What happens when things fall into place, when materials, tools and people suddenly generate a synergy beyond compare? Magic happens and the unexpected of energies and conflict thereof evaporate in an utterly interesting balance of forces.
Recently, our team started a development project in Divilacan, Isabela under the Sustainable Technologies and Entrepreneurial Permaculture Program (STEP). It took us some time to start on an equal footing with the municipality and to get our development views tuned to a start.
The area is remote, but amazingly beautiful and rough. In it stretched a beach along the Pacific Ocean and at the back of the community, the largest protected rainforest in the country sprawls. Here the Dumagats claim their largest ancestral domain so far, but also here are the threats to lose more of the forest over time. Given the setting, we felt that any sustainable development agenda should include the forest as a key element and the sea as another. And so we proposed to the Town to adapt a resolution to be branded as the prime forest municipality in the country. So far so good, we shook hands and arrived with a group of 6 volunteers from the Netherlands and Belgium.
Arriving in Divilacan was already an adventure on its own and now we had set out on a rehabilitation project of wooden cabins along the shoreline so as to improve the tourism potential and income for the local people. Due to weather conditions no materials arrived, but there we were with our team. So we needed to be creative and in the process something unfolded that none of us would ever expect. We sat together as I encouraged the young volunteers to start designing. We would look at the town as a whole and the area around the cabins in particular. The questions ahead were what needed to be re-designed, what could each one of us contribute to make the town a better place, based on skills and interests, while waiting for building materials to arrive. We sketched, discussed and had fun shaping this particular area along the coast that was well within the town center. Here is what happened in a span of 10 days.
Our first plan was to focus our attention on an old and dilapidated waiting shed. We made the drawings and soon the waiting shed looked like the cabin of a ship. We made a plan to fill in the space between buildings along the beach with sports facilities for young and old, and then we proposed a plan to turn the whole town into a resort place reflecting the forest tag given to its identity.
Since we didn’t have materials we showed our plans to the mayor and we got her support and commitment to dump some locally available materials like sand, wood and gravel. We started measuring, shoveling and preparing for the landscaping. Since the beach was filled with driftwood we could access all wood needs from there. In addition there was the passing of a very bad weather system, which provided us with a fresh load of beached wood. We tried to recycle all of it and became pretty successful with it. The waiting shed got a whole new dressing up.
We repaired the rotting cement bars and finished with some plastering, we removed the cement benches with a wooden top, planted vines at the back, placed a driftwood trunk on the roof to let the vines grow to and added a small rooftop garden in the front. All around the waiting shed we created a garden. When all had been finished and when our materials finally arrived we added a coating of white paint to give this miserable chunk of concrete a first class appearance, and what a view this was!
While one team had worked on that, some locals joined us out of curiosity and upon the request of the mayor, and on the other project where we made a beach volley court and an adventure trail, children were the ones helping us and were getting overexcited about the project.
We unintentionally created a movement of people suddenly liking what we were doing and appreciating the impact it had on the town folks. Children would no longer go home after school. They ran straight to the playground and started playing and helping us in finishing the items. The volley court became the favorite of the older kids and young adults.
Suddenly this stretch of open gravel area became a new town center with a renewed beating heart. With minimal use of outside materials we had been able to build this fantastic site and generated new sentiments of pride and social bonding among the community. This was permaculture with very low energy input, yet great energetic output from those who helped and those who played their heart out. It was a fantastic way for the team to finally wrap up and say goodbye to the town. With cheers and respect we all felt that simple things are indeed the most rewarding. Who would have ever have thought that the rehabilitation of that simple waiting shed would result in such great changes? Even the team of volunteers left this part of the Philippines changed and with great memories.
Featured image by Bert Peeters
Photos by Bert Peeters