SuperAdobe Construction with Super Volunteers

Who’s crazy enough to give up their long weekend which could be spent for rest or a quick getaway in the beach in favor of doing hard labor construction work for three days? Well, that’s what we, Greenpeace volunteers did, when we decided to help out in the building of SuperAdobe earth houses which would be part of the Climate Resiliency Field School Training Center in Gerona, Tarlac.

Developed by architect Nader Khalili, the founder of California Institute of Earth Architecture, SuperAdobe is a form of earth bag architecture that makes use of sand bags, barbed wire, and soil. The structure can last for years and can withstand severe earthquakes and typhoons. It can be an emergency shelter in times of disasters as the construction is designed to be easy, simple, flexible, and fast to complete.

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Photo by Conan Rogador

Indeed, the concept is simple but it’s also very systematic as it involves some precise measurements with a degree of flexibility.

Learning more about this fascinating technology is one thing that motivated us to volunteer. The Center, which is a project of the Rice Watch and Action Network (R1), would soon be used to train farmers on ecological agriculture. Personally, being part of the construction work became a sort of a test if a frail, skinny guy like me would be up to the challenge of actually doing hard labor.

Clay soil, which mind you is difficult to work with, was mixed, transported, and filled in sacks. These then were piled on top of each other and were thumped flat. In between the sacks, barbed wires were placed to serve as mortar and reinforcement. Before that, the barbed wires would have to be tamed (yes, there’s such a thing). And we had to go through this cycle several times until our muscles were sore, our skin sunburned, and our shirts soaked in sweat.

Additionally, we created French drains by digging canals around the structure and filling them with gravel. We also cleared and leveled an area that would be a site for the Training Center’s amphitheater.

This definitely deserves a “feeling accomplished” Facebook shout out. Especially to the strong independent women, the female volunteers, who seemed to have the strength of Wonder Woman and worked those construction tools like pros. Who says that only men can do heavy work? That’s another unique feature of SuperAdobe houses, anyone can build it.

The experience has been tiring but fulfilling. Even made more rewarding to get to work with amazing individuals who show the true spirit of volunteerism, the genuine desire of giving of the self for a greater cause.

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Photo by Shyo Sayajon
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HANDs! Project: Looking back and looking forward

People often choose to forget the past as looking back can be painful. But when it comes to disasters, lessons from history should always be remembered. This could help you survive when disasters strike again.

This is one lesson I got from the second and final leg of the HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project, a research trip organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, focusing on disaster and environmental education + creativity.

In 2016, the HANDs fellows visited Manila, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia. This year, we headed to Phuket and Phang Nga, Thailand and Kobe, Japan.

The Thailand phase started with a site visit and dialogue at the Bangla Village Mangrove Forest. Members of the community expressed how the mangroves helped protect them from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and are therefore very motivated in preserving the forest.

We then headed to Baan Nam Kem where we listened to stories of the tsunami survivors and learned about community based disaster risk management.

The rest of our stay in Thailand was spent in Yaowawit School, a real-life education facility for orphans and less privileged, which was founded by German philanthropist Philipp Graf von Hardenberg initially meant to help tsunami victims.

Lectures and workshops on sustainability and gamification were given by Robert Steele, a sustainability expert, and Ruttikorn Vuttikorn, a game designer. After which, fellows had to design games and activities for the “Alarm Cat,” a disaster and environmental education program for students of Yaowawit. It was a joy to interact with the children of the school and be able to promote disaster preparedness and environmentalism through creative means.

We said our khop kun krap (thank you) and bid goodbye to the heat of Thailand as Kobe, Japan’s cold embrace welcomed us.

The trip in Japan began with a tour of the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institute (DRI) which was established to archive and preserve the memories and lessons from the 1995 Great Hanshin-awaji earthquake. Hearing stories and going through the interactive exhibition of DRI was emotional but the importance of learning from the past to minimize risk and damage in the future is further emphasized.

A session and site visit of another disaster, the Toga River flash flood highlighted how providing sufficient information and education on disaster could save lives.

We learned about local initiatives on disaster prevention and environmental education from non-profit organizations namely Plus Arts, Kiko Network, and Tamba Greenpartner. We also participated in the “Iza! Kaeru Caravan,” a disaster drill program of Plus Arts, and facilitated games and activities for children.

