honour your environment

Originally published January 30th, 2012 – It was 6:45 a.m. and I had just crawled out from under my mosquito net that was attached to childrens’ chairs, grabbed my toothbrush and water bottle and opened the door of the day care centre we had slept in. And there she stood, this elderly lady. Holding the biggest fruit I had ever seen, smiling at me and saying “Maayong aga, good morning! Jackfruit!”

And a BIG smile!

Was it timing or had she been standing there waiting for us to open the door? I don’t know. But naturally we let her in. The lady knelt down on the ground, and chopped away with the large knife they also use to open Buko and coconuts with.

Jackfruit for breakfast

Ramke and Simone crowded over her, devouring every piece of Jackfruit as soon as it was liberated. One eats the soft little yellow pieces of fruit inside the big hard green shell of Jackfruit. It tastes sweet, a bit like vanilla, but it has a vinegary kick…

The indiginous community of Sitio Sibato

We were at Sitio Sibato. Finally.

This is the indigenous community that Simone has been working to get to for over a year, as explained in a previous post. We were supposed to go in a week earlier, but administration got in the way, the partner organisation needed to get more OKs from more institutions, etc. So when this time we got the go-ahead, spirits were up in our little household!

Because spirits had been a bit low –Simone had been feeling poorly. She and Ramke are friends but the two of them bicker a lot, and I guess this project being halted didn’t necessarily add any positive energy. I stayed neutral, tried to keep out as much as I could, and if that wasn’t possible, I tried to mediate.

In that extra week, however, we did work a lot. I am finding myself ‘coaching’ Simone in her organisation’s undertakings more than being an intern. I think I am interning in the way of life more than the job, which is a fabulous internship and really giving me a lot. Remember how I was never really able to explain what I was going to be doing here? Well, I am trying to help her come across more clearly for future candidates or in any of her other communications. I don’t mean this to sound pejorative, I just think that maybe this was my mission here, to help her with what I know how to do – I still believe I am good at it, even though I no longer actively work in communications per se. And she is asking for it; I guess when you’re running your own organization alone, all the time, you’re happy when someone else comes aboard to talk things through.

We also went to the pool of an eco-lodge one day, celebrated Chinese New Year in Bacolod the next, I went to the Hacienda, the band rehearsed for the concert… but this was good, the project was kicking off!

We packed our backpacks, took a tricycle, then a bus, then waited outside the mayor’s office in Silay for one hour for Caryl Ann from the partner organization. And then we waited another hour for Miss Melina from the council for the indigenous communities to arrive. We got in the private jeepney at around 10:30 (the workshop was supposed to begin at 10:00, but this is normal here, they say), and headed off. First we went along a road, past the airport. Then along a dirt road past sugar cane plantations, then we stopped and loaded in some people at the tribe chief’s house, then we bounced up a rickety dirt road as far as the jeepney could take us. Then we got out and hiked the rest.

we walked up a hill, across a ridge, down a hill and up again

The hike was about one km long, on a path through amazing landscapes. Up a hill, across a ridge, down a hill, up again and then we reached the school of the community.

Everyone was there, kids were staring at us, and we were ushered past classrooms to the largest hall of the little complex. This was where the workshop was going to be.


The attendees who had come in the morning had been sent home for lunch in the meantime, so we settled in, arranged the chairs in a big circle, and prepared some lunch with the veggies we had brought. All the time we were being watched, and being helped.

Fresh Buko – it is all we need

The leader of the community opened some buko, served us the fresh water from inside it and scraped out the fruit for us. Such a welcome! I have come to appreciate fresh coconut. For one it really tastes OK. I don’t crave it, but I like it. It tastes nothing like the dried processed coconut they sprinkle on things in factories. And secondly, Ramke (he really knows a lot) told me it is the fruit of all fruits, the mother of nutrition; it is the single, most healthiest thing we can eat. Human beings could live off it, and knowing that alone makes it taste good!

So the way the workshops run is that Simone talks and facilitates, Caryl Ann translates (not only the language, but also giving examples they can relate to). The workshop is on ‘social entrepreneurship’; the basics of business, business with care – how to make myself a living that won’t harm me, my community, my culture or my environment.

honour your environment in your business, make THAT your business

the workshop – draw yourself

She uses creative moments, has people draw a lot, plays music etc. It is ambitious, but I think it is good. And from the reactions from the people attending, the basic message seems to come across. Yes, they agree that life in the busy city (which many aspire to) and not ever having enough may not be better than living in nature where you have it all. Honour your environment in your business, make THAT your business.

I think we should ALL think about that.

