Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Eco Bricks

The Episcopal Diocese of Northern Luzon and the Episcopal Church in the Philippines have been working towards sustainable development and self-supporting congregations. In February 2014, the delegates from EDNL’s Central Deanery met. The host congregation, St. Alphege, appealed to the delegates for assistance in constructing a new chapel. The current structure had been compromised by the three Ts, time, termites, and typhoons.

The Central Deanery’s chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s and other church members volunteered to take on the cost of the construction materials. They wished to tackle the project themselves rather than appealing to outside assistance.

But the brilliance continued. A week after the conference, the clergy and officers decided that at least a small portion of the chapel should be constructed out of Eco Brick. This is essentially a 1.5 L soda bottle that has been stuffed to the gills with plastic garbage, usually wrappers. When filled to a certain weight, these bottles can withstand a great amount of force and are used as a replacement to cement blocks in construction. This helps reduce the cost of construction materials, reduce the environmental impact of gathering sand and gravel, and helps with waste management. Many of the communities in the deanery have no garbage service. This means people have no choice to burn their garbage. Now, the community members could shove that trash into a coke bottle rather than burning or simply throwing it anywhere.

For this to become a reality, Central requested that the 8 congregations in the Deanery contribute a minimum of 15 Eco Bricks each. This small goal was soon overhauled. At Diocesan convention that year, it was decided that each church in the diocese, not just the deanery would contribute a number of bricks. Youth groups gladly undertook this project in many of the congregations. With this reduction in material cost, and the organization of the congregation to contribute six days of labor each to the church, the building was soon underway.

The initial goal of 120 Eco Bricks from the Central Deanery was more than exceeded. Along with concrete and lumber, the first material delivery included around 1,400 Eco Bricks. The construction began in October of 2014 and is making good progress. The people of St. Alphege even decided to build not just one but two walls out of Eco Bricks. While construction continues, the Diocese is continuing to support the project by producing another 1,000 Eco Bricks.

You can learn more about Eco Bricks by visiting their web site:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Saltan Farmer's Association

 For the past five days, the E-Care staff of EDNL have been in Saltan, Balbalan. We worked with community members to host three days of capacity building trainings for the newly formed Saltan Farmer's Association. The members of St. Timothy's Episcopal church revived the organization at the end of the last year to serve as a channel for church members to partner with NGO and local government to develop the community. The first project SFA decided to take on was a partnership with E-Care for small scale livelihood assistance and organic farming systems.

We arrived on Saturday night and attended the early mass on Sunday. Afterwards we had breakfast and coffee and went right into the days trainings. We had sessions on gender empowerment, bookkeeping, savings and loans, and leadership. The members then had their first official meeting where they set up procedures, rules, regulations, and finally voted in their very first board of directors.

The next day we had a training seminar on production of organic feeds and fertilizers using local plant, snails, coconut vinegar, sugar, and the wonders of fermentation.

Tuesday we spoke with the community members and brainstormed ideas for current and future projects. They are interested in improving the irrigation system to their rice fields. While in the past the fields were irrigated, a major earthquake in the early 90s changed the landscape and the old system is no longer usable. So we hiked 6 miles round trip to evaluate the canal and mountain spring that is the source for the irrigation system.

By a stroke of luck, we were in town for the municipal women's day. So, after supper that evening we went to the town plaza and watched the local women perform speeches, compositions, songs, and traditional dance.

Finally on Wednesday, we got down to the nitty gritty business of running a community organization. We spend long hours in the Sari-sari store of one of our members drinking coffee, and setting up the books. As the day progressed, most members of the organization dropped by and took an interest in the methods. By the end of the day, the SFA was ready to provide its first ever livelihood assistance program to its members.

The staff went back to our quarters at the end of the  day exhausted and shared dinner and conversation in the cool nights air of the Cordillera Mountains.

The freshly elected SFA Board of Directors.
Members preparing our chicken lunch.

Me doing our bookkeeping training.

Rice fields outside of St. Timothy's Church.

Aldwin presiding over the drafting of the SFA constitution.

Cuttings from leafy plants, bamboo shoots, and banana trunks to be used for organic fertilizer production.

Member provides music for our coffee break.

Member's children lounging in the outdoor kitchen.

Jocel conducting training on organic farming systems.

Mixing sugar with plant cuttings for fermented plant juice fertilizer.

Preparation of ginger and garlic for fertilizers.

Jocel oversees while women crush the snails from the rice paddys and the men chop herbs.

Jocel, Aldwin, and our community members taking a little break during our hike to the water source.

Ginebra San Miguel: a member's dog who followed us all the way to the source.

Chatting and snacking at the water source.

Member teaching us the local history during WWII.

The treasurer accepts the first livelihood application in our makeshift office.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lubuagan Weaving Festival

Lubuagan, Kalinga is a community of around 30,000 individuals in the Cordillera Mountains of Northern Luzon. The main livelihood of the people is farming with rice as the primary crop. The production of handicrafts by traditional methods still contributes greatly to the livelihood of the community. Crafts include woven materials, pottery, beads, rattan, and soft brooms, all produced according to the indigenous tradition.

An integrated modern and indigenous education program is integral to the community’s values. With this in mind, St. Teresa’s, a private Catholic school, applied for a grant in 2011 to found the School of Living Traditions. Its original intentions were to enable women to pay their children’s tuition while educating young women in the art of weaving. The program was a success, training 13 young women in the art the first year. The program then moved to the public Lubuagan Central School, in order to intensify its impact. Unfortunately, the government cut its grant support for the project. The School of living traditions has continued its efforts in teaching indigenous craft, dance, music, stories, and values.

