Archive for the ‘the Philippines’ Category

David Zhou, Michel Maupoux, and students from Northwestern reflect on their project of installing water pumps in the Philippines.

Over the past year, a team of students from Northwestern started working on a technology called the hydraulic ram pump.  By communicating with Green Empowerment and Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc (AIDFI), a local NGO in the Philippines, our team slowly began to build up knowledge of the pump and its system. We learned that the ram pump functioned purely as a mechanical system with two moving parts and that it used gravity from falling water to build up pressure and push water uphill. To further experiment with the pump system, we built our own model and received a full-size ram pump body from AIDFI. After learning about some of its minutiae, we began to brainstorm ways to improve the system. One of the main problems with the ram pump is that the waste valve becomes harder to open with increasing size of the pump. Hundreds of pounds of force needs to be applied in order to start a 6 inch ram pump, one of the newest models. Our team designed a lever mechanism that could be affixed to the pump and allow the user to apply the leverage necessary to manipulate a 6 inch pump. At the end of the academic year, four members from the team traveled to the island of Negros in the Philippines to help install and implement a new ram pump system.

The installation crew - tired but content

When I first arrived in the Philippines and went to the construction site, two things immediately struck me. First was the steepness of the hill that led to the source of water. The climb was over 60 meters and by the time I climbed to the top my thighs were burning, my back was drenched with sweat, and I was out of breath. I couldn’t imagine Filipinos, especially kids, having to carry heavy buckets of water up these hills. Second was the amiable nature of the workers. Each worker had to walk 30 minutes a day and needed to brave the unpredictable weather; yet, each of them was cheerful and outgoing. After a couple weeks of building, the ram pump structures near the source were completed and work moved to Tres Hermanos to build the reservoir, line, and tap stands. There, the residents had to endure a similar grueling walk in order to fetch water. During our stay, an auxiliary line was diverted for us from the pump and it soon became a gathering place for the villagers. People came to shower, to wash their clothes, and to fill their water jugs. I was seeing firsthand the impact that clean, running water was having on the community. When the distribution line was finished, tests showed that the pump was delivering twice as much water as predicted, over fifty thousand liters per day! This would provide ample water to the 48 households in Tres Hermanos. Now that I am back in the US, I am so thankful to have had a chance to work on this project with AIDFI and Green Empowerment and my Northwestern teammates. It has made me appreciate the little things in life that we in America take for granted. We will not easily forget the people we met in the Philippines nor the friendships we made.


Read Full Post »

Written by Michael Royce.

Board members Francie and Michael Royce travelled to Anangue on February 16, 2010, to visit a small village where AIDFI implemented a ram pump project nine months ago. Green Empowerment will lead a trip of Northwestern students this June to help with the installation of another ram pump project in neighboring Tres Hermanos, which now must haul its drinking water from a distant location.

Whether the cause is global warming or El Niño, it is unseasonably hot in the Philippines- more like the summer heat of May and June than February. Nevertheless, Francie and I trudge up the path to Anangue, a small sitio (a Filipino municipal subdivision), along with Auke Idzenga, Technical Director, and Liloy Caliplip, Community Organizer, for the Alternative Indigenous Foundation Inc. (AIDFI).

AIDFI is the Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) partner of Green Empowerment on Negros Island in the Visayas, the island cluster at the center of the Philippines. We have driven from Bacolod, the capitol city of Negros, less than an hour on the paved road, then almost another hour on a bone-jarring stony and rutted dirt road, until even our jeep-like vehicle can go no further, and we hike the final 3 kilometers to Anangue. I notice ruefully that we are the only ones foolish enough to walk in the direct sun of midday. Shy children peer at us from between the bamboo slats of houses as we pass. Looking back, we see the richness of the mountain jungle trailing off into the coastal plains and Bacolod in the far distance, hugging the bright blue of the Guarasi Straight and farther out the Sulu Sea.

