The time we have spent in Palau has been an amazing experience in no small part due to the wonderful people who have shared with us their culture and knowledge. While we are here to learn, we also wish to give back to the communities which have shown us such remarkable kindness. To help in achieving this goal, we decided to do our small part in aiding the recovery from typhoon Bopha.
On December 2nd, 2012 typhoon Bopha came within 50km of Palau and wreaked havoc on parts of the islands with damaging wind, rain, and storm surge. Homes were knocked down, trees blown over, and salt water intruded upon taro patches causing many to turn yellow and die. So many food plants have been destroyed that there is currently a shortage of locally grown produce. Lucky for us, local community activist Belhaim Sakuma, better known as Bena, organized an opportunity for us to give back to the community. Bena works at the non-profit Belau Cares, whose mission is to promote “kotel a deurreng” which roughly translated means “health is happiness”. They strive to teach Palauans how to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. We met with the Governor of Melkeok, Aloysis Tellei, and Leonard Basilius who showed us how to plant fruit trees. We planted mango, bread fruit, Malay apple, avocado, and debechel lemon. The saplings we planted will hopefully grow up to be productive fruit bearing trees that will provide for the community for many years.
After our morning of community service we went to the Palau Conservation Society (PCS), a local NGO supporting conservation projects from and for the local communities. Here we learned about the Protected Areas Network (PAN) and Micronesia Challenge. First, Lolita Gibbons-Decherong from PCS taught us about the PAN, which is a collection of protected areas within the country of Palau. The goal of the PAN is to provide technical assistance and resources to individual states in order to build a robust network of protected areas around the country. Then, we heard from Yimnang Golbuu from the Palau International Coral Reef Center. He explained the history of protected areas in Palau and monitoring that is currently taking place. Next, a representative from the Micronesia Challenge told us how the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia are working together to achieve the goal of protecting 20% of terrestrial habitats and 30% of near shore marine habitats by 2020. Umiich Sengebau from The Nature Conservancy then explained how Palau is working to sustainably fund the PAN in order to meet the Micronesia Challenge. Finally, Yalap P. Yalap from PCS educated us on turtle conservation in Palau and the highly successful “Turtles are our Friends” campaign.
Our day was filled with opportunities to learn about the efforts of outstanding Palauans to create a healthy country for both its people and ecosystem. The message I took away was the amazing dedication and caring the people of Palau show for their country. No doubt our world is a better place because of people like them.