16th July, 2006.

Starting a new project is always a challenge. Beginning from scratch with zero infrastructure and an untrained workforce takes a lot of energy. Building the fences, tracks, gardens and buildings takes time, as all have to be done as a training project to give the workers skills, as they learn on the job. One part of the first phase is always difficult and that is local politics. It takes patience and effort to educate all sectors of the community on who we are and what we do. Previous aid projects here have made the people wary of new projects. Our best ambassadors are our new workers helping build the site. As they learn on the job they take the information home and spread the word that a new type of school is being built in their area.

The deal we have with the local village leader is, she supplies 5 permanent workers and a new 10-person work team every 2 days. We rotate as many people as we can through the site per week. Most of our workers have never held a job before. Native indigenous people comprise most of our workforce. Our aim is to sift through the people who come for a day or 2 work experience and choose the best to train as our staff. These staff will assist us in building and maintaining a permaculture field school. Everything we build is a model we can replicate in their communities. We provide on the job training and they educate us on their culture and the challenges they face in their communities.

After 2 weeks we have a fair idea who will be permanent. I’m amazed on the intelligence and the dedication to work in these people. Under the cloudless tropical skies, our teams work all day without complaint. It’s hot! I make sure they get some jobs in the shade during the heat of the day. Chopping mulch is the main activity during this time and here is where I chat to them and get the low-down on their lives and communities. With no electricity, sanitation or water, life can be pretty rough on these people.

The women’s crew build their first vegetable garden permaculture style. We have several interesting patterns happening. There is a “sunrise pattern”, a fishbone pattern, several circular gardens and a heart shaped garden. In fact there are 2 heart shaped gardens. When I taught them natural patterns they assumed the heart is a natural shape. Who am I to disappoint them!

They learn about the right depth to plant seeds. Nobody has ever taught them these simple steps. Mulching, when to water and other simple universal gardening techniques are like a revelation to them. They love every minute of our training sessions. Our large “kitchen garden” will feed around 20 families when its fully established. Everything we build can be done in their homes or communities.

The fence line becomes a bean trellis. Cassava is planted inside the fence and outside the fence. I estimate we are growing close to a ton of cassava just on the fence line alone. Peanuts, pineapples and squash are also planted along the bordering bamboo fence. Several young coconut trees are located inside the kitchen garden area so we dig a donut bed around them and plant more cassava and bush beans around the base of the trees. Each time I get the women to calculate the amount of food that each activity will produce. I can see they are impressed on the quantity of food we are growing in this small area.

Fertilizer from local resources is one thing we need to find. The buffalo they have here aren’t penned so their manure is hard to get. All other animals are free ranging. I see a rice mill not far away so with a team of ladies and my trusty Green Warrior Eric Roxas we head there with sacks and shovels in our pick up truck.

Most places in the Philippines burn the rice husks but not this mill. Out the back there is a massive pile almost higher than the mill itself. The ladies gain permission from the owner so we jump the fence to examine this resource pile. Digging down into the pile I find quality, composted husks. This stuff must have been here for over 2 years and we have hit the compost jackpot. An hour later we arrive back on the site with over a ton of compost. Good score! Lionheart Agrotech could probably use this for their coconut nurseries too.

In the heat of the day I create a circular outdoor sitting area in the shade. The ladies sit in a circle for our daily education segment. I ask about the health problems they encounter in their families. Almost all of them say that urinary tract infection (UTI) is the biggest problem, then diarrhea and stomach problems. Further questioning reveals all these problems relate to no sanitation facilities in their houses or communities. As a result everyone uses the river to wash, and go to the toilet. They also get their drinking water from there too. Many young children die each year from dysentery and water born diseases because of this problem. I take time to explain the hard truth of what’s really happening. Basically the river is a sewer and they are drinking and bathing in it! It never occurred to them what was happening in the river upstream was going to have a huge effect on the people downstream.

The next day I have a team of ladies digging a long-drop toilet. Compost toilets are the answer but the long-drop is the first phase solution. It’s basically a deep hole with a squat platform over top of the hole. After relieving ones self into the pit, each person drops a half litre of rice husks into the hole to deter the flies. Having the women build the first one imprints the simple design and method in their minds. I expect to see a few of these appearing in the local villages sometimes soon.

Our own compost toilet takes shape. We have a 3 throne design based on the 200 year old Swedish “Clivus Mulstrom” toilet. The roof has a gutter, which will channel rainwater into our 4000-lt cistern. We can solve 2 problems at once, sanitation and drinking water. Ours is made from cement blocks but future versions will be built from earth bags.

Day by day the native workers learn new skills and day-by-day our field school begins to take shape. I see the young seedlings poking their heads out from under the mulch. I see the cistern filling from the rain we had last night. I see the trusses lifted into place for our C.A.T. workshop area. I see people with new skills proud of the things they are creating.
With our Permaculture Design Course happening next month we are pushing the teams to get their jobs completed. The local people are amazed at what they are creating. This is a co-creation project. Permaculture CSR is making an impact!