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Co-creating the SSF Guidelines Curriculum through a Participatory Process


Who better to design the lesson plans and enrichment activities that make up the SSF Guidelines Curriculum's contents than teachers in fish-dependent communities from public schools, nonprofits, and social welfare centers committed to providing their students the best learning opportunities? C2C is immensely grateful for the chance in 2022 to collaborate with 12 educators and 62 young learners from four diverse SSF communities in Nigeria, Madagascar, India, and Peru to design the curriculum's first edition. We plan to continue co-creating content with these outstanding educators and learners and onboard new groups as this project evolves - all while raising awareness around the SSF Guidelines.

Map 2022
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IYAFA 2022

The United Nations declared 2022 as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA 2022) to raise global awareness about the important role that artisanal fisheries and aquaculture play in sustainable development, poverty reduction, and food security. The initiative was led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with other UN agencies and international organizations. IYAFA 2022 provided a platform for governments, civil society organizations, SSF people, and fishworkers to share knowledge and best practices, to discuss challenges, and develop solutions for sustainable and equitable artisanal fisheries and aquaculture. The initiative promoted the SSF Guidelines which outlined the adoption of policy and legal frameworks that recognize the rights and needs of small-scale fishers and fishworkers, and to promote gender equality and social inclusion in the sector.

It is within the context of IYAFA 2022 that we co-developed a curriculum framed by the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines as a fun, engaging way to involving local youth in thinking critically about their sustainable futures in the context of their own aquatic social-ecological systems

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Local Environmental Eduation Nonprofit
Nature Cares Resource Centre (NCRC) is an environmental non-profit organization established in 2003 with a mission to promote environmental conservation and sustainable development in Nigeria. NCRC focuses on a range of environmental issues, including biodiversity conservation, climate change and sustainable fisheries. 
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Blue Ventures
International Marine Conservation Nonprofit
Blue Ventures is a non-profit organization that works to support sustainable coastal livelihoods and marine conservation in Madagascar and other countries. Blue Ventures was founded in 2003 and has since worked with local communities in Madagascar to develop and implement innovative approaches to marine conservation and management.
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Social Welfare & Second-Chance Education Centre
SISP stands for Sebastian Indian Social Projects, which is a non-profit organization based in Kovalam, India. S.I.S.P. strives to accelerate social and economic change in the rural context by collaborating with local community members to build a better society where all people have easy access to education, health care, and employment opportunities. 
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I.E. Lobitos
Public School
La Institución educativa Colegio Lobitos is a public school with elementary and secondary students from the local fishing community. I.E. Lobitos is part of the national school system in Peru and strives to provide a quality rural education for local youth. The director is open to partnerships with civil society organization in the area to further students' learning.
2022 Focus Groups
1. Logistics & Onboarding
The introductory sessions with educators focused on understanding their intentions and motivations to join this project. C2C sought to identify emotions, practices, and collaborations not only about our team but also within educators' work. The first sessions also established the grounding guidelines for engaging with one another. We treated the project as an adventure that we were embarking on together. Everyone had knowledge to share and insights to gain. As colleagues, we could respectfully provide and receive feedback on our contributions to the curriculum as it was being developed, allowing for adjustments and revisions to be made in real-time. The ultimate expectation for the curriculum was that it could be relevant to students' lives and "not just another paper." Educators also were eager to gain more skills through the process, especially using audiovisual tools to engage their students in and outside their classrooms. 
2. Needs Assessment & In-Depth Interviews

After our introductory sessions, we followed with in-depth interviews where C2C invited educators to share their strengths, interests, and needs in teaching environmental and social justice themes.

Session 1: Educators' knowledge of environmental subjects 

  • Have you ever taught environmental or social justice issues or included them in your teachings? Why?

  • What kind of knowledge do you need to teach environmental subjects? Would you require training? 

  • What is your approach to teaching environmental issues? Are you more about science, community action, about creative practice?


Session 2: Educators' preferred pedagogical practices

  • What kind of activities or exercises do you find work better with the students?

  • What kind of activities and exercises would you like to do more or introduce to your class?

  • What do you need to do for those activities?

  • Is there any instance where you integrate local community knowledge into your teachings?

  • How do you integrate creative processes into your teaching?


Session 3: Educators' needs for the SSF Guidelines Curriculum:

  • What knowledge do you think is important for this curriculum to bring forward? 