We are on this adventure to see the ram pump AIDFI installed in May, 2009, to bring drinking water to the community. We arrive in Anangue, a loose string of poor, rural houses in the upland area above Bacolod at the foot of the Cordillera dividing Negros Occidental from Negros Oriental and stand in the shade of one of the first homes on the path we have been following. A bamboo sled loaded with vegetables is in front loaded with vegetables, which a Carabau, a domesticated water buffalo, will later haul down to the road several kilometers so that the produce can be shifted to some truck or bus going into the city for sale. Francie and I listen to the joking exchange between Auke, Liloy and the villagers in the local language of Ilongo spoken on this side of Negros and one of the 8 major tongues among the 171 indigenous languages of the Philippines. Unable to understand a word, we hear the laughter, and see that information is being exchanged.

Auke and Liloy seem a little grim as we leave. Water is raised 81 meters of vertical lift by the ram pump to a central concrete reservoir at the high point of the village and then carried by gravity through plastic pipes to seven different water posts to serve all 45 households (about 270 people) of the sitio. Although there is still enough water in the early morning, by mid-day most of the watering sites only have a trickle of water. Is there some technical problem with the ram pump? Or have villagers been ignoring the rules of Anangue’s elected Water Committee, using more water than their agreed share? Each household is guaranteed water for a monthly payment to the village Water Committee of 20 pesos (less than 50 cents) to pay for maintaining the ram pump and building a reserve fund for replacement of the few inexpensive moving parts of this robust technology. If all goes well, there is also some excess money for other local development projects. Is the water shortage the age-old issue of the individual versus the commons? Each villager knows they need more water for their own use, but maybe they do not see the need to conserve and share water sustainably for the whole village.

We walk to the edge of the cliff descending sharply to an artesian spring abruptly issuing from the side of the mountain in a ravine 240 feet below us. Following Auke and Liloy, we plunge down a steep, barely visible trail through the verdant tropical jungle. The spring water is potable and is the only local source for the community. As I mournfully reflect I am getting a little old for this billy goat scrambling in the humid, stifling heat of midday, I look back to where Francie has suddenly disappeared behind me. Losing her footing, she has plummeted off the side of the trail head first, glissading toward the bottom until she comes to rest beside a large bamboo tree. Her dignity is slightly diminished and she sports some attractive new scratches on her arms, but essentially she is fine. We retrieve personal articles from various points of her descent and then she brightens, realizing she has covered a good deal of the remaining distance down to the ram pump.

We have heard the hammer-like thump of the 3.5 inch ram pumps for some time now and Auke examines the retaining tank and the ram pumps themselves. With the wonderful regularity of good appropriate technology, these robust machines slam a valve shut creating pressure in the pump chamber from the large rush of intake water dropping about 12 feet which then mechanically lifts a smaller, but substantial, flow of water almost 250 feet to a concrete reservoir, holding 32,000 liters, at the high point of the village. All is operating flawlessly; the low flow of water from the posts is not a technical problem.

Francie and I trudge up the hillside, unsuccessfully trying to keep up with Auke and Liloy, and arrive at the top dripping with sweat and a better understanding of what it meant for the children of the village to haul water from the spring to their houses each day. A gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds. For a teenage boy or girl to tote 4 gallons of water to their house each day was a hard and time-consuming task, providing perhaps one-half gallon for each family member per day for cooking and all other purposes. The World Health Organization estimates 10 gallons per day per person is needed for minimal cooking, health and sanitation needs.

As we hunker around the central reservoir, a small knot of villagers approach to talk to and eyeball the strangers. Again much laughter and teasing between the community and Auke and Liloy, who is well known because he has spent much time in the village helping them prepare for the ram pump installation and to form the Water Committee. After some discussion, we are invited to one of the houses for coffee.

Walking to the house, we see that Auke and Liloy are relieved. “Yes, each family is using more water than was originally planned,” says Auke, “but look now they have small patio gardens and they told us that they can raise animals such as pigs and chickens at their home, which was impossible before because of the labor of hauling water. This is a good thing and what a water project should do- not just drinking water, but a chance to improve living conditions and earn a little money. At the start, there was too much water and it overflowed from the outtake valve of the reservoir. It is natural that the village thought they should use the water instead of letting it be wasted. These rural farmers are quite inventive after all.” Liloy tells us he will come back soon and help the Water Committee determine a new allocation of water so that each household will receive their fair share to avoid conflicts. “Maybe every family could have a different time to use water during the day so that the draw on the reservoir would be constant and not drain the tank dry… and maybe,” muses Auke, “we can increase the total flow to the village by installing a larger ram pump in June when we build the system for the neighboring community of Tres Hermanos, which will draw from the same water source.”

