Gamsun Project participants in front of Guma Sakman before swim class.
Gamsun Project participants in front of Guma Sakman before swim class.

Save the Guma Sakman

by Emma Perez
500 Sails

Saipan, CNMI – January 30, 2019 – 500 Sails just received word from the Department of Lands and Natural Resources that starting March 30th, the traditional sailing and boatbuilding non-profit will be forced to vacate the Guma Sakman, where it teaches traditional sailing, offers free swim lessons to the community, and stores Neni, its first traditional Chamorro canoe.

While 500 Sails deeply respects and appreciates DLNR and its past support of 500 Sails, it humbly requests the CNMI community’s support in its efforts to remain based in the Guma Sakman, which has a central and irreplaceable location on the beach in Civic Center alongside other traditional maritime activities like the DCCA's Seafaring Traditions Program and the Northern Marianas Paddle Sports Federation. It is also conveniently located near other community hubs like MHS, where the majority of 500 Sails’ Gamsun Project certified lifeguards attend school.

“We treasure the Guma Sakman because of the way it allows us to serve the CNMI and collaborate with other community servants and cultural practitioners,” said 500 Sails co-founder and board president Emma Perez. “In addition to our swimming and sailing programs, we open our building for other organizations' events, including indigenous dance classes, the agricultural fair, and the Indigenous Cultural Expo, among many others.  We hope to continue to do so.” 

In the last year, 500 Sails has participated in over 50 cultural events, partnering with 22 local businesses and organizations in the process. Since receiving its Administration for Native Americans grant in October 2016, it has hosted 468 free swim classes, amounting to a total of 5,489 free student learning hours. Volunteers have spent over 750 hours constructing traditional Chamorro canoes, and there are currently four canoes being built in the 500 Sails boatyard not including 500 Sails’ newest canoe, Richard Seman, which is slated to hit the water in weeks.

“We are at a critical time for our sailing and swimming program,” added Ms. Perez. “We just started our free island-wide youth swim program, which involved getting ten high school lifeguards certified with the goal of making this a healthy swimming community and making it possible for the lifeguards to obtain part-time employment at hotels. And as far as the canoe building, we currently have six canoes in the boatyard that would be making their way into the water in the next few months. And our train-the-trainers traditional sailing program is held in the Guma Sakman.” 

“Lastly, although my heart is in the cultural revival aspect of our work, what we do also lends itself to labor workforce development through training lifeguards, sailors, and boatbuilders. We hope to train fishermen in the future. In addition, we are changing the face of the lagoon by beginning to fill it with colorful sails, enhancing the CNMI as a tourist destination.”

“Our programs aim to revive the culture and improve the health of our community,” said 500 Sails co-founder and executive director Pete Perez. “We’ve been working for years to do this. We don’t make money, rather we bring a lot of money into the community through grants and donations.”

“We took a flooded, badly-damaged building that was an eyesore for many years and we turned it into a productive, supportive facility that is heavily used and loved by the public.”

“And frankly, we used up all of our savings to make those buildings functional after Soudelor,” he added.

“If we lose the Guma Sakman, I really don’t know how we’re going to recover. It would be hard. Very, very hard. And it’s hard enough dealing with mother nature — what with all these recent typhoons.”

“We need help.”

Without its location in the Guma Sakman, 500 Sails leadership is unsure how or if it can offer the swimming and sailing services that has made available in the past years. If you, your family, or your friends have benefited from 500 Sails’ services, you can show your support by signing the “Save the Guma Sakman” change.org petition requesting that the CNMI government extend 500 Sails’ stay in the Guma Sakman or by contacting your legislators to let your concerns be heard.

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