. Most scientists agree that the alarming warming of the planet is due to excess carbon in the environment. A quick glance at school book will remind us that plants are the main army battling carbon emissions, and mangroves are on the front line! In fact, pound for pound mangroves absorb more carbon than any other terrestrial forest occupying the same sized area. This carbon sponge is evident by the high quality charcoal produced, that if managed responsibly can also be of benefit to local people.
The intricate entangled root system of the mangrove forest creates a perfect nursery environment in which many species use as a safe space for offspring to hide. Globally over 70% of economically important marine species spend a part of their lifecycles in these mangrove nurseries. Many critically endangered animals such as tigers, manatees, crab eating monkeys, fishing cats, monitor lizards and sea turtles all call mangroves home. These animals are threatened for many reasons but habitat destruction is one of the major reasons.
Locals who rely on the sea for survival notice a direct reaction from these important nurseries disappearing. Despite the initial financial gain from the economic development of shrimp farms or agriculture, Locals soon realise that in the long term they are poorer as a result, with fisherman returning home with reduced catches bearing with less diversity. In fact this is true for commercial fisheries as well. The message is clear, take away the fish nurseries and fish populations throughout the oceans and seas decrease.
In the long term it is now becoming clearer that it is both economically and environmentally beneficial to work with the mangroves rather than just destroying them. Increased Sea temperatures as a result of global warming have meant that corals are also endangered due to ‘Coral Bleaching’. Warmer waters cause coral to start expelling algae which live within them. This algae provides up to 90% of the energy used by the coral and without this symbiotic relationship the corals almost inevitable die.
As well as acting as a carbon store to reduce the atmospheric CO2 causing the global temperature rise, the large shaded areas provided by the mangrove trees gives shelter and creates cooler temperatures in which coral can live in waters that otherwise would be too hot to survive.
The Barge program has been involved with many service activities over the last 25 years within mangroves in Bang Pu and at Kung Krabane. 1000’s of students on Barge Program trips can boast that they have been directly involved with the protection and growth of mangrove forests by replanting thousands of sapling trees, litter picked heavily polluted areas, building and restoring boardwalks making mangroves more accessible for visitors to enjoy, maintaining buildings and the greatest gift, awareness. A little bit of action can go a long way. In reflection activities, after a day of mangrove madness, students commonly express their pride and satisfaction in their participation in the service projects. The Barge Program believes planting a (mangrove) seed in the minds of student can inspire the next generation to make a positive step in the right direction in helping one of earths most valuable and misunderstood ecosystems.
Students plant mangrove saplings at Bang Pu
Creating new boardwalks enables visitors better access to the Mangroves
Rubbish collected after a litter picking session by students at Bang Pu