Guided by HANDs adviser, Hirokazu Nagata, the fellows developed disaster and environmental education action plans to be implemented in our respective countries. We got additional inspiration to be more creative and to think outside the box from Kiito, Design and Creative Center in Kobe, which served as our work station.

HANDs Project provided a rare opportunity of visiting many places, learning from various experts and institutions, and forging friendships with co-fellows. And though the research trips ended, this is simply the beginning of more collaborations as we continue building our hopes and dreams towards a more resilient and more environmentally sustainable future.

Photos from HANDs! Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.

Learn more about HANDs! Project here.

An Energizing Weekend

Riding a solar-powered trike, boating and kayaking, lake clean-up, stargazing, fire flies watching, good food, plus, a yoga session. All these became part of my awesome weekend getaway when I attended the MakeSense Retreat held at Pusod Taal Lake Conservation Center, at Lipa, Batangas.

It took us less than two hours to get to Lipa City from Manila and once there, we got to ride sunEtrike’s solar-powered vehicle which brought us to Pusod Center. Pusod is an environment group that aims to protect the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape by engaging local communities and helping them find livelihood while taking care of nature. The Center was the venue of the MakeSense Retreat, a gathering of social entrepreneurs and community builders who had meaningful discussions on social entrepreneurship and other opportunities for engagement.

The participants also had a chance to go boating and kayaking at the Taal Lake. Sadly, we discovered a lot of garbage in the lake so we decided to do a mini clean-up. I wish people could do a better job at managing their trash.

In the evening, it was a treat to look at the stars and watch fireflies dance. To enjoy the calmness of the lake. And to have a friendly visit from a frog and a beetle.

Of course, let’s not forget the sumptuous dishes prepared by Ka Betty. The pako (fern) and pansit-pansitan (shiny bush) salad was my favorite.

The following day, we welcomed the morning with a yoga session which was a good workout. I felt like I had a better posture after that.

It was nice to get to do all these activities with like-minded people. People who are driven and passionate. People who do their part to make this a better world.

With all the bad things seemingly sprouting from everywhere, there are still beautiful places, good people, and wonderful experiences to appreciate. And so I went back to Manila energized with a happy body, happy spirit, and a happy heart.

Photos from Rachel Eilbott and Marvin Almonte

 

 

My HANDs! Project Experience

Putting a ballet dancer, a political cartoonist, a zero waste expert, and a teacher all in one room seems to be an odd combination. But that’s what HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project is all about. It brings people together from different backgrounds and help them leverage art and culture to address issues. Organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, the HANDs! Project explores how disaster and environmental education can be made more effective through creativity.

The program began in the Philippines where I met other HANDs! fellows for this year. It is a diverse group of young professionals and students from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, and Nepal. The passion and drive coming from every single person were invigorating. Hearing their personal stories and the work that they do for the community made me feel inspired and hopeful.

As a starting point, we were introduced to the idea of how “wind-water-soil” types of people help a community. The wind-types provide seeds of inspiration, the soil-types are the ones rooted in the community nurturing the seeds, and the water-types bridge the gap between the two aiding in the growth of the seeds of change.

To further understand social issues, Habi Education Lab, a Manila-based design and research group, conducted a design thinking workshop with the participants. We then had to put design thinking into action as we developed project ideas and prototypes for a relocation community in Navotas, a coastal town in Metro Manila. Being the local, I had to be the translator for the foreigners and I realized how tough a job that is. I had fun nonetheless and once again, it didn’t come as a surprise how our guests noticed the genuine happiness Filipinos have regardless of what situation they are in. I guess it truly is more fun here.

After a week in the Philippines, we all flew to Bali, Indonesia. I once heard you don’t choose Bali, Bali chooses you so we must have all been chosen! Balinese Hinduism is predominantly practiced in this part of Indonesia evident from sculptures, traditions, and altars everywhere meant for daily offerings known as canang sari.

We were able to visit rice paddy fields practicing Subak, a water management system that incorporates the Balinese concept “Tri Hita Karana” – the harmony among people, nature, and God. Pretty much like the Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippines.

As an environmentalist, I was so happy to learn about best practices of some environmental organizations in Bali. IDEP Foundation shared about permaculture and community-based disaster management. Kopernik talked about project management and how they raise money to fund their community projects. Green School showed how sustainability can be integrated in the classroom and the school system. Navicula, an indie band, illustrated how music can be used for activism.

