When I first began my permaculture career back in 1990 I imagined a legion of permaculture experts out in the field solving the worlds problems. Permaculture according to the Designers Manual could revitalise the world and turn our planets problems into solutions. In disaster zones, conflict zones and poverty zones I imagined those many intrepid permaculture specialists tackling those calamities using permaculture strategies and practices. How naïve I was back then.
I came to learn that only a handful of people actually work in the field of Permaculture Aid. There are lots of back yard hobby permaculturists and a few farmers using permaculture but on the whole it’s an amateur movement, at least in developed countries. The problem is there is only a tiny, limited education system supporting permaculture. Beyond our 2 week Permaculture Design Certificate course, a keen student struggles to find any advanced form of training.
In the field of aid and development, Permaculture has a few notable successes but it could have a lot more, especially now that the large international NGO’s, the UN and donors are being scrutinized to where the billions of aid dollars have been going year after year.
Arriving on my first international aid project in 1999 in East Timor I was shocked at how the masses of money and resources pumped into that country under the guise of aid was almost useless. I witnessed first hand how most of that money and materials had little impact on the real problems facing the people of East Timor. I could write an entire book on stupid aid after my first 5 years in East Timor, like the son of an Australian politician who organized the collection and delivery of 30,000 teddy bears to the people in Timor who had no food or shelter in 1999. Food and cooking gear would have been a wiser choice of support. I saw my own levels of anger and stress rising watching this aid circus unfolding. My Timorese counterpart, Ego Lemos and I came up with the joke that NGO meant “Never Get Out”. Never get out of the office, never get out of the car and never get out of the country! Our project was based in a destroyed village and we slept rough in an old damaged police station building whilst the NGO’s ran their projects remote control from air-conditioned offices in Dili.
After a time, I came up with my own mantra, “Don’t get mad! Get effective!” I set out to develop a system based on permaculture to develop communities after a disaster based on permaculture. I call this system “The five rings of sustainability”.
Today I run several aid projects here in the Philippines. One of them is a rural Green Warrior Permaculture field school on the island of Panay. This is our second year of the project and it is now running on its own resources. Our second organic rice crop is a few weeks away from harvest. We have an organic café specializing in wood fired pizza where we teach nutrition through food. We also hold workshops and courses. The Philippines has the least healthiest food available for the common person Ive ever come across in my many years of this work. Poor families save most of their money for “medicines” where they could easily eat quality home grown food and bypass the illness that plague them. One way to spread permaculture is through producing tasty quality organic food at local prices.
Today we are in our third week of the Permaculture Aid Certificate Course or the PAC, as we like to call it. This is a 50% hands-on course where trainees learn all the best-practice strategies in permaculture aid. So far they have build several earth-bag structures, a bamboo nursery and learned how to design projects that rebuild a communities food security, economy and ecosystem. Sustainable livelihoods are the main thrust of our work in poverty zones and disaster zones. We cover rebuilding the ecosystem as part of our project planning because there is no true sustainability without a healthy ecosystem, so its aid for the Earth and aid for the people combined.
My aim is to train more permaculture Aid Specialists so we can expand and develop more projects, as examples of what aid should really be. Instead of being “alternative” I want Permaculture Aid to go mainstream. To create more projects we need more project leaders. Several of our current trainees have worked for NGO’s or are currently working in NGO’s conducting conventional aid projects. Dissatisfied with their experiences, they are now coming to me for training so they can do their own projects, which lead to a sustainable result rather than aid-dependency.
Other students want to work in the field of aid and have applied for university courses on development only to find they are extremely expensive and most of the courses are taught by people that have never worked in the field. Coming to the PAC gives them the first level of field skills needed before they go to the field.
Apart from the PAC, we also run 10-week Permaculture Aid Traineeships or PAT, which go continuously all year. PAT’s learn all aspects of a Permaculture Aid project because they live it daily. Trainees learn to help people “grow their way out of poverty”. The people in our area are some of the poorest in the Philippines. Each course is a blend of international and Filipino students.
If you have ever wanted to become an effective aid worker or just need to upgrade your permaculture skills then Green Warrior has a position for you. With climate change and the widening scope of the planets problems becoming a Permaculture Aid Specialist has excellent prospects as a career. Come and join our team. The Earth needs your help and so do its people!