After the weekend, the whole community was raring to go to start the big clean-up of the ecolodge. We split everyone into teams which started working on different jobs all over the site. I was armed with the ‘Plastic Patrol’ who were my eagle eyes picking up every bit of rubbish in site. And these kids worked fast! Wombat also got a few kids helping him clear and rebuild the stairs running from the lower to the upper terrace which was smashed with fallen trees. He instructed a few young boys to gather small pebbles to fill the sandy gaps on the stairs so next time the rain came, the sand beneath the stairs wouldn’t wash away. Suddenly we had a whole 3-foot gang using everything from bags to billy cans to gather rocks for the path. What a team effort! As I knelt down with the young girls gathering pebbles, I also noticed something quite strange. Almost 80% of the kids had sniffly noses and coughed quite frequently. It was only until I got up close that I realized how many of them had the same symptoms. Perhaps all the burning of plastic waste in their community or another problem with their stoves? A little permie-detective work was required.
At the end of the day, Wombat and I decided pay a visit to the primary school kids at Cadiao to plant their first tree on the grounds. Steve had picked up a few jackfruits in town for 25 pesos the night before. Just 55 cents USD for a lifetime of organic fruit for these amazing school children. Roli was an incredible help as he interpreted the whole lesson for us, from picking a site to planting, mulching and watering. It was hilarious seeing the kids run laps with their plastic cups, all eager to water the tree once in the ground. We finished the job by creating a natural mulch circle around the tree using bamboo and sticks. The circle was to made to hold the mulch to retain moisture for the tree and prevent goats/chickens from munching on the leaves. We didn’t have any taller pieces of bamboo to make it cow proof but the cows didn’t seem to wander in the school grounds very often so we thought it would be ok. To finish our planting exercise, we gathered all the students in a circle to explain to them that the 2 trees we planted were their responsibility now and if anyone asked once the tree was big and beautiful, they could tell them “I planted that tree” and feel proud. This is an important part of building the relationship between children and nature, where children can feel proud of restoring their natural environment and creating a more sustainable place to live.
The next morning, Wombat and I set off to survey the surrounding communities and identify ways in which we could best assist the people and their surrounding environment. Our guide took us to see the animals they raised which were kept behind the houses on a slope to the river below. They had 3 pigs squeezed into a tiny pen fit for a few guinea pigs with a small hole in the back for waste. I was eager to work with them to show how the community could raise much happier pigs by providing a larger space and how to utilize their waste to save them stacks on chemical fertilisers. The community also had a few cows, chickens and one duck, none of which were used for fertilising purposes. If only they knew the potential of these beautiful animals for pest control, plant raising and compost. First permie fix on the list! We wished the piggies well and told them we’d be back to help them soon.
We were kindly guided into one of the houses to have a look at the cooking facilities inside. The cooking area consisted of a small hole in the wall which the mother and children used to burn fires in. The roof of the whole room was as black as the pots with no chimney to allow the smoke to escape. The homeowner explained that the smoke usually flooded the entire house whenever they would cook. Suddenly I remembered the children coughing and sniffling at the ecolodge and I had a little ‘ah ha’ moment. The husband further explained that they had to travel 2-3 hours everyday to gather enough firewood for one days worth of cooking. He gestured with his arms the shape of a large circle above his shoulder to show us how much wood was needed per day. I pictured a beautiful lorena or rocket stove in every house which could instantly quarter this amount. Another simple permie fix which has the ability to greatly improve the health of all the families in the community and the forest that surrounds them.
As we hiked over the hill to the next barangay, we could spot the remains of landslides either side of us caused by soil stripping to plant bananas. We scaled more fallen trees and rocky terrain to the top of hill, roughly a forty minute walk taken by the children everyday to school. Wombat and I were breath-taken by the incredible view at the peak and felt something stir inside us. The mountain rolled effortlessly down to the winding river which weaved all the way to the ocean. The area below almost looked like a golf course made bright green by the ride paddies. We both instantly knew we were looking at the future site for our Permaculture Training School. At the base of the mountain, we arrived at the primary school and was greeted by the vibrant Mrs. Espanola. She gave us a tour of the school which was lined with painted stones and flower beds. She explained that some of the classrooms were completely destroyed by Yolanda and they had to squeeze two grades in one small class. I peeked into a classroom and noticed the children’s artwork posted around the room. I spotted some of my friends from the big clean-up and they came rushing over to say hello. I got the feeling the teachers here encouraged open creativity a lot more than other schools which made me very happy to see. The teachers even introduced a livelihood subject where children from Grade 4 to 6 learned skills such as farming, sewing and cooking. However, their little wilted crop of okra and bananas was highly stressed under the beating hot sun. I imagined an octagonal greenhouse which raised thousands of trees for reforestation in the large green space that was left overgrown with grass. I imagined compost bays at the back of the school, herb spirals and fruit terraces between the classrooms and a new kitchen for teaching healthy cooking. I imagined the school as the birth place of sustainable development and environmental restoration lead by the children who would become the next heroes of the community.
Back at the campsite, I was drawing up my vision for the school whilst everyone was having a nap. I heard giggles and little feet again but this time the young girls waltzed straight in my room and sat next to me. I was about to make myself a raw chocolate energy snack and asked them to help. 1 part coconut oil, 1 part cocoa powder and 1 part raw honey. All ingredients which they can grow or obtain in the mountains. After they all took turns mixing the ingredients, I encouraged them to try it. It was literally like watching kids try real chocolate for the first time and they dove their fingers in the mix. I laughed so hard as they spooned it into their mouths as quick as possible, smearing the sweet syrup all over their face. Looks like I discovered my first cooking lesson in the school. Homemade chocolate could also make a great product to sell on the market. Once the dish was empty, I ripped out a few pages of my notepad and emptied my pencil case so they could draw with me. The girls began to draw beautiful pictures of their barangay, all featuring coconut palms, bamboo houses and mountains. Suddenly the village got word and I had about 30 kids pouring out their artistic skills as I scrounged up every bit of paper I had. They all drew they same image and I realised thats all these kids ever see. Guessing by the popularity of the session, I got the impression they don’t have much time to freely draw either due to strict school lesson plans and/or the lack of resources. Before I knew it, the walls of our room were decorated with the kid’s drawings who were so excited to see their art work on display. What an easy way to boost a child’s self-esteem.
The next day was the second clean up day for the ecolodge. I joined the kids in finishing the stone steps and clearing the fallen roofing. We heard a belly full of laughter come from the top terrace as the adults found a banana pod gone to seed. All the banana fruits had bluey-black seeds inside which I had never seen before. I told the kids to grab a banana each and squish it between their fingers which they thought was hilarious. All the kids eagerly began squishing the bananas and tossing the seeds over the edge to cultivate new bananas trees. Some even bit into the banana and spat the seeds over the cliff which caused the women to crack up with laughter. I love the ability of kid-fun to lift the whole energy of a project like this and I feel lucky I get to work with them everyday, especially when you’re dealing with communities that have lost almost everything. As the day came to an end, I looked to the neighboring mountain and saw the grey clouds rolling in. “Monster”, said a young boy named Arian as he pointed to the sky. I couldn’t imagine what it must have like felt for these children seeing Yolanda sweep through their village. However, by the next typhoon season, these kids will have nothing to fear with a community built on resilience and stability.
Till the next adventure,