From the moment I set foot in Barbaza during our first recon to the Typhoon Yolanda damage zone I could see we would have to somehow teach local people permaculture as a way for them to help themselves and grow their way out of poverty. Six months later after building a field school with the basic infrastructure needed we are finally ready for our first Permaculture Design Certificate course.
We borrow everything possible from the local folk for the catering team to churn out nutritious tasty meals that can satisfy a Filipino pallet. The Juanites family lends me their small Suzuki pick up to ferry equipment, materials and tools to the site. The barangay (village) Capitan lends us a few small tables and 40 stackable chairs. The toilets are dug, the campsite secure. We have a TV on loan. Materials are stacked for the hands-on activities. The staff are given their roles. A million small and large tasks are completed. We are now ready for business!
The first day of the PDC starts a little slow as students arrive at all times of the day. Rural people have to walk or scrounge a lift on a motorcycle but most make it before lunchtime. We start the course with 35 students.
Several foreign students are mixed into the class. We have one from Holland, a Spaniard, another from Hong Kong, a couple of Aussies and a Yank. Most of the students are from our local communities but a few hail from other parts of the Philippines. An interesting crew!
Each day our course kicks off with a hands-on activity. We have plenty to do as our field school is in development phase. The heavy rains have made the ground soggy and digging the heavy mud is a real mission. We dig a vegetable garden with raised beds. The mud clings to the hoe with every stroke so students have to smack the tool on a rock to dislodge the heavy lump of clay. Its hard going but I see lots of smiles and hear laughing and joking as the gardens progress.
In the classroom the mix of international students and locals makes training and solving problems in teams heaps of fun. Many times the students are broken up into teams to work out solutions to local problems. The diversity of minds makes for interesting results indeed!
I really enjoy learning local ways of farming and the many different cultural nuances that blend into their methods. For example one way to make sure you get a good crop of sweet potatoes is plant under the new moon whilst being fully naked. Apparently you must wait until the whole family is asleep and do it in secret. Hmmm! Interesting…
The local farmers make very little money, if any. The costs of chemicals, hybrid seed, and pesticides mean most of their income goes out to pay for these external inputs. The students are also aware of the many dangers of using these toxic chemicals. If they can farm without paying for inputs the money they get, they keep!
After 24 years of permaculture I finally get to make a Mandela garden on flat ground. As per the Permaculture Designers manual we lay it out using string and pegs. It has 7 x 4 meter circles interconnected by pathways and irrigation trenches. This will be out medicinal botanical gardens. The Philippines has many native medicine plants so we will now plant every medicinal herb we can get a hold of. In fact the students bring from their homes over the next 13 days a wide range of homegrown pharmaceuticals and plant them in the different gardens.
As the course progresses a great team spirit begins to form. Many new friendships and alliances grow from the student groups. We have a few teenagers on the course and some of the students are mothers with young children that bring the kids to class. Good training, good food and lots of laughter are exactly what the students signed up for. Lucy Juanites and her catering crew go all out to bring excellent food to our site each day. In a students mind, if the food’s good, the training is good!
The final design activity pits two teams of designers against each other. Each team must construct a scaled model of the farm they are redesigning using the permaculture skills they just acquired. The model making requires a bit of technical input as well as some creative art skills. The blend of the international and local people makes the outcome very interesting. The models are beautifully done with heaps of color and style. The designs are realistic and practical and I can see the students have understood what they have been taught.
We finish up with the usual handing out of certificates and then a huge wild party. Finally after 6 months the first local Green Warriors are born. The typhoon might have smashed this place last November but it also brought permaculture here.
The first PDC completed, we will now focus on getting our farm productive and building the remaining infrastructure for the coming courses. I will be working in 3 separate schools this month and supervising our crew of volunteers, Staff and trainees. Typhoon season is just around the corner… We will proceed accordingly.