As we walk to the home of Roberto Barganio, a young man perhaps twenty, who is the secretary of the Water Committee, we see a small pond where one family raises Tilapia, a fish to supplement their diets and a further explanation of where some of the water is used. Robert’s extended family, at least three generations, lives in a two-room house with immaculate packed earth floors, rough-hewn local wood for the slatted sides, and corrugated metal for the roof, which must have been laboriously hauled by cart up the path. We notice a neighbor woman, who has dressed up for the occasion, joins us on the way to Robert’s house with four little packets of Nescafe for the guests.

With Auke and Liloy translating our questions from English into Ilongo, we ask Barganio what difference the water project has made. We think the answer will be simple- that they do not have to work so hard to bring water to the village and have easier access to potable water- but we are surprised. “In the past, we could not let the children wash in the morning before they walked to school because there was not enough water. We notice now that they young ones have fewer skin diseases because of being able to wash their hands and faces. We eat better now because we have more vegetables from our little gardens and we can keep animals for meat with our meals sometime.” Auke has noticed the neat, but empty, little piggery that Robert has built outside his own house and asks him where his pig is. Robert smiles shyly. “I was just married last month and my pig was the wedding feast… but I am saving to buy another one.”

We also ask how the Water Committee impacts village life. Robert tells us that they used to have a sitio council, but it has not functioned for years. “The Water Committee is the only time the village gets together as a community to talk about common problems. It is where we talk about how we will run our water system, but also about fish ponds, a revolving fund for piglets and other dreams for the future.”

As we leave, we duck under the bitter squash, another use of the new water, that Robert’s family has staked up on a trellis over much of their front yard. Auke, understanding the poverty of the village and the sacrifice that the four packets of coffee represented, covertly slips a small bill and some coins into his goodbye handshake with Robert. The World Bank defines poverty in the less developed world as living on an income of under $2 US per day and extreme poverty under $1. It is clear that in this village individual income is well under $1 US (currently 46 Philippine Pesos) per day- a subsistence community. Auke notes wryly, “A few pennies more income per day from selling vegetables, or some meat, does not sound like much, but if it means your income is double that is a big deal.”

As we walk back down the path to the jeep, Francie and I talk quietly. It has been a good visit. We have met friendly and lively people …. and learned a great deal about what water can mean to a village that has none.

Read Full Post »

Francie Royce and her husband Michael are the founders of Green Empowerment. They are currently in the Philippines evaluating our past installments and documenting the wonderful progress of our partners. SIBAT, which means spear, is making strides in sustainable agriculture. Taste the story below.

Landing in Manila on February 11, after a
22 hour trip from Portland, to LA then through Seoul, Korea, we headed to our Quezon City hotel, the Fersal Inn, for a nap. A basket of sweet yellow mangoes, a bunch of bananas, raw sugar and a jar of honey sent by Shen Maglinte of SIBAT, a Green Empowerment partner, surprised us at hotel reception.The next day we met our friends from SIBAT for lunch at a near-by restaurant, The Tree House. Shen had ordered in advance, so as soon as we sat down, the food started coming. Tilapia, milk fish, sautéed greens in oyster sauce topped with tofu, stuffed lettuce rolls, roasted chicken, hot and sour flavored soup, and on it came. After a filling lunch, we all loaded into tricycles for a short ride to the SIBAT office to meet Ileene the marketing manager of the SIBAT organic foods store and for Michael to begin his interviews with Executive Director Vicki Lopez.

The next afternoon the SIBAT driver picked us up and after collecting Ileene and Vicki, then Vicki’s friends all on slower-than-planned Filipino time, we headed two hours north to TarLac to visit the SIBAT organic farm.

