09 Oct Guest Blog: Gaining A Green Thumb in the Philippines

By Mariah Dempster, EMBRACE volunteer

Throughout my time in the various EMBRACE communities within Camarines Sur, I have been able to experience a multitude of learning, development and inspiration from the extensive programs I have been observing. Ranging from Maternal and Child Health, Food Security, Nutrition, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, to Permaculture and Kitchen Gardening. This project highlights the importance of creating sustainable change for families in remote areas with a focus on community empowerment and leadership.

When I arrived in the Philippines I was excited to immerse myself into the culture and community. As someone who has not travelled internationally and has no previous development experience I was completely new to everything. Although this can be overwhelming, it was an opportunity to learn from those around me.

Throughout my time observing the different EMBRACE projects, I was inspired by permaculture. This is the act of the developing agricultural ecosystems that are sustainable and self-sufficient. It incorporates the land and its inhabitants, connecting plants, animals, and climatic factors. Specifically to EMBRACE Philippines, this is done in the form of small scale gardening at the household and community level to grow local nutritious vegetables for beneficiary families. To name a few, okra, kalabasa (squash), adobong (long beans), ube (taro) and bitter gourd are vegetables commonly found in a permaculture garden. I was able to see this inspiration first hand in the community of San Vicente, from a woman named Leodita.

Leodita is the permaculture champion of her community. This title means that she is considered an expert on permaculture, and has completed multiple trainings within the EMBRACE project to sustain this achievement. As part of this role she helps to train and support other community members with their permaculture gardens. This introduction to permaculture has provided Leodita with the skills to create a sustainable and nutritious food source within her own backyard. Her permaculture garden has also worked to reduce food expenses, and increase the consumption of nutritious vegetables for herself, two children and husband. She no longer needs to purchase vegetables from the market, and has gained a strong sense of achievement from harvesting her own crops. Before learning about permaculture Leoditas consumption of nutritious food was limited as feeding a family is expensive. There is also a lack of awareness in her community about the benefits that vegetables can have on development and growth, and the importance this has for stronger maternal, child and new born health. As a result of this many families do not consume enough nutritious foods and vegetables.

Leodita shared that permaculture has given her the treasure of knowledge that she will pass forth as a mother and a community member. She is currently using her permaculture training to help her complete high school education, and has a new found passion for studying agriculture further. With this education, Leodita plans to teach those around her that it is possible to sustain a permaculture garden, and that keeping a positive mindset is the key to working within a garden.

In this community permaculture gardens are also known as “mandalas” because of the shape the gardens are planted in. Mandalas are normally a form of art, symbolizing a journey through life. After meeting Leodita and seeing the determination and commitment that she has put into her garden I realized that this is a beautiful expression of a mandala. This garden signifies the journey of a woman taking the steps toward a stronger, healthier and new way of living. It means learning and practicing new skills, embracing change, and building upon the feelings of empowerment and success. Having the opportunity to have spoken with Leodita I saw the positive impacts that permaculture training and the EMBRACE project have helped her achieve, and wish nothing but the best for Leodita and the community of San Vicente.

About the author: Mariah Dempster is an Agent of Change on behalf of Youth Challenge International (YCI) and ADRA Canada in the EMBRACE Project with ADRA Philippines. She is currently a fourth year student at Laurentian University and is completing a Bachelors Degree Social Work.

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