I have been involved in Permaculture for about 6 years now. After I discovered the term through a self-sufficiency forum, I quickly gained interest. 5 years on after completing my Permaculture Design Certificate, I’ve been involved in advanced permaculture training, Community garden projects, the design and implementation over 1000m of swales and productive food terraces on my 20 acre property and have generally caught the Permaculture bug in a BIG way.
I find there is nothing more rewarding than self-sufficiency, food security and general self-reliance.
Some people feel the need to embrace permaculture to a higher level, and I guess that’s where my story begins.
A good permie (permaculture) friend of mine, Luke said that I should look up Steve Cran as he’s an ex-army-cum-permaculturalist like myself.
After reading a few blogs and sites about Steve’s amazing work around the world, I thought to myself “this guy is out there kicking ass”, in a cool permaculture kind of way.
I wanted to meet him so my girlfriend (now wife) and I were heading to Bali where we teed up a meeting with him.
I wasn’t disappointed. As he told stories of his adventures and showed videos and pictures of permaculture projects from around the world, I knew that I wanted to contribute to the Green Warrior Permaculture collective.
A year passed, and when the timing was right, Steve and I collaborated on a project for Groote Eylandt. Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances it wasn’t meant to be.
Another 6 months passes and along comes Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan.
I saw Steve mobilising a team for a recon mission and watched closely, On January the 1st I basically made the decision that I was going to join the team in the field. It took me a few more weeks to organize the time off and funds but on the 18th of February 2014 I hit the ground running.
Arriving in Kalibo on the island of Panay, I travelled down the west coast of Antique and could clearly see that something big had come through there.
Trees were twisted and down everywhere, houses were damaged and destroyed and I passed a UN World Food Program truck distributing bags of rice to a long line of people. I have travelled to over 30 countries but this was a new sight for me.
Arriving in Barbaza I was greeted by Juan Marquez the regional agricultural officer who then brought me to his house to meet Steve and Mirror. After a good catch up, and handing over some vegemite, we headed out for a short visit to Capoyuan Elementary School and then to look at the new Green Warrior Field School site.
I was initially quite taken back after riding past all the rice fields promoting glyphosate (toxic herbicide!) and all the burning piles of rice husk and plastic. I said to Steve ”What the hell are they doing??”. I quickly found out that a lack of knowledge and waste management left the locals with little or no option but to continue these practices.
I soon came to realise that yes, they have had a natural disaster here and lost 90% of their staple rice crop as well as coconuts, bananas, papaya etc, but there was an underlying crisis: an education crisis.
Further investigation and discussion with old friends Brit and Wombat (the dynamic duo) and I discover that certain companies have been preying on farmers after the Typhoon and pushing their unsustainable GMO seed, fertilizers and pesticides (in case you are unaware, thousands of Indian farmers have committed suicide because of this type of pressure – these companies push them into a debt trap and they are left with nothing but dead, barren land).
A couple of days pass while we gather resources (bamboo) establish more working relationships with locals and I practice my Tagalog language skills.
Brit, Wombat and I kick off the Ipil Community garden project on a Friday morning, with no assumptions of how it will be received.
Within 5 minutes we have a small army of children picking up all the plastic rubbish with us and within a few more minutes we have other community members assisting us to dig holes for the garden fence line.
I’ve always known what the word community meant but until I arrived in Barbaza I hadn’t seen a real example of the word. The people were so receptive and willing to help without expecting anything in return – it really was heartwarming.
4 hours later and we were off to a cracking start with a clean garden site, posts in and a perimeter started. A nice cool-off in the ocean with the kids and it topped the day off.
A couple of days later and I’m digging more holes! This time for the nursery at Mayos Elementary school. We recruited a couple of skilled bamboo carpenters and within 2 hours they had quickly knocked up 2 sturdy bamboo ladders and we were squaring our first support posts up.
By lunch time the next day we had a 20m x 7m bamboo nursery frame erected with some cross beams and roofing yet to come. I wanted to smuggle one of these guys home with me to do some building at home!
Feeling a bit burnt in the hot sun, I retreated to the shade and helped Brit deliver a couple of waste management lessons to the children.
As I mentioned before, there is no waste collection here so if it doesn’t get burned, it’s beside the road, on the land or in the waterways. There’s still a lot of rubbish around.
What is most distressing is that most of the rubbish is for little 1 & 2 peso junk snacks and candy which are literally everywhere. I didn’t realise how Americanised the diet had become here. The locals are essentially poor but the children are relying on these plastic foods for nutrition when so many other wholesome tropical sourced foods could be provided. Nutritional education and permaculture cooking classes are a high priority on the agenda.
A couple more days of teaching back at Capoyuan Elementary school and we get treated to some amazing lunches by the home economics students. They know how to keep us coming back.
After lunch Steve, Brit and I deliver a ‘needs analysis’ lesson for chickens, as well as a demonstration in trimming their wings and how to best use them in a chicken tractor setup.
The gardens at this school are looking amazing, no wonder they won the regional garden competition!
Back to the community garden site on Friday morning and we really start cooking with gas. As Brit got some local translation advice for the community garden sign, Wombat and I started trimming up the bamboo for the fences. Again within 10 minutes we had people bringing tools, materials, fence palings, food. It was turning into a Friday morning fiesta. 3 hours later and we have 20m of bamboo fence line erected with a gate. You wouldn’t get that kind of productivity back in Oz!
I was keen to stay and help some more on the garden but went for a supply run to San Jose with Steve. We mustered up more tools, irrigation supplies, earthbags and other miscellaneous items.
The next day we began to relocate everything to the Field school site in Mablad.
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done here before the first course kicks off.
Before I know it, my 2 weeks is up. I would have loved to have stayed for 3 months but unfortunately I had commitments back in Australia. The most rewarding aspect of doing this was having the local people so receptive and willing to listen to our ideas and keen to adopt better practices. Sure, there is a huge task ahead, but this project has already touched the lives of a couple of hundred people in the municipality. In 6 months it will be 1000. Seeing the difference Green Warrior Permaculture makes on the ground gave me the first real hope that change is possible. Humanity can turn their actions around and live sustainably and in harmony with this planet. It will take humility, courage and will but it is achievable.
I definitely felt like I had learnt more than I had taught here. Even for a permie – I received a further lesson on materialism, happiness and community, for which I am grateful.
Back in Australian we are rich, and liberated and part of the lucky country. Or are we?
Personally I feel a slave to debt, over regulated by a nanny state government which is eroding all our personal freedoms and running the country into the ground.
I feel like I want to gather what I have and disappear into a place like the Philippines. Sure the country has its challenges, but the sense of community and general happy-go-lucky attitude seems to balance it all out.
I have to admit that I’m still a little torn with my current predicament.
I know this however: I will continue to support Green Warrior Permaculture in all they do and I am making plans right now to re-join them in the field.
Not everyone is suited for field work, but you can still be part of the team and help contribute and fundraise for the group. And watch those funds be directly injected into projects on the ground. For anyone who wants a life changing and rewarding experience this is it. Get out there, live life, I promise you will get back more than you put in.