My first aid project in the Philippines started in Antique; Panay after Typhoon Yolanda wiped out a good chunk of the Philippines. The Typhoon was so big and so powerful the government and aid agencies couldn’t respond. Most of the aid was focused on 2 areas and the rest of the country had to deal with the disaster using what they could find locally. It was a super typhoon mess.
A donor from Hong Kong funded me to mount an aid project to help the Filipinos using permaculture. I jumped on the plane with a small team of capable people 3 weeks after the typhoon. I chose a small village to build the Philippines first Permaculture Field School. My aim was to help the people in our area rebuild in a sustainable way and help raise them up out of the poverty cycle they were in even before the typhoon struck.
I remember the first day I arrived back after going back to Hong Kong to gather more funds and assistance. It was now on my shoulders to build an entire field school with very little resources. The sun beat down wherever I was because the Typhoon had stripped all the foliage from the trees. It was a daunting task, especially when later on our Hong Kong donors melted away. Some people think poverty can be solved in a few days. In reality it takes several years and the right amount of funds to make a positive change.
Two and half years later our Field school is working brilliantly. Made entirely of native materials our field school produces organic rice and native pork products. We can house 25 students comfortably and run courses every few months on Permaculture and Permaculture Aid. Even with little to no money I was able to put a sustainable aid project together, which is currently one of the only permaculture schools in the Philippines.
Now I find myself back at square one again. Lionheart Agro Tech have engaged me to come up with a plan to help the indigenous people of Rizal on the island of Palawan. The difference is that this time I have adequate funding! The other difference is the people here are even more desperately poor. In my 22 years of aid work I would rate these people as the second poorest, and that’s saying something considering where I’ve worked in the past!
The term we use for this kind of work is CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility. Lionheart Agro Tech will convert thousands of hectares of denuded land to an organic coconut plantation. In the past, this land had been logged, burned and abused. Poor farming practices created erosion and loss of fertility. The people are poor and the land is poor now so a plantation of organic coconuts will heal the land and give around 4500 jobs to the native peoples. Sloping land and any standing forest wont be touched. Lionheart’s design, in conjunction with the native tribes, will rebuild the land’s fertility and sustainability. It’s a good deal for the land and the people.
Our site is around 4 hectares of ex-rainforest. The stumps of the logged and burned trees poke up out of the scrubby bush. I see the soil is red clay, not particularly fertile. I have one shipping container moved onsite by the intrepid Freddy Lyford of Lionheart. This container is our security for the tools we need and the first materials we need to kick off this phase. We also have a stack of native workers to help clear the land. Some speak Tagalog and others only speak their native dialect. For most it’s their first job ever!
As luck would have it I have a great off-sider, Eugene. Eugene is a metal fabricator as well as a farmer. He is intelligent and has a great people management style. Eugene is going to build us a CAT or Centre of Appropriate Technology as the first phase of our CSR project. The CAT is a multipurpose workshop for appropriate technology. We can make anything from metal here or repair local motorcycles, bicycles, hand tractors and even heavy equipment. Making durable farm tools will be its first role here.
My other professional is Jun, a carpenter builder. A Filipino builder is multifunctional and can double as a plumber and electrician. Jum and Eugene have built a makeshift camp and are helping us establish the first phase of our Palawan Permaculture Field School.
The first priority is to set up water and sanitation systems. To do that we need the land cleared. The local boys sharpen up their machetes, which they call Bolos. They only sharpen one side so each blade is like a razor. Using a hooked stick in one hand they cut low and pull the cut foliage out with the hook. Very efficient! I check the work gang and spy one very old man hooking in with his Bolo. I ask Eugene who is that guy? He introduces me to Liam, the village elder. Liam speaks a little English and he is 87 years old! It’s hot and its hard work and here is somebody’s great grandfather slashing scrub with a Bolo! I can’t think of any Aussie 87 year old that would be able to do this. Wow!
I have a chat in the shade with Liam. He is a gentle soul with a sparkle in his eyes. He tells me he used to be a tour guide to take foreigners into the jungles around here. Liam’s tribe have lived here for over 4ooo years. Liam is a living treasure and he is exactly what I need to determine the plan of attack on the endemic poverty here. I ask Liam what will he buy with the money he earns from this work here. He says rice, fish, and other types of food. I tell him I am afraid his people might abuse the money and increase drinking and smoking. He tells me he doesn’t drink or smoke. No wonder he is still fit and able. We chat for a while about his people. Many problems. Liam agrees to be my advisor on village development.
The second container finally arrives. (Thanks Freddy!) I see it in the morning lying on its side in the driveway. They must have literally pushed it off the truck and buggered off. A few hours later the “Rescue truck” arrives. It is a small crane truck. With Filipino know-how, a few round logs and my native team the container is maneuvered into position.
Several hours later the container sits on its concrete blocks ready for its next incarnation as part of the CAT. A massive truck squeezes through the gate and drops off 600 cement blocks. We have steel, cement, tools and labour. Its action stations!
Our first construction job is the compost toilet. The water cistern will be filled with the rainwater from the roof of the compost toilet. We dig a pit that will be lined with bricks as our first clean water source. Once we have a toilet and a water system working we are in business. Civilization is making its way into this part of the world.
Stay tuned as we crank out Palawans first Permaculture Field School.
Eugene with our first crop, native squash, which the guys found under the scrub they were clearing. We are saving those seeds!
Our 6000 litre cistern ready for bricks