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.