Ocean Kids Day brings marine life to campus

Every November since 2008, the Ocean Kids program has been educating disadvantaged school children from the Miami-Dade school system on marine science and conservation. The goal is to inspire curiosity, excitement and confidence about learning through a day of fun and adventure.

But is it possible to pick up an event like this and set it down halfway across the world?

Last December, Safia Hamed Alajlan, a recent graduate of the Rosentiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, proved that such an effort is not only possible, but also can have a significant impact.

A native of Kuwait, Alajlan has been a volunteer with the Ocean Kids program since its beginning, and was chosen in 2010 as the Clinton Global Initiative Chair for Ocean Kids. Clinton Global Initiative is a branch of the Clinton Foundation. Its goal is to convene “global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.”

Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) works under the same principles, but at the university level. The annual CGI U conference was held at UM in 2010, where Safia was a representative of the Ocean Kids program. To be a part of CGI U, the leaders of Ocean Kids had to make a commitment to expand the program across the world. This led to Safia’s own commitment.

“I am from Kuwait so I told the other e-board members at Ocean Kids that I think I would be able to host it back home, and I did!” Safia said.

Safia began the massive effort to coordinate an Ocean Kids event in Kuwait City. She began by seeking the help of Dareen Al Mojil, head of the Kuwait Environmental Research and Awareness Center, who began the logistical efforts for the event while Safia was still in the US.

The next step was to decide on the group of children that would be attending the event.

“I think that a large percentage of the Kuwaiti youth lack important information about marine science and our environment in general, so it was really hard to choose which group to bring in for the event, because I wanted every kid in Kuwait to attend,” Safia said.

Eventually Safia decided that the children of Bayt Abdulla, a hospice for young terminally ill cancer patients would be the recipients of the program. After contacting local volunteer groups in Kuwait, the effort was underway to provide food, create learning stations focused on Kuwait’s coral reefs, and provide gift bags with reading material for the children. Local scientific and water sports groups and an organic food shop all contributed to the event’s success.

At Discovery Hall, mere minutes from the sea, the event was a great success and was covered widely by the local media.

When asked what the best part of the Ocean Kids event was, Alajlan said that it was “seeing those disadvantaged children smile and making their day a better one.”