Take 12 North American high school students, 18 Middle Eastern high school students, put them together in an engaging, educational setting, and what’s the result? Despite current trying sociopolitical times, friendship. That was immediately clear on July 14, when students embarked on a 10-day interview process as part of the Ocean for Life program.
Ocean for Life, which is being held for the second time since 2009, intends to teach students from across borders about the ocean that we all share, and to bring unity to the group, which comes from various economic, political, religious, and social backgrounds. The program is free for the students and funded by several organizations, including the GLOBE Program, SCUBAnauts International, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. The students, along with staff members, are staying in UCSB’s dormitories for the length of the trip.
On July 17, Ocean for Life took a trip to the South Coast Watershed Resource Center, located at Hendry’s beach to learn about water quality testing. Stations were set up for the first part of the day with instruments for testing water quality. Among tasks were measuring levels of pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity, and turbidity.
A gaggle of teens surrounded each table, eager to learn and take photographs for a presentation due later in the project on what they had learned. Some crewmembers from National Geographic supplied the students with cameras and taught them how to take quality photos, both on land and underwater. Later, the group would leave the building and head to the beach and the nearby creek for water samples. The day concluded with a beach cleanup, to stress that everything we put on the beach and streets ends up in the ocean.
Aneesah, a participant in Ocean for Life, says that she learned of the opportunity from her sister, who had been in the program a couple years before. She is a 10th grader from Canada and a practicing Muslim, which she attributes as one of the reasons why she has developed close bonds with the students from the Middle East. When asked what she wants to study in college, she said that she doesn’t know yet, but that she might like to study biology.
Another participant, Natasha, is from Pakistan. This is her third time traveling to the United States, where she’s participating in the program with her mentor and former school principal, Shahina Masood, also from Pakistan. Natasha said that she’s become friends with everyone in the program. She heard of Ocean for Life from her school and interviewed in 2009, but couldn’t go at the time. She came this year instead.
Natasha’s mentor, Masood, is the principal of a O.P.F. Girls College, a prestigious school in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capitol city, where she said classes are all taught in English, except for one which is taught in the native language, Urdu. The school serves people from all over the Middle East.
Masood said that in 2009, the first year that Ocean for Life began, she sent four students to participate. Masood explained, “I think [during] these times, interaction is very important.” She was referring to the awkwardness felt by young people about current international politics, including the recent murder of Osama Bin Laden.
Claire Fackler, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, said that some of the participants of the 2009 program were related to victims of the Twin Towers tragedy, making it a goal of the program to bring the two involved sections of the world under the same roof. Masood volunteered an adjective for the cooperation: “Peaceful.”
For more info about the program, see oceanforlife.org.