07 Jul
  • By Ben Fijal
  • Cause in

First Step On The Big Journey: The Philippines (Part 1)

Our first and second day in the Philippines.

It’s funny to think that we only decided to come to the Philippines about a week ago. We were going to start our trip in Sumatra, but due to Ramadan we were finding it hard to connect with the people that we wanted to meet there. So we looked at the map, knew that we needed to be in Taiwan on July 8th and saw that the Philippines was smack dab en route and just booked it.

My dad has been trying hard to reach out to his network through Green School, so that we can do some interesting and meaningful things in the Philippines. Eventually, through friends of friends of friends, we got linked up with Raf from MAD Travel. MAD stands for “Make A Difference”, and Raf is a guy who wants to do just that. So, after battling Manila traffic for around 4 hours we finally met up with Raf at the rendezvous point. We had another 4 hour drive ahead of us to get to our destination. Raf told us he was taking us to visit an indigenous group they were collaborating with to restore a deforested area on their ancestral land.

With our new friends, Jella and Lerisse.

We weren’t alone in the car, two other young Filipina adventurers came along for the ride too. As my dad says, “It’s amazing how the universe unfolds”, and we were soon caught up in an excited conversation about our respective projects. Coincidentally, all of us were passionate about social enterprise and we had so much to share. I soon found myself giving a TRI presentation in the darkness of the backseat speeding down the freeway towards our destination. We shared ideas, became quick friends and planned collaborations. Jella and Lerisse just so happened to be engaged in projects related to ethical fashion, so the opportunity for a collab was huge.

We reached The Circle Hostel Zambales  at 1 a.m. and the sleeping area was something I’ve never seen before. It looked as if it was pulled right out of a cartoon. There were around 60 beds packed into a small bamboo hut with bunks stacked three high.

After a five hour sleep, we got off to an early start and met the chief of the tribe we would visit in a village called San Felipe. I was surprised to see our transportation for the day. It was a giant buffalo with a flat bed cart trailing behind him. We made off into a river delta that had been covered with 15 meters of volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Pinabato 25 years ago. Vegetation is returning to this area, but it’s a slow process and much of the land that was once very fertile is now difficult to grow food in.

Our transportation for the day.

Raf explained to how the lava flow and ash were the final straw for the already struggling indigenous people in that area. The problem is their ancestral land had been deforested over the last 100 years to about 3 percent of its original glory. Eroded mountains that only grow thin grass now were once covered in massive hardwood trees.

My dad and I wondered where those trees might be now. Are they furniture in America or Europe? Are they the houses of the rich in Manila, Singapore, or Jakarta? Wherever they are the absence of tree cover on these slopes makes this ecosystem as much as 10 degree celsius hotter as Raf explained to us during our debrief. We also learned how the trees, the rain, the waterfalls, the rivers, sediment and even the corals in the ocean are all connected in a delicate balance.

Planting 341 Guyabano seeds.

In an effort to do our tiny part in restoring that balance, the chieftain led us to the nursery where we planted 341 Guyabano seedling in pots to be later planted. The chieftain requested this type of tree be planted due to its hardiness and ability to produce fruit (food) for his tribe. After planting, we inspected a hillside that the tribe is restoring with tree cover through support from Raf and MAD Travel. And then we walked over for lunch at the chieftain’s village.

After a yummy feast, we watched elders and kids dance, make music, and find so many ways to amuse themselves. There were so many kids that loved to play and giggle. A simple rubber motor bike tire, a plastic string tied to a bottle cap, a piece of lemongrass used as an arrow, an intense lightning storm and downpour – these are their toys and judging from the screams of laughter and enthusiasm for play, these kids aren’t missing smartphones too much.  

It was an eye-opening first adventure of our trip and we are very grateful to have had a brief look into the lives of indigenous people in the Philippines working to make their world sustainable.  

Chicken Dance with kids from the village. Super fun!

Now, we’re heading to Taipei, Taiwan, for another week of adventure. Hope to see cool change makers there. See you guys on the next blog post!