Thursday, February 22, 2007

Is anyone bleeding?

The Micronesia Challenge seeks to "Effectively Conserve 30% of our near shore resources and 20% of our forest resources by 2020." A huge part of "Effective Conservation" is educating our children about our environment, especially on coral reefs, watersheds, and how the two are related in the CNMI and the rest of Micronesia.

The Mariana Islands Nature Alliance and the Marianas Resource Conservation & Development Council, the two leading environmental non-profits in the CNMI, have been leading groups of local students on field trips to the Laulau Watershed for the last several months.

You can add 27 students and 2 teachers to the list of people that have been on the Angelo Villagomez Death March, um, I mean, Laulau Watershed Revegetation Project Field Trip.

The 6th grade students at Tanapag Elementary are learning about the environment. Their teacher, Miss Eileen Babauta, contacted me to see if I could either come into the class or show the kids where I work. Last week they had someone from the Division of Environmental Quality come into their classroom to talk about nonpoint source pollution. Today they got to climb up on a mountain (that's right, I work on a mountain!) to get a first hand look at nonpoint source. Exciting, I know!

I took the kids to the top of Mt. Laulau and they were able to point out the different sources of pollution leaching into Laulau Bay. They noticed things like agriculture, roads, houses, and golf courses in Kagman, San Vicente, and Dan Dan.

Any kid who goes on one of my field trips is responsible for learning one thing; they have to be able to repeat this simple mantra:

"What we do on the land can affect our marine environment."

Even though I make them repeat it no less than 30 times, it is really easy to get the kids excited about saying this mantra. Before we step onto the trail to start the hike, I lay out some rules about safety and having fun. Then I tell them that they only have to learn one thing on the field trip. This always gets them excited because kids like being told that they're not learning (even when they really are).

After I tell them the mantra, I ask one of the kids to repeat it back to me. There is always some hesitation on the kids' part, and sometimes it takes a couple of tries, but the first student to get it right wins a pack of Mentos (that's candy for those of you who don't remember those Mentos commercials from the 1990's).

When they see that answering a question wins them candy, all hesitation on the part of the kids goes away for the rest of the field trip.

This was the rowdiest bunch of kids I've taken on a field trip so far this year. My nephew, Edmund Villagomez, was their teacher last year. They figured this out in the first few minutes of our hike, which made us all instant friends. They even started calling me Mr. V and Mr. Villa-gorgeous...because that is what they call Edmund.

The thorns were really bad on this trip. I mean really bad. Really, really bad. Once the field trip was over and we were back on the bus I asked if anyone was bleeding.

I think pretty much everyone, including the teachers, raised their hands! Bleeding and still smiling?!?! Another successful field trip!

If you would like to experience the thorns and blistering heat at the Laulau Watershed Revegetation Project, please schedule a field trip with Angelo Villagomez at the Marianas Resource Conservation & Development Council office, 236-0894, or his cellphone, 483-1078, or via email

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