Which is where I came in. While we were preparing for the workshop, I told Simone about the ‘trend’ going on in the ‘Western’ worlds, how companies are developing Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility schemes, designing their business to be the best possible actor (well, at least they are doing the minimum to be able to sell the point; but even then, every little counts) and why this is happening. Because the consumer is becoming more and more aware of the impact on life and nature that business and production have. And with this awareness we are starting to look for the ‘least harming’ when we chose what we consume… I think this is where I may also have come to be useful to Simone.

Apart from asking ‘structuring’ questions, I also come from the place that she is trying to tell people not to copy blindly. But I come from the big bad west, I know the industries, I know our lifestyles. And I know of some trends she doesn’t know of – which happens when you leave a place, you just lose touch. So I agree that focussing on the ‘unique’ and ‘real’, and making just THAT your business is, actually, hopefully, what the consumer might, should, be looking for. I mentioned eco-tourism and glamping, how people in ‘the west’ are now more and more looking to be least harmful for and to connect more with nature when we travel. Because one of Simone’s suggestions is for this community to consider setting up an eco-village in the future, build mud huts, offer the experience of nature, earth music, indigenous culture, crafts and even add a spiritual note to it.

words of wisdom

So anyway, she asked me to give a little talk on CSR, which I did. People listened 😉 Well, they looked. And they listened to Caryl Ann’s translation and nodded. Hmmm. This made me happy. I had been looking into training before leaving my previous job. It made me happy that this spontaneous intervention went well.

The whole two-day workshop went well. There is a lot to work on, a lot to tone down. As previously said, it is very ambitious, but the community likes it. And the partner likes it. We had a very good meeting with Caryl Ann when we were back in the city – now that it is concrete and happening, they are drawing up a memorandum of understanding which will be signed by all partners (including administration) and it will also facilitate finding funds. Also, they asked for Simone to train some trainers so that the workshops can be more fluent if they are held in Ilongo directly. This is what she had hoped for, for them to take ownership. This is all good.

On the hospitality side the experience was a very uplifting one. I have overcome my initial shock of ‘simplicity’, which I am happy about. I didn’t like my ‘princess’ reactions, because I know that this princess behaviour is ultimately really bad for our planet; and I am becoming very aware of that. This community lives without water or electricity. They lug their water up in barrels, they have a generator in the school that they turn on for one hour a day to make the computers work – they have 11 computers that were donated to them. Actually, they are looking for funding for a solar panel that could have the PCs operational. I also think they should collect rainwater, it rains plenty here, but I guess for that they also need funding. HOWEVER, with the workshops they may be able to come up with solutions for that.

Without electricity, you eat before it gets dark. We prepared our raw vegetable salad, while the teachers, who live there during the week, cooked their rice. The villagers go home (one kid told me he walks 3 kms to school, over a mountain and through a river, every day – they all live really spread out. Proper far away.) I offered them some carrots, they laughed! They don’t eat raw carrots. WOW!

Princess suites in the day care center

But dinner was good, after that we moved into our quarters. The day care centre. The lady who brought us the Jackfruit the next morning had actually offered to sleep there with us (WOW), but we said we’d be fine, she should go home to her place. The teachers spared us some mattresses from their camp beds, so once the mozzie-nets were up, we had a pretty nice little suite.

Before bed we walked up a little hill next to the day care centre. There was a clearing in the dense green of coconut and banana trees and all the other lush big greens that grow in this tropical climate. Ramke suggested a bonfire, and the few kids that were there went off for wood. Soon enough the teachers joined in, the lady who brought us jackfruit and some others. Ramke brought out his drum and guitar, the locals brought fermented coconut (the local alcohol; after my chicha encounter I asked, and nobody chews anything during the process), it was a really nice moment. The jackfruit lady taught Ramke a tribal rhythm that her grandfather used to play, but that nobody knows anymore. She doesn’t have a drum. He was impressed.

And you see, these are the things!

Talent and raw material in abundance

The talent and ‘raw’ material is right there! They have the sense of customer care, probably more so than any ‘customer care’ professionals – because it is intuitive goodness. And they have their local culture. An own beat! Bring the lady a drum! Show her how to make drums, and visitors could jam away with her under the starry nights of Negros!

Simone and I had a good girlie chat and laugh in bed that night – at one point Ramke pssht-ed us; we are getting to know each other now in a way where we can laugh easily with each other, we are starting to get each other’s humours, feel comfortable. Its good, I like that, it makes it all more fun!

The second day was another good one. We only got the morning, and less people. Wednesday is market day, they need to sell their produce. We’ll know for next time.

As we were packing up our things to leave, Jean, one of the teachers, called me into her classroom. She said the kids were too distracted for class, so maybe I could just come in and answer their questions.

