Providing FREE, online, environmental, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), and geography education, to young people worldwide, ‘live from the boat’.
History of Fourbirdsaboating (2010-2012)
The idea to row across the Pacific Ocean in 2014, came about in winter 2010 whilst using the BBC Oceans television series, to teach English as a foreign language, to students in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. This was the first time the students had seen British television, and for many was the first time they had seen the ocean, let alone what lay beneath the waves. We didn’t have time to watch the whole episode in class, so the students stayed behind after school, and before Sarah knew it, she was running ‘Oceans Project Georgia (OPG)‘ every Saturday for students in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, supported by a team of international volunteers:
- Tamar (Georgian, Zoo Keeper specialising in elephants)
- Tako (Georgian, Zoo Keeper specialising in big cats)
- Alexander (Georgian, History Teacher and Vice Principal of European School)
- Nana (Georgian, English-Georgian Translator)
- Sopho (Georgian, Russian Teacher, Public School 56, Parent)
- Manana (Georgian, Director of British Connection School)
- Lothar (Australian, TEFL Teacher for Ministry of Education and Science, TLG, British Connection School)
- Erin (USA, TEFL Teacher for Ministry of Education and Science, TLG)
- David (Scottish, TEFL Teacher for Ministry of Education and Science, TLG)
- Sarah (England, TEFL Teacher for Ministry of Education and Science, TLG, and NQT Geography Key Stage 2-4 British Connection School)
- Brigid (South African, TEFL Teacher for Ministry of Education and Science, TLG)
- Nikoloz (Georgian, Film Director)
Each week we watched 20 minutes of the BBC Oceans series, before small groups of students (‘Oceans Ambassadors’) chose topics from the episode to research, using books donated from Darien Book Aid Plan in the USA, Sarah’s battered old laptop, and USB internet. Each group communicated in English, presented to peers for 2 minutes, and fielded questions. In the second half we Skyped with scientists and explorers live from the field, practiced knots, played games, and introduced the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award for the first time in Georgia. During the project, we followed Roz Savage MBE as she rowed across the Indian Ocean, and students eagerly read her blog, locating her on an old Soviet map.
Over two years, from humble beginnings, we gained Georgian charitable status (Number 750415), and three inspirational Patrons: Paul Rose (BBC Oceans), Dr Alexander Kumar (expedition medic for ESA’s Mars research in Antarctica), and Roz Savage MBE (Ocean Rower, and Environmental Advocate). In 2013 we gained our fourth Patron Olympic Rower and the first female Captain of the Leander Club in 184 years; Debbie Flood.
One of the most unexpected things about the project, was that it brought together around 80 young people aged 8-25 from 18 private and state schools in Tbilisi. From the more affluent young people with parents involved at government level and international diplomats, to street children, orphans, internally displaced persons, and refugees from the 2008 civil war with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The ONLY language they all had in common was English, and many students used the project as a way of improving their English as a foreign language, especially where there were no funds for the more typical private lessons after school. Several of our Oceans Ambassadors have since gone on to win places on Flex Programmes with a year at a school in the USA and visits to the UK, as well as university and employment.
Piloting the WizIQ Online Platform (2012)
In October 2012, human rights protests in Tbilisi and changes in Georgia’s government made getting to sessions difficult for the Oceans Ambassadors, so we trialled online platform WizIQ (based in India). Within a matter of weeks, we were amazed to find that we suddenly had students across the remotest parts of Georgia some of whom could not attend school due to disability, as well as students in 56 countries, including Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean. The potential for reaching the most disadvantaged young people worldwide became a major inspiration and an opportunity to bring the outside world in to our young people in Georgia, using 3D film and online technology to build on Roz’s Indian ocean row.
Where Were WizIQ Students From?
Students who signed up for the free, pilot course were from:
* Georgia * UK *USA *Russia *Algeria *Sri Lanka *India *Bulgaria *China *Morocco *Latvia *Pakistan *Egypt *Mongolia *United Arab Emirates *Ireland *Australia *Ecuador *Hungary *Albania *Saudi Arabia *Greece *Canada *Brazil *Oman *Turkey *France *Portugal *Iran *Yemen *Somalia *Kazakhstan *Spain *Peru *Jordan *Indonesia *Israel *Mexico *Qatar *Switzerland *Argentina *Dominican Republic *Ukraine *Colombia *Honduras *Nigeria *Philippines *Germany *Vanuatu *Kenya *Rabat *Vietnam *Tatarstan *Malaysia *Hong Kong *Namibia *Korea *Lithuania *Zambia *Thailand *Venezuela *Italy *Sweden *South Africa
With the uncertainty and change as a new government came to power in Georgia, the project relocated to Sarah’s home town of Henley-On-Thames in December 2012. Lothar returned to Australia, Erin moved to China, Dave to Russia, Tamar to the Netherlands, and Brigid to Mongolia.
When we started our little school project, we had no idea of the potential for change in young people’s lives, and it is this which has driven us forward:
“I am so thankful to OPG. It taught me a lot. OPG helped me so much with making presentations and talking to the public!” Nutsa Benidze.
“Oceans Project changed my life. I’m interested in science, I learnt more about the world, the Earth, I improved my English, my knowledge, and about how to care for our environment”. Ana Gagoshvili.
Relocating to Henley-On-Thames, UK
Henley-On-Thames is the perfect base for continuing what we started in Georgia, though no longer under our Georgian registered charity name, but under our Pacific Ocean row team name ‘Fourbirdsaboating’ since we now have students all over the world, not just in Georgia.
As well as being Sarah’s home town, Henley-On-Thames is world famous for rowing, and has one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world, Leander Club. The town itself is located on the River Thames (longest river in England, running from its source in Gloucestershire and out through London to the North Sea) and the town hosts several annual rowing regattas between its 3 rowing clubs.