Mentoring the next generation of Micronesian Stewards

OneReef has supported communities’ longer-term management and protection of their coral reefs across Micronesia since 2010. During this decade of developing long-term partnerships with communities across the region, OneReef has established a robust Micronesia team made up of extensively experienced and well-respected leaders among their peers.  The Micronesia team has helped shape OneReef’s Community Partnership Model that allows each community to directly access technical, financial, and other resources needed to help accomplish ocean protection goals. One such resource is the Traditional Stewardship program (also known as the Traditional Guardians program).  This program has been designed and piloted over the last two years by the OneReef Micronesia leadership.

The overarching goal of the Traditional Stewardship Program is to build long-term resilience of Micronesian communities to the impacts of climate change.  By mentoring the next generation of Micronesian Stewards, we aim to curb the decline in coral reefs from overfishing and the damage to coastal habitats by combining traditional knowledge and values with science and technology.  OneReef Traditional Stewardship Program connects community elders with youth. Together, they build Learning Centers (resembling old canoe houses) where they meet regularly to learn traditional island values, culture, stories, stewardship roles, and the necessary means of survival for island communities. Some skills that the youth learn from their Elders are traditional fishing, farming, voyaging, food preparation and preservation, and medicine, to name a few. OneReef sees the urgency of this program today because of the aging population of its partner communities across Micronesia and the need to transfer knowledge from elders to the youth.  There is also an opportunity to utilize technology to document and preserve this critical knowledge and accelerate community stewardship through cross-learning between the Learning Centers.

Since March of 2021, OneReef Micronesia Team has worked to design a traditional stewardship curriculum with some elders from the communities of Hatohobei and Sonsorol in Koror, Palau.  After the initial meeting with elders, they initiated a pilot project to work with a small group of 15 kids ranging in ages from 6-16 years old. The idea was to make the curriculum relevant and realistic. Hence, they needed to write the curriculum as they went along, teaching different topics and skills. The OneReef team worked alongside them to develop a stewardship curriculum.  The pilot project was a great success and resulted in an afterschool program where elders worked with the children in various topic areas. One of the critical results of the afterschool program is a youth learning the foundational values of stewardship. It includes the teaching of respect and humility, which in the local language is “haparue ma hatewahi” and translates to “thank you.” The learning started with respect and humility but included other topics such as language to encourage the kids to learn new words in their native language.  As part of this curriculum, they also learned to tie knots, weave baskets, and build thatch roofs from coconut fronds.  Lastly, they put their skills to the test by building a small hut as their learning station.

A traditional stewardship skills camp is planned for this summer, which will build upon the traditional stewardship camp OneReef conducted last year, in partnership with Sonsorol State.