Philippines Humanitarian Project – Update 2019 (And Beyond)

In 2017 I was asked to conduct a gardening training project near the town of Carigara on the very poor island of Leyte in the Philippines, for a group who are doing a lot of good over there called the Rise and Rebuild International Foundation.  It was supposed to happen in the fall of 2017, but by the time they got me there it was January, 2018.

They had purchased 15 acres of land with a river right alongside, on which we were to create this project.  By the time I arrived they had two 20 X 40 greenhouses mostly constructed (I had to change and fix some things), as well as a brick storage building complete and a large brick classroom/kitchen/bathroom facility mostly ready. 

They did NOT have electricity or running water the whole time I was there, and we had to use a loud diesel generator every day as we taught classes, in order to project the training materials and have a microphone.  Great fun!

We had 25 adults as students (7 women and 18 men), and there were 15 men hired to do the construction work, clear the jungle, remove boulders, and level the garden area. The construction crew cleared several acres of jungle while we began classes, started seedlings, mixed fertilizers (some of which we had to bring in by boat), and created a garden.

Scorpions, venomous spiders, and cobras were fairly common, and several times a week torrential rains stopped the garden work, but in every possible minute the work went on apace.

One sweet married man with children, whom I called Jean ValJean, and the other construction workers called Hercules, died of over-exertion when his heart failed, I believe from manually moving giant boulders.  That was super sad!  These men were being paid $6 per day, and were happy to have the work.  The students were paid $3 per day, but were hoping for a job running the garden after the training – for $6 per day.

Language was a real problem.  The native language is Tagalog.  I was told the students would be fairly fluent in English, but only 8 of them could read English, and some had very limited speaking vocabulary as well, so classroom teaching and testing had to go through the 8, in a tedious process every day.

In the garden it was better because they were good visual learners, plus the 8 English speakers translated to small groups as we went along.

Almost all of them were hard workers (about 4 did not take the training very seriously), and there were 4 leaders with good English skills who were intelligent, really diligent, and had good attitudes (were teachable).

We managed to keep the two 20′ X 40′ greenhouses, which were built to The Mittleider Gardening Course book specificatons busy, and we created and planted a garden of 250 – 30’-long soil beds while I was there.  Within 4 weeks of the first planting harvesting had begun, and by the time I returned home at the end of March harvesting and re-planting were going on every day.

By the time we had 200 beds, watering had become a major problem, taking half of the students much of the day just to water on the days it did not rain, until I convinced the Foundation leaders to build an elevated 6,000 gallon concrete storage tank.  With 2” pipes running throughout the garden, and faucets at the head of every few beds, the watering time became MUCH quicker, and was manageable.   Soon after that step was completed they ran pipes to the head of every bed.  Thank goodness for level beds!

And it seems that they only picked up the pace after I left!  Classes continued for 2 or 3 weeks, but then everyone focused full time on the garden/farm.

Difficult?  Probably the most challenging thing I have ever done.  Successful and worthwhile?  History will be the judge, but that history is being written rather quickly, and so far it looks very promising!

They built a refrigerated building to store, sort, clean, and pack vegetables, and continued to expand the garden, which by now they were calling a farm.  And by the end of August/early September they had expanded the one-acre garden I had left into 15 acres, and 250 beds had become 3,750!

They purchased a couple of produce trucks, began delivering fresh vegetables to the schools on the island, and now provide the noon meal for 10,000 students every day!  And they sell the excess produce for sufficient to pay all of the project expenses, including the wages of what has now become 100 workers!  (After Covid-19 reached the islands schools were closed, businesses, churches, etc. were shut down, and one of the few things that was allowed to go forward was the Rise & Rebuild produce trucks.  At every blockade/check point our trucks were ushered through, and since 2019 R & R has been feeding many thousands of families from the 100+ acre farms on 4 main islands).

Ray Goodson, the President of the Rise and Rebuild foundation told me by telephone just two weeks ago (January 2019) that the produce is known as “the biggest and best in all of the Philippines”, and that they are expanding onto 3 other islands already.  They expect to be feeding more than 20,000 school children their noon-day meal before this year is out, and they are only limited by trained workers and leadership.  (See above changes due to the pandemic).

I hope this story inspires you to see what can be done with the best gardening system on the planet, when it is used in the best way possible. 

Jim Kennard