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Once a merkid, always a merkid

From 2015-2018, there have been 10 Sea and Earth Advocate (SEA) Camps. As of April 2018, the program has 242 SEA Camp alumni, also referred to as “merkids." Among the 242, 190 are Filipino, and 52 come from the nine other Southeast Asian countries. Some are artists or communicators, others are scientists or government workers, several are educators, and a few are studying to be professionals.

When SEA Camp alumni get together or meet, there’s an instant connection. The SEA Camp is a unique and shared memorable experience – there's really no such thing as moving on. In this blog entry, we share the top 10 signs that you’re a merkid.

1. A merkid knows the importance of being ON TIME.

When you’re handed the SEA Camp schedule, you are warned/informed that you are expected to be in the function room earlier than the time indicated. The organizers mean this. You are probably traumatized with the lines, “What time are you supposed to be here?” and/or “What time is it?” SEA Camp alumni who go back to the SEA Camps still turned cold when they heard these lines.

2. You have become highly sensitive to the unnecessary use of plastic.

Before the SEA Camp, you’ll be asked to bring your own reusable items, like utensils and a water bottle. You might find it weird for a well-funded project to require this, but eventually you realize that it’s part of the experiential learning process. After the SEA Camp, we all started to refuse/reuse plastic, especially straws, plastic bags, plastic cups, and water bottles. You know that the last B in BYOB can stand for bottle, bag, baunan (food container). Sometimes we feel a little bit insulted when there is so much plastic being used and thrown away at home or in events.

3. You begin to think of ocean puns.

We all noticed the “best fishes” signature from the first time we received the letter from Save Philippine Seas (SPS) containing the most FINtastic news that we were going to be part of the SEA Camp. Tita A’s (that’s Anna Oposa, Chief Mermaid) love for puns is contagious: SEA Campers call each other SEAblings or SEAsters. #SquadGoals became #SquidGoals. We also say FINspiration, emOCEANal, JAWsome. Some SEA Campers feel the pressure to have witty/punny SPS names (all SEA Campers are required to have his/her own SPS name, by the way) or project titles, e.g., Polisea (policy), Artsea (artsy), Junior Seatizens (citizens), Artiviseam (activism) and Imaginocean (imagination) to name a few. Eh di wow! We’ve become so witty and creative with wordplay.

4. You have written a Letter to A Leader.

All SEA Campers are required to write and send a letter to a leader. Official SEA Camp photos and videos are held hostage unless everyone sends their letter to leader. This assignment made us realize how a single letter can make an impact, or how it can inspire someone to keep going. Apart from the implemented projects, this activity is one of the most meaningful exercises that SEA Camp taught us.

5. You know the most proper way of saying “NAKAKALOKA.”

No one says the word “nakakaloka” like Tita A. You might have adopted the expression too. Nakakaloka! You might also pick up expressions such as “naitawid,” “charot!”, “BBL (Biga Biga Lang),” "4 Ps," and "honor to your country."

6. You’ve gotten physical with the signature SEA Camp getting-to-know-you activity.

We’ll stop here, but for sure it will bring you closer to your seabs.

7. You know Jawa and you have touched him.

Some might have even hugged him, used him as a pillow, had a picture with him, or cried on him. He is not a microphone, but you can’t talk unless you have Jawa. He was finally washed after five SEA Camps because he was starting to smell, well, fishy.

8. You start becoming conscious of the fonts you use for presentations.

Tita A scrutinizes everything about the project pitch presentations, from the way you present to the animations to the colors, but she pays special attention to fonts.

Tip: don’t ever use Comic Sans. Ever.

9. You are a recipient of many freebies.

T-shirts, tumblers, baller IDs, ecobag, stickers, brochures, Lagu towel, Human Nature products, CDs with videos, Havaianas bags, magazines, etc. Your laptop or notebook will most likely have stickers from the SEA Camp.

10. You wish for more SEA Camps.

SEA Campers appreSEAte how the U.S. Government has made marine conservation a priority, supporting the SEA Camps for the fourth year in a row! It was really life changing for us, and we wish to spread the passion and advocacy to other youth.

There are already 242 merkids who have done something significant for the environment, and we hope to keep multiplying. Whatever batch we belong to, we share the same love and passion for the seas.

Once a merkid, always a merkid!

Written by Jam Nagamora, with contributions from Kian Chua, Rex Alon, Steve Guray, and Alayyka Fowler. First published in October 2016, updated in April 2018.

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Not all messages come in a bottle.

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