Island Girl Power takes on aquaponics with tilapia farming | Lifestyle

Island Girl Power volunteers farming tilapia.

To empower, encourage and inspire. Kurason I-sengsong, more commonly known as Island Girl Power, has been providing support and education to the young girls of Guam since 2001.

Director Juanita Blaz, who’s been with the organization since the very beginning, built the community center from the ground up alongside other women.

“There was just a wonderful group of women that really wanted to help with the problems of suicide and teen pregnancy,” Blaz said.

Island Girl Power promotes sustainability through tilapia farming

Island Girl Power director Juanita Blaz holding a tilapia.

Since its opening, the organization continues to grow and expand. In 2005, they moved from Tiyan to Dededo and had their expansion in 2014. They’ve been supported by many different volunteers such as high school and college students looking for community service or job training. However, the pandemic played a big factor in the stability of the center.

“Things have grown and shrunk and grown and shrunk, but we always manage to stay open throughout even the pandemic,” Blaz said.

The organization has helped support many families detrimentally affected by the pandemic.

“We always had some kind of activities going on, and our community garden had the most activity during the pandemic,” Blaz said.

In terms of their relief efforts, Blaz said, “We were handing things out at the fence line to families.”

Tilapia harvesting and aquaponics

With the COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately prohibiting many of the organization’s programs, the current return to new normalcy has thankfully given the community center another opportunity to serve the people of the island, this time through the sustainability of tilapia harvesting.

As a collaboration with the University of Guam Sea Grant, the organization has been working to harvest tilapia since February.

Island Girl Power promotes sustainability through tilapia farming

From left: Dio Sapinoso, Joseph Blaz, Justine Xu and Juanita Blaz have fun at the aquaponics setup in Island Girl Power.

“Our purpose here is not to be marketing and be a fish manufacturing facility,” Blaz said.

“Our purpose is to have the aquaponics set up as an educational tool to help people understand that our purpose for having aquaponics is not just because of the fish, it’s because we need the fertilizer that comes out of the white tank which is their waste. The fertilizer sludge, the waste product, is what helps with fertilizing the plants because we don’t use chemical fertilizers.”

Volunteer Dio Sapinoso oversees the new aquatic endeavor.

“This is our first actual harvest, actually our first time doing it so we’re all learning,” Sapinoso said.

Island Girl Power promotes sustainability through tilapia farming

The aquaponics setup at Island Girl Power.

Sapinoso expressed some of the challenges he’s faced along the way.

“Right now, we may have a big tank but we need to understand how to control the population because … they start reproducing when they’re four months. That’s fast. That’s way too fast. So we’re getting babies that’s having babies,” Sapinoso said.

The organization encourages people to do their own research and learn about how they can set up aquaponics at home.

“We’re not trying to sell them a system. We’re trying to let them know that they can do this at home and that Guam fits into every other sub-tropic kind of environment,” Blaz said.

“It’s good for the community,” Sapinoso said.

“Eventually, in the near future we’re going to have to grow our own food so we got to start with vegetables and what’s available to us is aquaponics,” Sapinoso said.

Island Girl Power promotes sustainability through tilapia farming

Harvested tilapia at Island Girl Power in Dededo.

“I think this is the most easiest way to feed most of the families here on island.”

It’s a process of increasing sustainability on the island and educating the community about how we can all work to promote healthier lifestyles.

Promoting sustainability

Another way the organization promotes sustainability is through their food wall, which is a fence line covered with an array of plants such as cucumbers, traditional medicinal plants and butterfly peas, to name a few.

Through the food wall, the organization is not only able to grow and harvest food for others but also can help raise awareness of the beauty that we have here on our island.

“Native plants are one of our focus because it’s only through that respect for what Guam truly is that the people that live here can be proud of where they come from whether they’re CHamoru or not,” Blaz said.

“People need to have access to fruits and vegetables and we shouldn’t be only limiting it to what we can sell them.”

A transition

After 22 years under the Ayuda Foundation, Kurason I-sengsong is finally ready to become its own nonprofit organization.

“I think in every program’s growth there’s a time for it to exist as a sponsored organization or as a program under a nonprofit organization and then they eventually branch off and grow their own legs,” Blaz said.

“It’s taken us 22 years but we definitely have been mentored by a wonderful executive director Carlotta Leon Guerrero, and the transition is necessary for us to be able to get our specific mission and funding for the programs that we run.”

It’s amazing what Kurason I-sengsong has been able to do for our community and our girls in particular. Blaz’s mother, Juanita Simona Cushings, has been helping the organization since its inception and is proud of what her daughter has done for the island.

“I see my daughter’s face light up and just fireworks and all this giddiness and all this and that when one of the girls comes back as a young woman and say, ‘Hey, I was a little girl and I came to (Island Girl Power),” Cushings said.

“When the girls come back as women, successful women, girls that are in NASA training space camp and a young lady that wrote a book and all this and that, all those people that come back makes her totally lose it for the day. She is so proud that people actually come through the program and have come back to say thank you or buy a jacket for NASA training camp but that’s why we do it.

“The programs are not able to touch everybody that well but the ones that do take advantage and fly on their own, like the organization is going to be doing, it makes it that much worth it.”

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