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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
March, 1998 Vol. 1 No.3

Blue Hearts on Green Sleeves
A blue tapestry takes shape as Girl Scouts take on the ocean’s cause.






magine a blue tapestry that stretches to at least 2,000 feet (about 610 meters), forming a kaleidoscope of artworks that reflect the thoughts, hopes and dreams of tens of thousands of people. If the imagery seems irresistible, the concept sounds even more appealing: Bring together people in a coastal community, get them to discuss their hopes and thoughts about our ocean, and have them express these on fabric. Do this in all 850 or so coastal towns in the Philippines, then gather the pieces or blocks of fabric art and tie them together for one big exhibit at the year-long Philippine Expo in Clark, Pampanga... the perfect symbol for the country’s 18,000-km coastline!

Eight months ago, the Blue Tapestry seemed no more than a wild idea. The Cebu-based Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP), about to embark on its "national agenda-setting campaign," saw a unique opportunity to bring its cause to national -- and perhaps even international -- attention: in 1998, the Philippines would be celebrating its 100th anniversary as a sovereign nation as well as joining the rest of the world in celebrating the UN-initiated International Year of the Ocean. Why not do a cultural arts project that would allow many people to participate? Why not something like the Peace Quilt? This end-on-end group quilt was so long it could be wrapped around the Pentagon five times -- the same thing could be done to represent the Philippines’ long coastline! And why not get Levi’s, the company that made famous the line "Our earth is 70% blue", as sponsor?

Everything seemed to fit, and everyone, it seemed, thought the project was wonderful. By November, Levi Strauss (Phil.) Inc. (LSPI) had signified its intention to help -- it would provide blue denim that would serve as backing for the blocks the coastal towns would produce. And yet things moved slowly. What first appeared to be a "natural activity" for social mobilization and raising environmental awareness soon began to look ponderous, and every month that passed made the project seem more overwhelming.

Then the Girl Scouts came.

The Blue Tapestry Begins
The first link to the Girl Scouts was established in January. Emma Espinosa, the executive director of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines (GSP) Masbate Council, had heard about the Blue Tapestry and wanted to adopt it as a major project at a province-wide camp she was organizing in celebration of the Philippine Centennial. Word about her interest promptly reached CRMP. By the end of January, the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) staff of CRMP had met with Espinosa and her scout leaders to discuss the planned activity. Things fell into place after that. By March 15, 28 blocks representing the 28 districts of the Masbate Council of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines (GSP) and all 21 municipalities of the province of Masbate (all of them coastal) had been completed.

Espinosa, an energetic grandmother of nine, has also presented the Blue Tapestry at a regional meeting attended by GSP executive directors from 24 provinces in the Bicol Region and Luzon. The scout leaders are "interested, so I’m meeting with them again to discuss the project in greater detail," she reports.

Espinosa is also developing a work plan detailing specific strategies the Masbate Council intends to undertake so that the project will "spill over" to the community. "I’d like to throw this project to the barangays (villages), so that they will take it on and the message of the Blue Tapestry will be heard by a greater number of people," she says.

Meanwhile, CRMP touched base with the GSP Cebu Council, laying the groundwork for similar activities to be held in the province. Slow to start, the Blue Tapestry is now moving forward surely and quickly. "It was like nothing was happening and then suddenly we were marveling at and touching the first 28 blocks!" CRMP Chief of Party Catherine Courtney enthuses.

Scouts for the Ocean
Conceived as an activity for community-based organizations, the Blue Tapestry might as well have been tailor-made for the Girl Scouts. Properly planned, it could be the perfect camp activity and a wonderful way for the girls to earn a merit badge.

In Masbate, the project was made the highlight of a three-day camp celebrating the Philippine Centennial and the "women heroes of the Philippines." The camp was attended by some 800 girl scouts, most of them grade school students age 10-13. Here, using blue denim backing provided by LSPI, campers worked side by side with their teachers, painstakingly putting together their blocks and logging in hours of work on the project, sometimes even while attending other camp activities.

Careful preparations ensured that all blocks were completed before the last tent was folded away. The children had already been through several discussions back home with their teachers and among themselves on the designs that they would create, and some had even sketched their designs on paper, the better for them to interpret these on fabric. But the discussions continued on camp. With hardly any prompting, the girls offered their views on what the Blue Tapestry meant to them. The blocks they created -- some stark, others in vivid colors -- showed a deep, albeit childlike, sensitivity to the beauty and value of the sea. Despite the many colors used, the varied designs and wide-ranging techniques, the scouts’ message was consistent. The sea is our life and our future.

"I just want to say, we should all love the ocean because it supports life," Cristine Badillo, age 12, declared. "We can catch some fish but not too much that there’s nothing left, and not in a way that we destroy the sea." Cristine, along with her troop mates, started working on their district’s Blue Tapestry block shortly after the camp opened. By camp’s end, she was showing off the little token she earned for her and her group’s effort: a blue heart pin that she proudly wore on her right sleeve.

Hands Across the Sea
The Blue Tapestry will not be a purely Girl Scouts undertaking. CRMP is encouraging the general public, in the Philippines as well as abroad, to contribute their own blocks and help "grow" the project. The intention is to make the Blue Tapestry an ongoing community arts project similar to the AIDS quilt, which is touted to be the largest ongoing arts community project in the world.

"Because of the way it is structured, the Blue Tapestry can never really be ‘finished,’" CRMP stresses in its The Blue Tapestry Guidelines. "After the Philippine Centennial, the blocks will be returned to the groups that created them. From there, Tapestry can literally have a life of its own, with the groups ‘growing’ their own blocks by getting more groups or individuals to contribute and express their commitment to the cause of the ocean and the coastal environment."

More important than the works of art, however, is the process itself: the process of moving people -- each one of us -- into positive action for our ocean and coastal environment, as well as for our own sake. Like so many hands across the sea, the Blue Tapestry can help link our coastal communities together so that they can help each other ensure not only their own future, but the future of the entire human race on this planet.



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