I had just applied sun protection and insect repellent, it was the usual 30 degrees; so you can picture me, I looked particularly sticky in that moment. That is how I made my entrance, I apologized for my shiny skin, but explained that I needed to put special cream on it to protect it from the sun that is too strong for it. One boy said, in Ilongo, that he had never seen anyone like me.

Hmmm. Yes, I guess, if you don’t have tv, you walk for two hours through nature to get to school, then I guess yes, you may never have seen anyone like me. We continued, they asked questions in their language, Jean translated. They wanted to know where I come from (we looked at the globe, all there was, was the usual LUX – country’s too small to put the name in), what its like over there and if I was married (everybody wants to know that). They giggled a lot, kids crowded at the windows to watch. I felt like Lady Di. This was fourth grade. They learn English from a very young age, it is a national language in the Philippines (which makes it rather easy to travel here). Yet these kids needed translation. I asked them if they understood me, some nodded, so I encouraged them to keep it up, they are doing really good. Later on it occurred to me that maybe they have never heard anyone but their teachers talk English to them – these workshops will really bring a lot more than the workshops alone.

Halfway through my ‘intervention’ Ramke strolled out of the comfort room (that’s what, ironically, they call the toilets here – it was in the classroom, and with an open ceiling) – he later said that he’d heard the girls whisper to each other that ‘she’s so pretty’.

Awwwww…. I’ll finish on that note.

My hosts, travel companions and new friends

Originally published January 18, 2012 – I happen to have stumbled across the two quite colourful and spiritual characters as my hosts.

Simone Francis

simone francis, always a buzz

simone francis, always a buzz

So there is Simone, director of Nomadic Hands.
She is this energetic 27-year-old Australian who, when you listen to her speak, must have lived more lives than her age gives away. She has travelled and worked around the world, has taught numerous skills, including snorkelling and tumbling (youtube it), and is learning about all sorts of spiritual healing at this time – a project on her horizon is setting up a singing bowl meditation in Sydney.

She has been successfully running a social enterprise for over four years. Nomadic Hands travels around the world lending their hands to communities who need them, raising awareness for humanitarian and environmental issues.
And all the while she is working on her ongoing documentary, in which she documents her own journey as she ‘leaves the consumerist system’. From the material I have seen, its an amazing life-change, courageous and full of passion. And at the same time quite disturbing as she reveals facts most of us know about but chose to ignore. One of the first things she does is she goes ‘dumpster-diving’ in Sydney – she goes looking for perfectly alright food thrown away to prepare her own meals, and finds loads!
She is an amazing ‘go-doer’, she bubbles with energy and drive, she thinks up ideas and solutions and does them the same minute. Quite impressive, really, and so the opposite to me – I hope some of her entrepreneur spirit colours off on me during this trip.


2012 philippines ramke flute

Ramke. I’ve been waking up to the soft sound of his flute playing in the distance.

So, being this adventure-seeker, Simone has recently taken to music and singing. And this is where her Philippine friend and co-host, Ramke, comes in. We are staying at his sister’s house in Talisay, near Bacolod and at his parents’ cottage when we’re in the mountains.
Ramke is an earthbound artist and currently reading into all kinds of healing, from reiki to numerology  – you name it, he’ll tell you about it. He reads a lot.
On my first evening he asked me what day my birthday was and I said March 18. He said ‘so you’re a 9’. Later on he explained that nines are very diverse creatures, they like to know and experiment everything, they like the challenge of the unknown. ‘And as soon as something is no longer unknown or an ability has been acquired, the nines look for what’s next.’ That explains a few things.

As a musician he plays the guitar, the flute, the didgeridoo, the harmonica and the drums… There may be more, but the sounds of these instruments have been accompanying us so far.

Simone and Ramke are both welcoming and generous in their own ways, and I am excited at the thought that by just being with them I may be getting more out of my time here than just the internship as such.

A letter home

Originally published January 16 2012. This is where my blog really began, I had been writing on retreat in the mountains, and published the first blogs once back on wifi.

Patag, 15 January 2012

Dear family and friends,

I am without internet. It is a good exercise, I reckon. We may be too connected these days.

Or are we? Because what is wrong about wanting to hear from the people you love? Especially when one finds oneself way out in the orbit of one’s comfort zone. Way out.

I am pretty much exactly where I pictured myself to be, yet I will admit it is a challenge. And I miss you.

The Cottage

our cottage

I write this email in a word document that I will send to you as soon as I am back online. I am in the ‘big’ house on the mountain, I sleep in the cottage.





The big house has a fridge, so we prepare our meals here, and it has a big table so Simone and I can both be on our PCs at the same time. Most of all, it has a shower – which the cottage doesn’t. And the toilet has a door for privacy, which the cottage doesn’t either. I prefer being here 😉

Things are well on my end. I am basically living with Simone and her Philippine friend Ramke; we stay at his sister’s house in Talisay, near the city, and we stay at the family’s cottage in the North Negros Forrest mountains, a 2-hour wobbly bus ride and a brief hike through mud away from the city of Bacolod. Up here it is lovely.