The 15 women weavers involved in the project formed their own organization, the Mabilong Weaver’s Association, in order to continue the practice and teaching of weaving. The name comes from Barangay Mabilong, population 1,400, which is the customary base of weaving in the area and the home of all the weavers. While, they no longer have a weaving center, the women have found working in their own homes more productive, as they can tend to their household chores and families. Their products include skirts, jewelry, collars, shoes, and purses.

The E-CARE Foundation had the joy of attending the Lubuagan annual town fiesta in order to experience the impact of the school. The day started bright and early with a parade through the town with brief demonstrations from the school marching bands. Then at the parade ground we listened to a speech about the town's motto, "Weaving Our Rich Culture for Economic Development". The speaker stated the goal of the Lubuagan community was adaptation. She encouraged the community neither forget the past, nor to stop evolving, but rather to find a way to move into the future on their own terms. After the speech, we watched a native dance and music competition and weaving demonstration put on by the local schools. We ended the day by meeting with the members of the Mabilong Weaver's Association to discuss a possible marketing partnership with E-Care. Look forward to spending more time with the ladies and learning more about their unique take on education.
6:30 AM with Lubuagan in the Distance

Our Lovely Hosts, Padi John and His Wife
Apparently, I Wasn't Dressed for the Occasion

The Parade

The Town Gathered to Watch the Procession

Community Gathered at the Parade Grounds

Weaving Demonstration by Lubuagan Central High School
Traditional Dance Competition

Elementary School Division

Detail of the Local Pattern

The Mabilong Weaver's Laptop Bag
The Gorgeous Mablilong Heels and My Debut as a Foot Model

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Evaluation Trip

The Group from Cabiroan at the Water Source.
Sitio Hall in Cabiroan where we spend he night.

Crop Storage Bodega and Drying Pavement

Mini Mill for Feed Production

Our Truck and the Town Tractor

Crossing Creeks on the Way to the Source

Crawdads for Lunch!

Corn Field with the Ocean in the Distance

Clearing the Way to the Source

Breakfast in the Field


Mother Making Use of the Water System

Evening in Santa Clara, Gonzaga

Interviews With Community Partners

An Unexpected Livelihood: Community Members Can Now Grow Plants and Flowers for Sale.

The Barangay Tanod and Philippine National Police Helping With Our Flat.

Organically Raised Hogs in Isabela

Checking Out Aldwin's Rice Farm With the Indomitable Kayla Massey
A week ago, we took a four day trip to Gonzaga, Cagayan, on the Northern coast of Luzon. Along with the regular crew of Jocel and Aldwin, we brought along two external evaluators to look at our projects and give us constructive feed back.

Our first stop was the sitio of Cabiroan where, in 2012, we partnered with the community to install a water system. Until this time, the community supplied it water needs by manually pumping from communal wells. The first night we camped out at the sitio hall and had a wonderful dinner. I think I lived my mom's worst nightmare when at one point I found myself eating a bowl of oysters and dog meat. Frankly, I found it wonderful. The evaluators and I got a little nervous when they community members began to show concern over whether we would be able to make it to the water source the next morning. Turns out the mountain spring source was a 6 kilometer round trip hike. Let's think about what this means. In order to find a source of clean water, i.e. one that carabao didn't wallow in, the community had to go 3 kilometers. This also means that the community, without heave machinery, laid over 4 kilometers of pipe by hand. All of this after spending five months digging down to a safe level in the spring, and building an intake tank and reservoir. The community divided into teams, worked six days a week to complete this project, including providing meals and shelter. Six months after this, the community worked together to install an electrical grid as well. People commented that before the water system, this all seemed impossible, especially working together as a community. Cabiroan is a migrant community consisting of many different tribes and even some nomadic groups.

The next day took us to Barangay Santa Clara where we have a long standing partnership with the community including a water system, post harvest facilities, co-op foundation, and livelihood assistance funds. This was the most developed of the three communities that we visited thanks to a strong sense of unity in the community. We again visited the water source, only slightly closer. We also visited our first project in the community, post harvest facilities. These consist of large concrete drying pavements. This allows the farmers to dry their crops to prevent spoilage. Since the only other option for many people is to dry along the side of the road, rocks and dirt contaminate the crop and reduce the retail value. This project also includes a bodega for proper crop storage and a feed mill for the production of organic feeds. We also got to visit the green houses of two women, who discovered after they had access to water, they were able to use their skills are gardeners to grow lowers and decorative plants for sale in the nearby towns.

Finally, we visited the community of Laok, which in the local dialect translates to "mix" as the community is, again, a mixture of many different tribes. To the extent that the local dialect was unlike any of the dialects the 4 Filipinos in our group spoke and we had to rely on translators and English to communicate. This community does not yet have electricity or a water system, but after the successful completion of agricultural enhancement projects with our organization, they are in the application process for a water system.

After this we took off to the Diocese of Santiago, where the evaluators were scheduled next. Unfortunately, around 10 PM, out back tire blew out. And the spare was flat. Luckily, we looked incredibly suspect, I guess since we were in front of the school. After about 10 minutes, we got busted by the 3 members Barangay Tanod, or local police force that had been called out. 3 minutes later, another 3 members arrived. Since that didn't seem to be enough,  5 minutes after that, 4 members of the Philippine National Police got called to come check us out. Which mean 10 law enforcement officers to the 5 of us. I think I would feel pretty safe living in this Barangay. They were very kind and drove us and the spare tire to be filled and got us on our merry way.

On the last day of the trip we stayed in Santigao, home of my fellow YACSer Kayla. We had a great day checking out a new rice mill, an organic agriculture demo center, and Aldwin's experimental organic rice farm.