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A Book of Hope

希望 ~ Xīwàng ~ Hope

Written and illustrated by Vikki Farrell

Whilst living on the archipelago ‘Penghu’ in the China sea, we were confronted with a shocking amount of waste that was washed ashore or floating in the ocean around the islands. Due to Penghu’s location, off the coast of Taiwan but not too far from mainland China; most of the waste and pollution would end up on our local beaches.

A pristine collection of islands, not widely known to tourism (yet) beaches were covered in medical, plastic and fishing waste. Some beaches had people employed to collect the rubbish in the early morning hours each day, but others weren’t. They were less frequently visited and unfortunately just left in mountains of pollution.

One afternoon, a colleague and I went to watch my boyfriend surf but decided to bring along with us bin liners and gloves. ‘Longman’ was the name of the beach and the surf break. So as the guys surfed, we began to try and tackle these mountains. We began to sort them into ‘bottles’ ‘fishing line’ ‘lighters’ etc. After maybe 3 hours, exhausted from the heat, we reflected on all that we had collected that morning. Although we had 6 bags overflowing with waste (all we would be able to fit in our car) the beach didn’t look any different. To our dismay and disappointment, we hadn’t even touched the surface.

After this revelation, we encouraged beach clean ups with our social group and our classes in school and of course, every time we went to Longman, we would bring along bags and gloves. 

In Penghu the local people worship the turtle, there is even a turtle festival where people make cakes in the shape of turtles and run competitions of who can create a turtle statue, which all are paraded through the village streets. It’s quite a spectacle and an important holiday for the locals. One of the temples was known to have its own turtles…

We always hesitated about going, afraid of what we might see. One afternoon we decided to visit this temple. We believe if you want to face the reality of situations you must stand up to adversity. There were in fact 8 turtles beneath the temple. It was hard to tell the exact species but for definite there were Green sea turtles, hawksbills and perhaps a loggerhead. They had been ‘donated’ to the temple by fishermen who had accidently caught them in their nets. These poor things had barely enough water (at least it looked clean) and not enough space, they were swimming and clambering on top of one another just to move. This was a shocking reality, but being careful not to impose our western ideals and thoughts on the locals, we made our feelings known by leaving the temple and discussing at length with our Taiwanese friends, about how we felt about the turtles’ lack of space and lack of water. At least it was clean and they did look like they were fed.

It’s always such a controversial topic, as although they are worshipped and considered a deity to the locals, their understanding of providing the right environment for these gracious beings was not considered or at least known.

Both my boyfriend and I are huge animal lovers and activists, we both became vegetarian 3 years before hand. This was for a mixture of reasons, but with all of this exposure to the treatment of animals, particularly living in Asia, we decided we didn’t want to contribute to this exploitation and cruelty.

We do not judge others for their choices, we believe in people having the freedom to follow the path they choose, what is right from them. For us, we chose not to be involved in the meat and seafood industry anymore. Quite apart from all the pollution in our oceans, nowadays most marine animals and fish in the ocean are found with micro plastics inside of them.

More and more the plight of the Turtle was always playing on our minds. One afternoon our friend showed us and translated an article in local newspaper about two firemen who had been arrested for eating turtle meat. The turtle to the Taiwanese is sacred and there is a law against eating them, regardless of them being endangered or not. There was an outrage amongst the community. It was said that these men had eaten the meat to cure pain in their knees. According to Chinese medicine; turtle meat is good for cartilage!

We continually wracked our brains on how we could help, naturally we knew that education is key. What better way than integrating this topic into our work at the buxiban (language school) we worked at?

I was studying a children’s book illustration course, so it all came into place – that I would write a book. Thus Xīwàng was born, the characters in the book all represent the sea life we frequently observed whilst snorkeling (including the turtles!) We were also learning mandarin at the time and decided it could be written in both English and in Chinese, so that it could be educationally, language based too. As teachers, we are both passionate about language and believed it was necessary that the Chinese was to be written phonetically so that younger children could read it too. We recorded the book onto a CD, as it was suggested to us by a parent; that they often struggle with modelling the correct English pronunciation. So I dictated the story and had one of my students read the mandarin and sing the rhyme I had adapted.

Our students contributed their own pictures for the book which also feature at the end of the story, along with a small explanation of the species of turtles found in Penghu. We were approached by a turtle conservation trust and an NGO called ‘Ocean Citizen’. We donated the rights to the story, the drawings and all proceeds to this NGO. They then distributed copies to all the schools on the islands as an educational resource.

The journey that proceeded this project pathed the way for more ideas for further books outlining the impact we have on our environment and the species that are rapidly going extinct because of human influences. Currently we are in the developing stage of creating our own curriculum/syllabus for schools in western Africa. All these experiences and observations have thread into our motivation to advocate change, positively and sustainably.

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