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GEORGE HOYT’S ‘ADOPT A SHIP’: The bridge that connects seafarers and children around the world

GEORGE HOYT’S ‘ADOPT A SHIP’: The bridge that connects seafarers and children around the world
YASHIKA F. TORIB September 04, 2019

“If a ship is made of metal and it is larger than our school, why doesn’t it sink?” “How does the ship sail at night?” “What do you do with your garbage?”

These are only some of the seemingly innocent but significant questions posed by children, some of them orphans, to seafarers around the world through email messages and Skype video calls – a program that was created by International Maritime Organization (IMO) Goodwill
Maritime Ambassador George Hoyt entitled ‘Adopt A Ship’ (AAS).

The program was initiated by the Cyprus Shipping Chamber and the Cyprus Maritime Environmental Protection Association in 2006 by bringing together elementary schools and seafarers onboard ships until finally in 2017, they shared the advocacy with Hoyt who was then newly appointed IMO Ambassador.

Hoyt created the AAS as a free tool to increase children’s awareness of seafarers, shipping, and the maritime community.

“They allowed me to share this with other countries when I became an IMO Maritime Ambassador,” Hoyt says, referring to Poland, India, Greece, and the Philippines.

“There are thousands of opportunities for boys and girls to participate in the maritime community. We need the best and brightest young people to join the children and us need to have as many positive options available to them as possible. Introducing AAS to them, especially the young girls, when they are 10 or 12 years old may encourage them to eventually join us in the maritime community,” he added.

Hoyt’s affection for children and orphans stemmed from his mother’s experience who grew up in an orphanage. “I started visiting the kids in Hospicio de San Jose in Manila in the early 70s and continued doing so a few times each year since then. It was a life changing experience for me; it led me to create a program where a seafarer can visit them every week through a simple email exchange.

“The children are fascinated by the idea of communicating with someone who is living on a ship, but mostly, they are grateful that someone who doesn’t know them is taking time to talk to them. Knowing that someone cares about them gives them the confidence they may need to get through certain challenges that most children will never have to overcome,” he said.

As of to date, more than 12,000 children in Manila are already participating in the program through the supervision of their teachers while a hundred more are about to get into AAs in Cebu and Iloilo.

How AAS works

While versions of the AAS vary from country to country, its process generally involves a senior ship officer and an elementary kid who will be given a small world map with no labels of countries and oceans. This serves as a pre-test to the participant on his/her knowledge of the world in addition to some basic statements about his/her idea of maritime.

The child, through a teacher, will then write a weekly letter including two to three questions to the ship officer. After 10 weeks of email exchange, the child will be asked the same questions as with the pre-test to gauge his/her progress. At the end of the school year, or on an agreed date, the children will visit the shipping company from which their seafarer friend works for; they will be allowed to use some of the training facilities such as simulators, and view the shipboard equipment.

The children will also be shown films from the IMO, International Chamber of Shipping, Maritime Prevention Associations, and other organizations. This is followed by a question and answer session, or a test.

Meanwhile, executives from the participating companies and organizations, as well as the seafarers, visit the schools or shelters that they have been communicating with.

The humble optimist

Hoyt believes that the success of AAS would help in solving the most pressing concerns of seafarers nowadays – maritime awareness and appreciation, unfair criminalization, denied safe ports of refuge, and kidnap for ransom by pirates.

The affable ambassador from Rhode Island, USA, remains hopeful that the shared responsibility and efforts of the industry leaders, when extended to non-maritime community, can create ripples of positive impact.

“I am a positive person who is grateful for the amazing friends I have around the world. Whenever I speak to children and seafarers from the Philippines, I get the sense that basketball is their way of life. It signifies teamwork. I use that opportunity to emphasize the value of teamwork in life and on ship; that they must be willing and able to work with all their knowledge and passion.”

Such teamwork reflects his affiliation with the IMO, which he considers as the greatest honor of his life. “The IMO team has been amazing and I am working with very accomplished people. Can you imagine the privilege of working with IMO Ambassador Carlos Salinas? He has taken time to mentor me for more than 20 years, I am truly blessed!” he gushed. Amb. Salinas is the founder and chairman of the Philippine Transmarine Carriers, one of the country’s largest crew management and maritime services company.