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Growing Roots: Project Hiu (Part 1)

It can be hard to size people up in the conservation world these days. When I get involved, I need ALL my questions answered. Are you in this for the right reasons? Where does the money go? Who are you when your Instagram followers aren’t looking? I knew in order to trust Madison 'Pip' Stewart's work with Project Hiu, I would have to see it for myself.

Project Hiu works with the shark fisherman, children and local community members of Lombok, Indonesia on Fisherman Island. Led by Pip (aka Shark Girl), she brings awareness of the importance of sharks to the delicate marine ecosystems as well as the possibility of sustainable job opportunities. This is focused on the beauty and intrigue of sharks living in the oceans surrounding Lombok, rather than having them slaughtered on their docks. In just a year, Pip has developed strong connections with the people living on Fisherman Island and has planted the seeds and nurtured strong roots as she educates and campaigns for change. She has gained their trust by showing them how to use their boats and knowledge of the surrounding marine life to generate a sustainable income to support their families.

As I and ten others embarked on a trip organized by Pip, the excitement was palpable - what would this experience be like? What would I see and be exposed to? Would this prove that Project Hiu was a worthwhile cause? Over the course of the trip I painted an ocean themed mural with kids, visited the fishing market, surfed and snorkelled in pristine waters and made friends with local women and shark fishermen. The five days on Lombok has left me inspired, hopeful and a believer in Project Hiu.

Over the course of a series of blog posts, let me take you on parts of my journey, so you too can see how Pip is making a difference, both among the people in Indonesia and in saving our oceans.

Day One: The Mural
My alarm was set for 5am...a quick breakfast. We piled into the van, headed to the dock where the fisherman would ferry us to the local school. Our group came from all different backgrounds: divers, computer engineers, photographers, videomakers, marine biologists, mothers, social entrepreneurs all wanting to support conservation efforts, all wanting to support Project Hiu. Amazing!

We arrived at the local jetty, it was just starting to get hot. The shark fisherman were waiting there with the boats tied up. They greeted us warmly and assisted us with our gear. I sat on top of the box where they keep the sharks after they are killed, but for today and the rest of the week the box would remain empty. They were working with us. The boat ride was breathtaking and beautiful, so simple, so green, through scattered little islands.
Prior to our arrival at the school, Francesca, an ocean conservationist and artist, had outlined an ocean themed mural, primed for us to paint with the kids. Francesca believes every child has creative artistic abilities that just need fostering. The school cannot afford art supplies, so this was a big deal for the teachers, students and parents.

The buzz as we entered the room was electric! The kids were so excited to see the outline of the mural on the wall and were eager to get their hands on the paint brushes. Despite the heat, the feeling of what we were creating together was so unifying, breaking down the barriers of language and culture and bringing us all together as people with a common purpose.

We painted long after the school bell rang to dismiss the kids. No one left, they all stayed to finish the mural and share stories with us. Pip brought donated skipping ropes that the kids loved playing with when taking a break from painting. I think my favourite moment on this day was carrying a young girl, a daughter of one of the shark fishermen, on my shoulders so she could reach a higher piece of coral. When her brush ran out of paint I would kneel down, carefully, while balancing her upright, to dip the brush and hand it back up so she could continue her work. A few hours passed and the colour brought the wall to life. It wasn’t perfect, it was messy, but honestly it was PERFECT because it was done by the kids!

 As we were leaving the school one of the teachers went up to Francesca and said, “This is something we will never forget, thank you”.  This little thing, completed in just one day, a day these kids would always remember, produced a piece of art they will always be inspired by. We also had an unexpected perfect ending to the day. Oddie, a fisherman (now friend), invited us into his home to share a meal of fresh lobster, fish, fried banana, fried dough, and noodles. What an experience to be invited into his home and fed delicious food prepared by his wife.

Pip is slowly growing roots in a wide-ranging way, out into the community, with the schools, with the families and with the kids. If the people of the village care, it will matter. We cannot simply come in and tell people how to live, what they are missing, and what they can and cannot do for a living. That would be hypocrisy. We need to show them the benefit of a different way of being and doing, and then let them decide what is best. This is why Pip’s approach, to slowly work with the fishermen and ask what they need, instead of telling them what they should do, is so thoughtful, and the impact she is having clearly shows with her friendship to so many members of the community.

Stay tuned for the next instalment in this series to find out more about the work of Project Hiu.

Written by Madison Makoff