On June 11, I arrived at the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm (GKEF) and before I even knew where I really was, I found myself at the SEED Philippines Batch 2 Graduation Ceremony. This was a great introduction to the farm in terms of understanding the mission of this whole place and understanding the people and the students who have made such an incredible place possible. To quote Kuya Shanon, the CEO of the farm, “one reason this place exists is to simply prove that it can be done.”
A little clarification is needed— Gawad Kalinga (GK) is the overarching organization that was founded by Tito Tony Meloto. The primary purpose of GK is to end poverty for 5 millions families by 2024— mostly through home-building projects. GK started in the Philippines, but has since expanded to other countries. Today, there are nearly 3,000 GK communities in the Philippines, and the Enchanted Farm community in Angat is one of those communities. The GKEF was started in 2010 by Tito Tony and others with the vision of being the first farm-village-university and contributing to the overarching mission of ending poverty. So, the farm lies on about 45 hectares of land, but also has a regular community, home to around 300 people. This farm has a lot going on, which I will try my best to describe during these next weeks, but I have a feeling it will take me a while to understand everything going on here.
Additionally, this farm serves as a university— which is the SEED (School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development) Philippines program I mentioned earlier.Each of the students graduating underwent a 2 year intensive program where they learned English, French, and various other subjects, all while developing their business ideas and eventually launching their own social enterprise. These students come from all over the Philippines, mostly from rough backgrounds, or what they call “the bottom of the pyramid,” and did not have access to the quality of education they receive here on the farm. Many of them have struggled with family problems and hunger, but despite all odds, they are some of the most friendly, motivated young people I have ever met. Seriously, I have hardly seen this type of self-motivation amongst my peers. It immediately became clear that I have much to learn from these SEED students. Hearing their stories and learning from them has been an incredibly humbling experience thus far. As Tito Tony Meloto, the creator of GK and the Enchanted Farm, stated, “these students don’t have the luxury of wasting time.” Laurence and I had the honor of joining Tito Tony and some of the students for lunch one afternoon and got to hear more about their enterprises. After, they asked us if we had started our own businesses, which was a funny moment but also another humbling experience that reinforced the idea that I should always be in a learning mood around the farm.
A lot of the SEED students are now on what we would think of as a summer break, but many of them still live on the farm. Many of them have been preoccupied with harvesting mangoes, which I have spent a lot of time helping with— The mango harvesting season started pretty much as soon as we got to the farm, and I am not mad about it. The farm is home to something like 5,000 mango tress, so I’ve gotten to spend some time climbing mango trees and eating plenty of mangoes, breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Among other things, the other GKEF IWU Freeman Interns and I have participated in the “7-day challenge”— an immersive experience that tries to get you to do as much as possible and meet as many people in your first week here. It has been a valuable experience thus far, I’m getting to know more of the community members and it has definitely made me feel more comfortable. I met my Tito and Tita— Tito Ver and Tita Aida, they are like my second family here, so I guess it only makes sense that they have a big family. Tito Ver used to work for the government for 30 years, but now is retired and oversees a lot of the large-scale agriculture on the farm (that’s why he is my Tito). Laurence and I got to eat dinner with them, and they made some of the best chicken curry I have ever had— although, after helping with the chicken slaughter last week, my appetite for chicken is dwindling. We will be helping him and the rest of the agriculture team with rice planting next month, since it is not wet enough yet. I have heard around the farm that it has been an unusually hot rainy season thus far, and that there has been a shortage of mangoes in the southern parts of the country. And, yes, it has been hot. I’m still adjusting to the heat and humidity, but I guess I really don’t have anything to complain about since we get air-conditioning at night when we sleep.
My introduction to the Filipino culture has been incredible in my first couple weeks— everyone is very warm and welcoming. Everyone says hello and will have a small conversation with you about their day or what they’ve been doing, which is something we don’t really do in the US, but I am really enjoying this part of the culture. The Filipino people tend to raise their eyebrows at you as a way of saying hello if you are just passing by, which I thought was a little weird at first, but now its something I do to people as I pass by. There is one little girl in the community, she is very popular and almost everyone knows her— Malaya, which means freedom in Tagalog. She’s three and only knows a few words in English, but she somehow remembered my name. I guess its the small things like that that make the days better. And, of course the food has been pretty great— a few favorites thus far have been Pancit and Pork Sinigang. I still am waiting for the day we have lechon, a pig roast, but yes, in case you were wondering, the mangoes here are much better than at home.
As far as my observations of the environment and environmental problems I would say that I have seen some beautiful landscapes and parts of the farm are really beautiful, but unfortunately there is a problem with waste disposal and pollution— people seem to litter a lot, but I think that is mostly due to a lack of garbage cans. Someone told me to take note of the smells as soon as I got here because I would eventually get used to them… and I have to say at times there is an overwhelming smell of pollution. I have seen giant clouds of smoke in the distance at night time, which I assume are coming from people burning garbage. Tito Tony has mentioned this as a problem, one that we may be able to address while we are here. We are currently looking into educating the children about waste management and are investigating a composting program here on the farm. A vermicomposting area exists (run by Tito June (excellent guitar player)) but it is small and doesn’t have the capacity to take organic waste from the entire farm. This vermicompost is actually part of a social enterprise, which would sell the worm castings. I have been a small part of a project similar to this in the past and the problem tends to be the target market— amongst the locals here, I don’t think many people would really want to invest in worm castings when they have to worry about buying food and other basic necessities. Overall, I have been surprised by all the things going on on the farm that are similar to back home— but in such a short time I have already witness “poverty” as an environmental problem. Indira Gandhi once said something along the lines of, poverty is the greatest polluter— how can people care for the environment when their basic needs are not being met. They will do what they need to do to survive, even at the cost of the environment, which is unfortunate, but true— and something the developing world did not want to hear. She said, “The environmental problems of developing countries are not the side effects of excessive industrialisation but reflect the inadequacy of development.” It is not that the poor Filipino people are stupid or don’t care for the environment, it is that they lack the resources and development to meet their basic needs and also preserve and protect the environment. This is something I will come back to in future blog posts and something that I am thinking deeply on during my time here. Tito Tony talked about poverty as being a mindset— “a behavioral problem with economic consequences” and also environmental consequences. I think this is really interesting and will continue to ponder the idea.
I will continue exploring, learning, and sharing my adventures and thoughts with you.
Until next time,