It is hot, and it is tropically humid – and so lush

All is lush and green, it is hilly and peaceful.

And it is cooler than down in the valley, I actually need to wear my fleece in the evening.

The cottage lies on the top of the hill, Simone and I walked down into the ‘village’ yesterday – which is a row of huts along a larger track.

We walked past ‘rooster farms’ on our way there. The racket of them is omnipresent and at first I didn’t know what it was. And it ain’t quiet at all. Think: seagulls in the morning. Lots of seagulls – and then up the volume by ten! The racket goes on, all day long. They are in lots of big gardens, they each have a wooden triangle/hut and stand on them and crow. Quite unusual. I asked. They are ‘cultivated’ for cockfighting.



2012 philippines patag shopThe village is where the ‘shops’ are, which are tiny windows in people’s houses out of which a hand reaches to give you your purchases.




I treated myself to sachets of Nescafé from an old lady at 2 pesos a piece (43 pesos is 1 USD).Shopkeeper in Patag, North Negros Mountains

She allowed me to take her photo and I love it.


We don’t physically ‘do’ much up here, but we are very productive.

2012 philippines patag home office

home office

So on the project: Simone, with her own organisation Nomadic Hands, has been working for one and a half years on setting up a social entrepreneurship training workshop for a local community here in Negros.

She aims to approach her overall goal, being to reduce child labour and abuse, from the other end, i.e. by educating the population, making them create their own livelihood by empowering them with more knowledge and skills.

The day I arrived she finally got the go-ahead from her local partner organization, and the first workshop begins next Wednesday. We spent a great deal of yesterday finalising the programme, going through each day and topic individually. She has planned 2 full days every week for about a year. Supposedly some 50 locals have enrolled. Her programme is on creative social entrepreneurship, a creative and simplified take on business planning. Very ambitious but also very well put together. She wants me to hold a day on Marketing, which is planned for 7 February, the evening of which day I will be leaving Negros.

We talked a lot; it took me a while to get what she is trying to do, it is all so complex.

2012 philippines patag washingThe thing is that, apparently, there is a plan to build a road up to this community which currently lives in seclusion. The community is being told that it will enable them to connect better to the world, sell their handicrafts globally and attract tourism.

A threat that Nomadic Hands has identified is that a road will most likely come with ‘development’ plans, big concrete housing unnatural to the area and false hopes, with the ultimate loss of a cultural identity.

So with the workshops they want to instil the thought of eco-tourism for the community as another opportunity, and by that participate in a sustainable and active manner. The workshops aim to spark a sense of ownership, incitation and also give all necessary knowledge and coaching to help individuals set up own businesses. And they should connect this community with a neighbouring community on the other side of the mountain (where we are right now) who are currently building an earth village made from mud huts. Their vision is to create a space where healing, arts and social entrepreneurship can help their local community.

The project is called Connect, Create, Conserve.

Connecting organisations, communities and social enterprises
Creating livelihoods for families as a way of preventing child labour
Conserving cultural and social structures and their natural environment

Now you know all about it.

We will see how it goes; I have no idea what this community will be like or how they will take the business and academic input. She has developed a more creative approach to it, using symbols and tangible examples to them, and we have worked on it together. Let us see what it does, Wednesday.

I am a bit apprehensive of this workshop as we will be up there for two days and nights at a time. Simone doesn’t know where we will sleep, ‘somewhere in the community’ – I am picturing on the floor somewhere with very basic sanitary installations (judging on the regular ones, which are already pretty basic to me).

But I will give it a go, this is a very unique opportunity to go deep into other forms of life and living, and it is what I came for.

Friends, I had a ‘moment’ this morning; one has ‘moments’ when far away and alone, so I know it. I called this moment here a Princess Moment. It’s why I chose to go on a project in the first place.

I have written for my blog, there are so many things I feel like writing about. And actually, there is no time. So I hope my texts won’t be sheer reports. Or maybe, over time, I will be able to dilute all my thoughts into a few short meaningful texts. But right now, it just comes out of me because I have a need to share. I won’t take it badly if you don’t read every detail.

So one of the things I am documenting is this raw-food diet I am on. What a random thing to do, and what a scary reality. ‘Cooked food is poison‘, they say in the book I am reading. I will also google it once I get online, I am keen to read what others have to say about it.

So there, I am alright, living the life and so grateful to be able to do so.

Much love,




Evenings at the cottage are very light and easy and rhythmic… with local furry company.

2012 philippines patag simone moonstar

2012 philippines patag evenings2012 philippines patag moonstar