Additionally, the fellows conducted creative disaster education activities at PAUD Cemara Kasih, a kindergarten school.

It was an enriching experience but it doesn’t end there as we’ll have the second phase of the HANDs! Project study trip in Thailand and Japan next year. After which, we would come up with our respective action plans on creative disaster and environmental education programs. So many things to look forward to. And the best thing is I’m on this journey with amazing people keeping the hope and dreams in me alive.

Photos from HANDs Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.

#2030 NOW, rallying the good in all of us

I feel like I’m a technology averse person. Up until now, I don’t have a smartphone and that makes me an embarrassment to millennials. I don’t have Twitter and Instagram accounts, just Facebook. I’m not even taking advantage of this for the fear of oversharing or being attacked. Social media is now being used to spread anger and hatred. Plus, it saddens me how technology disconnects people personally. Thankfully, I was able to attend Innovation + Social Good, a Rappler event which highlighted for me a positive side of technology.

Social media can change lives. Rupert Ambil of Move.PH cited Daniel Cabrera’s story as an example. How a photo of him, a homeless boy who used the light from a McDonald’s restaurant to study, became viral and gathered support for his studies.

With technology, people can find and be part of a community as mentioned by the Founder of Thinking Machines, Stephanie Sy.

Disaster preparedness and response improved through innovations such as Agos and Project NOAH which facilitate the ease of information dissemination especially when disasters strike.

Also with technology and innovation, people are more empowered to make better decisions. These among others bring about positive impact and change, and help solve complex problems of the society.

Aside from inspiring talks, Innovation + Social Good also gathered different groups and organizations doing their part to contribute to sustainable development goals. In a world shrouded in negativity, there’s still hope after all. For a change, it’s nice to focus not on problems but on solutions – the social good that we are capable of doing, demonstrating the good that we all possess.

Truly, technology presents endless possibilities paired with scary challenges. But since the future is now, what we can do is to adapt and to use this tool not to destroy the world but make it a better one.

Trivializing environment issues vs. taking a stand

The presidential candidates during the recent debate in Cebu seem to have trivialized environment issues. We just don’t want to believe what we see. Al Gore, during the Climate Reality Project training explained that these environment issues are almost a spiritual problem. Are we trying to fill life’s emptiness with consumerism and destruction which stop us from facing the reality? Are we so consumed with greed and apathy that we don’t see what our only planet is turning into?

It’s all doom and gloom. But I’m encouraged to see individuals taking a stand, doing what they can for the environment. Be inspired by their initiatives.

 

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The Cordillera Ecological Center and A Tree A Day led the Walk for the International Day of Forests and Trees. Headed by environmental activist, Michael Bengwayan, Baguio residents protest against all forms of tree cutting.

 

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Cebu City Councilor Nestor Archival’s eco-house, a house close to nature, demonstrates how we can live sustainably. The eco-house features renewable energy source through solar panels and biogas, organic farming, aquaponics, vermicomposting, recycling, and waste management. (c)Hazel Aghon

 

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Nanay Gloria embraces the four laws of ecology in farming: everything is connected to everything else, everything must go somewhere else, nature knows best, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. (c) Jenny Tuazon/Greenpeace Philippines

 

 

#IAmHampasLupa for Food Sovereignty and Food Sufficiency

According to Greenpeace, the world produces more than enough food to feed all of us. However, almost 1 billion people go to sleep hungry every night. Around 1 billion are overweight or obese. And 30% of the world’s food is wasted.

In the Philippines, farming is looked down on. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that the average age of farmers in the country is 57. Their income per year is less than $500. They don’t even own the lands they farm.

Considering all these realities, Greenpeace Philippines came up with its #IAmHampasLupa Campaign. The word hampaslupa is a derogatory term to characterize someone in extreme poverty. Its literal translation though is to hit or till the soil which farmers do. The campaign then aims to change this negative perception towards farmers and farming in general.

What can you do to support this movement?

Challenge yourself and pledge your support for ecological agriculture.

Support local farmers by buying their produce.

Eat more organically grown fruits and vegetables. Lessen meat consumption. And don’t waste food.

You can also try to grow your own food through container or urban gardening.

Together, we can achieve food sovereignty and food sufficiency.

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