Session IX-4: Pond construction project
Total time: Approximately 20 hours
Overview: In this project, trainees actually experience all of the steps involved in laying out and constructing a pond from start to finish. They work together as a group under the direction of the trainee coordinators to construct a small fish pond.
Note: This is a project that takes place over a long period of time. Thus, there will not be a written session design presented here. The following is a set of trainer notes that should be helpful regarding the project.
1. For something as tangible as pond construction, there is no replacement for actual experience. No amount of learning through lectures, reading, observation or even hypothetical practice that stops short of the real thing can be as valuable, or as confidence building, as physically going through the actual process. Site selection, pond design, the ability to stake out a pond effectively and actual pond construction combine to form one of the most challenging and intimidating aspects of the job of a fish culture volunteer. As trainees progress through the program, they develop their surveying skills, learn about the characteristics and requirements of a functional fish pond, do some field exercises in site development, and learn about site selection, pond design and pond construction through guest experts, the seminar presentation and observations on the field trip. They are never completely convinced that they are adequately prepared for this part of their job, however, until they put their skills to the test.
2. The two or three trainees who present the seminar on Site Selection/Pond Construction serve as the coordinators for this project. They should be selected for that seminar based on their technical skills or comprehension in this area and on their leadership abilities (if not strong in each individual, there should be a good balance among them to provide a strong team of coordinators while allowing the weaker member(s) to further develop their leadership skills).
3. One trainer, preferably one who has a lot of experience and very strong skills in pond construction, is the staff supervisor for this project. The trainee coordinators should work very closely with this staff member, and he/she should communicate with the group only through them regarding the project. The coordinators submit all requests, plans, proposals, and needs to this trainer, and this trainer provides what is needed.
4. When the trainee coordinators are informed of their responsibility for this project, they should be given any information they will need to begin planning. If the site has been determined by the staff, the trainer should show it to them. If it is up to them to choose the site, they should be shown the general area and told about any restrictions, boundaries or other considerations of which they need to be aware. Keeping the site selection aspect to a minimum is recommended. Trainees should have some options to choose from, but should not have to spend too much time finding a site. The construction phase will be time consuming enough, and since trainees will get practice with site selection through other exercises, the more important points regarding that aspect is how the site is used, how the pond is oriented and designed to fit the site, and how the characteristics of the site affect the construction techniques and decisions.
5. The trainer should inform the coordinators of any other constraints, limitations or requirements. This should include information about the surface area of the completed pond. The staff may have decided upon a size that will best meet the needs of the owner of that land, or have some other guidelines that affect the size pond desired. It is recommended that the pond be limited to approximately 100 square meters in order to be able to complete it in the given time, but at the same time it should not be too small to provide a realistic experience and a sense of the labor involved.
6. As early as possible, the trainee coordinators should write up a plan for the project. Staff should keep in mind that they will be preparing their seminar presentation also, so the more notice they have regarding what is required of them the better. The plan should be submitted to the trainer in charge of the project. That trainer should review the plan immediately and carefully, and should meet with the coordinators to discuss any weak areas in the plan if necessary. The trainer will need to exercise judgement here. This is the trainees' project, and since they lack experience there is a good chance they may overlook something or make an occasional error. To some extent, this should be permitted to occur. They can learn many things as they go along and can solve certain problems as they arise. On the other hand, depending upon the circumstances it will probably not be advisable to allow so many mistakes to be made that the results are not viable (especially if the land belongs to a private individual rather than to the training program). This would not only be a waste of trainees' time and labor, and probably money, but it would also deprive the trainees' of the sense of achievement and diminish rather than build their confidence. There needs to be a good balance of input from the trainer so that trainees have possession of their project (and the sense of accomplishment that comes with that), but still receive guidance to an appropriate extent.
7. The trainee coordinators present their plan to the group. Although they should get some input from the group, they should have done a thorough job and they should make the decisions. There is not enough time to do all phases of this project through group consensus. This will be a real test for the coordinators since they also need to find a balance between accepting helpful input from the group but being willing and able to make decisions.
8. In addition to all of the technical aspects, the coordinators need to plan how the actual construction will be organized. All trainees are to be involved, and everyone should understand what is going on at all points. What seems to work best is for the coordinators to have meetings with the group every few days to keep everyone posted and make announcements. In addition, there can be a sign-up sheet where all trainees keep track of the number of hours they put in at the work site. The coordinators can assign a set number of hours required by each trainee based on their estimates, then the trainees can work at the site during flexible hours as they see fit. The coordinators can set up a rotating system among themselves so that one of them is always present at the site (during flexible time blocks) to provide direction.
9. The coordinators should assign one or two trainees to serve as recorders. These trainees keep track of what is done each day, the order of events, the number of man-hours of labor, etc. At the end, they can put this information together to share with the group at the processing meeting.
10. In past programs, the construction project usually began during seminar preparation or presentation weeks, though time was limited. Scarifying and beginning the core trenches was usually as far as it got during that time. The remainder of the work generally took place after the field trip. An alternative to this spread out approach is to schedule in two or three full days strictly for pond construction. The advantage of this is that everyone is in touch with all stages and less time is wasted transporting tools back and forth. Trainees can focus completely on this one project and really immerse themselves. Disadvantages are that it may be difficult to schedule this way due to logistical considerations, and also that the work is entirely physical labor, so trainees may not have the stamina to use the whole time efficiently.
11. Since this project does involve such difficult physical labor, it is important that trainees and staff concentrate on health and safety. Make sure drinking water, sunscreen and insect repellent are available at the work site, that trainees dress appropriately, including hats and work gloves, that first aid kits are handy, etc. This is one of the few times in training that bringing a tape player to the work site is appropriate. Lively music can help people maintain their energy and enjoy working together.
12. Although time will be tight, make every effort to have trainees fill and drain the pond they have constructed. This will provide an opportunity to make sure everything functions properly and, if everything does, provides a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
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