  • What values and commitments do you think are important for this curriculum to bring forward? 

  • How does this curriculum need to be/have for you to incorporate it into your practice?

  • What kind of activities would make it challenging for you to incorporate the curriculum in your classroom? 

  • Would you and the institution you teach in be open to more outdoor and creative-inclined activities? 

  • In what context would you be incorporating the curriculum? In a course? Extracurricular activity? 

3. Review Knowledge-Shared
Rural educators in our focus groups already implement social justice and environmental conservation lessons in their educational institutions. They were curious to receive more technical training in marine, fisheries, and climate science, so they felt more confident to speak about the issues impacting their SSF villages. Educators noted that their students love interactive and dynamic project-based learning, stressing the need to make the curriculum fun and engaging - an essential for keeping youth interested and motivated to learn, especially about their rural communities. Educators shared specific ideas: Incorporating interactive activities, games, and field trips to local fishing communities or aquatic ecosystems to provide hands-on learning experiences. There was interest in learning how to create audiovisual productions alongside their students on themes impacting their daily lives, like plastic pollution, irresponsible development projects, and trawling along the nearshore environment.  

Before moving on to co-creating lesson plans together, the SSF Guidelines Curriculum team needed to establish our impact strategy. This needed to be done early on in the project so that every step that followed, especially those involving the co-creation of lesson plans and materials, would envision the same goals and results.

4. Theory of Change

To develop and design the project’s impact strategy, we decided to use the theory of change method, which helped the team clarify the underlying assumptions and logic behind the project, identify the desired outcomes, and design the project’s activities and final outputs as a group.  

The curriculum development team co-created the project’s theory of change through workshops and discussions, continuously referencing and revising it when needed over IYAFA 2022. We discussed the problems the curriculum should address and mapped the context in which it will operate. Team members offered different perspectives and identified the project’s impact vision, which refers to the ultimate goal of the project and the outcomes that will demonstrate progress toward that goal.

"Utilizing the FAO SSF Guidelines as a framework for young learners to explore and engage with their aquatic social-ecological systems in creative ways can inspire a generation of local change-shapers who are better prepared to address anthropogenic stressors threatening their fishing communities' sustainable futures and support the SSF Guidelines' implementation at the local level."

The impact vision represents the big-picture change the project will contribute to as part of FAO’s Blue Transformation Roadmap 2022-2030. The impact vision is at the heart of the project; something partners can unite around and call upon as a reminder of what the project ultimately seeks to achieve as the curriculum evolves. We didn’t arrive at this version of the impact vision right away. It was an iterative process where the team continuously kept revising and adjusting the theory of change as the project progressed based on feedback and evidence from stakeholders and participants from the focus groups and pilots, incorporating their perspectives and priorities and considering the specific contexts. Using a theory of change model allowed the team and our focus group partners to agree and unite around a concrete real-world change and to develop a logical model that explains the necessary steps for achieving it. 

​The curriculum seeks to specific address the follow:

  • Educational pains that lead to low retention rates, out-migration, and less adaptive and management capacity to the anthropogenic stressors threatening SSF's sustainable futures. 

  • Lack of youth engagement, involvement, and retention in their SSF communities. Youth in SSF feel they will be burdened with the stigma of failure because they did not move to urban centers. 

  • Rural schools overlooked as trusted, established channels for knowledge exchange, social capital hubs, and physical spaces for discovery and dialogue. Support SSF community schools, so they play an active role in monitoring SSF Guideline's implementation.

  • Lack of awareness about SSF Guidelines. The guidelines are not widely known nor readily available to SSF communities, so a lack of attention needs to be addressed. 

  • SSF communities and their knowledge are often overlooked and left out of decision-making processes. Monitoring the implementation of the guidelines should come from within the communities. 

5. Uncovering the Stories the Guidelines Tell

After establishing our impact vision and synthesizing insights shared by educators during our needs assessment sessions, Coast 2 Coast reviewed each chapter of the SSF Guidelines in-depth. Appendix II from Involving the People (Kurien, 2022) proved to be an incredible tool in and of itself. Researchers had "demystified" the guidelines by highlighting takeaways, keywords, questions considered, implementation indicators, and more. Referencing the SSF Guidelines and with support from the appendix, the curriculum development team could effectively grasp each guideline's overall argument and how it might be reflected within an SSF community. 

We then challenged ourselves to consider each paragraph of the SSF Guidelines as a story with different spaces, characters, and actions. Discovering the stories each guideline was telling enabled C2C to design a lesson plan or enrichment activity guided by this story. For example, a value chain tells the story of a fish's journey from ocean, river, or lake to plate. Who are the characters the main character (the fish) meets along the way? What actions are these characters doing? Where are they doing them? 

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With feedback from educators in our Madagascar Focus Group, we thought of learning goals in terms of what each activity asked learners to Think, Feel, and Do as characters acting with specific spaces. We designed exercises with a youth action research component and a way to mobilize learners' knowledge gathered from their investigations. Educators could learn to use accessible audiovisual tools for learners to create their own creative narratives as photo series, mural mosaics, comics, puzzles, maps, and more. Each story enabled students to use their imaginations and contribute their "childish" ideas, an opportunity teachers shared in their needs assessments that were missing in standardized curricula. 

Coast 2 Coast's team spent several months in this creative process, communicating with focus groups through Whatsapp and exchanging ideas for different games, activities, research questions, and projects.

Informal interviews with subject matter experts supported co-creating the initial lesson plans and mentorship with educators through the Dalai Lama Fellowship, in which the SSF Guidelines Curriculum Director is a 2022 Fellow.



With the co-creation of draft lesson plans, educators in our focus groups were ready to pilot these ten activities with their group of participants. Each activity corresponded to a specific chapter and theme from the SSF Guidelines from the Introduction (Chapters 1-4) through Chapter 13 for ten lesson plans to pilot. C2C originally had planned to join these sessions with educators and students. Still, the poor internet connection for either the educators or the C2C facilitator (both calling from rural fishing villages) made joining the session virtually impossible. This development placed more ownership on local educators to deliver the lesson plans. The C2C team supported educators remotely, and educators shared feedback on sessions with C2C to consider for the final compilation of lesson plans, enrichment activities, and supplemental materials.

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Because I.E. Lobitos is located in the same community as Coast 2 Coast, the curriculum development team worked with teachers and nonprofit education from the local nonprofit WAVES Lobitos to refine lesson plans to meet the Lobitos-context. Around 15 elementary and high school students created one mixed-age focus group organized by their communications teacher, Lino, and science teacher, Italo. The group met once or twice a month for eight months of testing activities from the SSF Guidelines Curriculum. All students eagerly participated in the games the lesson plans employed. When revelations about the game's hidden messages were revealed to students, the younger participants looked to the older ones for their perspectives. Gradually, young students began sharing their ideas with the group, encouraged by the high schoolers to speak their minds.


The focus group's participation gained attention from a Mexico-based nonprofit currently editing a book with students' images of places in their built and natural environment, imagining if the guidelines had been implemented and how these spaces would transform. Students developed their indicators to measure against changes. This activity created the core lesson plan for Chapter 13: Implementation Support and Monitoring

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Teachers from Sebastian Indian Social Projects (SISP) facilitated and gathered a group of 20 students to participate in the "SSF Sessions." Half the participants attended government schools, while the other ten were enrolled in SISP's Second-chance Education Program for young learners who left formal education systems. All students were from the same fishing community, but many did not know each other. Teachers partnered with students in government schools and those at SISP as learning partners. The students and educators, Treeza, Aravind, and Praveen, explored each chapter of the SSF Guidelines through the lesson plans the educators had developed with Coast 2 Coast. The teachers worked to contextualize the main takeaways for students, coming up with the assessment questions at the end of each Core Lesson plan in the curriculum's 1st edition:  ◊ What is the main takeaway or message of the activity? ◊ What does this main takeaway or message look like in your community?

In the participants' fishing community in Southern India, Vizhinjam, a massive development project to build India's "Port-like Singapore," as students described it, along the seaside village dangerously eroding the coastline, causing over 280 fishing families to lose their homes and live in relief camps. Recently, protests have erupted over the project's lack of consideration for the welfare of residents. For Chapter 10 of the SSF Guidelines' activities, teachers and students went to the protests with their own signs and the goals of sharing about the SSF Guidelines (in Malayalam) with organizers to see how the guidelines could be leveraged to support their cause. Despite having to leave earlier due to the burning of a police station by protesters,  teachers were thrilled to share with C2C's team intention and direct application of lesson plans. It was a memorable moment to share with educators that the lesson plans led to concrete actions taken by students on behalf of their community's human rights.