It was past sundown when workers at the farm greeted us with boiled cassava, (filling) and lemon grass tea (refreshing) as we chatted and got to know Vicki’s friends. Back into the van, we headed out to dinner. We were the only customers at The May Farm Restaurant, whose menu heralded organic vegetables and rare meats. Mounted on the wall, heads of small deer looked down on our table and an array of photos showed off the hunting prowess of the owner and his son. One was a photo of a younger man carrying a hoary wild boar on his back with blood dripping down his legs. A brief allusion to the mysterious death of the owner and his son and suggestion of a political murder added to the hunter’s mystic and the weirdness of the restaurant. The soup was tasty, though.

Back at the farm—- Raised beds are planted with a wide variety of rotated crops of leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables. Deep purple egg plants hang from their plants ready to harvest. Farm workers make sure there is enough harvest each week to provision the small organic food store in Quezon City. The farm is a teaching opportunity for surrounding farmers to learn sustainable agriculture. SIBAT’s goal is to teach the teachers to help farmers learn how to farm sustainably, without being dependent on commercial seed and fertilizers.

The main farm building is built of decorative woven palm panels over bamboo poles with a palm thatch roof. We slept soundly on a foam pad laid out under mosquito netting on a split bamboo floor. Roosters all over the country side competing with each other woke us before dawn, early enough to sit outside and watch sunlight creep over the green rice fields of the adjacent farm, shining on the farmer who was already working in his field. A farm worker showed me where hot cups of coffee sat on a counter waiting for takers. The coffee was thick and sweetened with raw sugar. After daylight I found three gently curled, soft downy feathers lying on top of our mosquito netting. Rooster noise woke us but the sparrow flying through our bedroom didn’t.

Posted by Francie Royce

Read Full Post »

The actions of Walt Ratterman speak more clearly about his character than anything I could write. He has personally brought light to thousands of people around the world.  For example, he was the driving force behind bringing solar power to 37 clinics in Burma, serving over  170,000 internally displaced people a year. We had the honor of knowing and learning from Walt, an exemplary humanitarian dedicated to improving life around the world with renewable energy. We traveled and worked together in Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Peru and Nicaragua, while he was Program Director of Green Empowerment from 2003-2006. He worked side by side installing solar panels with Shuar natives in the jungles of Ecuador, traversed the rapids of rivers in Borneo to help on a micro-hydro project, and taught renewable energy in the highlands of Peru. He could easily make friends with people around the world, despite the language barriers, because anyone could relate to his sense of humor and down-to-earth friendliness. In 2006 he founded SunEnergy Power International , carried on his long-time work with Knightsbridge International, and continued to inspire everyone with his hard work, unwavering sense of justice and belief that everyone deserves to be treated as equals. In January, 2010, his dedication to humanity brought him to Haiti, where he was working on the installation of solar power for clinics. He was there when the earthquake hit. Friends and family searched for him in the ruins and sent their prayers.  Tragically, he did not survive, but his legacy lives on. He has taught me, and hundreds of others, that humility is a powerful force that can change the world.

-Anna Garwood and the Green Empowerment team

As a testiment to how many lives he has touched, as of writing this, there are 1882 fans of his Facebook page…


Read Full Post »

Kathy Cooper, a MAP Fellow at SIBAT in the Philippines, has now been in the Philippines for about a month.  SIBAT is a NGO focused on supplying the technical know-how for wind turbine installations and micro-hydropower facilities that provide electricity to rural villages. SIBAT also has a sustainable agriculture program that they integrate with their renewables program to stimulate community level enterprise development.  In this blog Kathy shares her experiences from the past month with the Green Empowerment community.

I love being here so far. My coworkers are friendly, open, and very knowledgeable about subjects I want to learn more about. Matt Hart from Stanford is also here as a volunteer, and there is another intern as well, who has been placed here by Engineers Without Borders, named Ewan. He is from Scotland, and he immediately acquainted Matt and I with his friends, a large circle of Australians. Being integrated into a social network right away has made me feel very at home here. The office community has also embraced us with open arms: I am prepared to face off against my coworkers in a highly-anticipated cooking contest, and Gigit (who does SIBAT’s website design) is an experienced Yoga scholar who leads sessions for Ewan, Matt, Char, and I on Thursdays. My balance has already improved.

I’ve been working on an Excel model that allows a user to input cost and revenue data for a micro-hydro plant (materials costs, labor, O&M, depreciation, anticipated usage etc.) and it calculates the NPV and IRR, and shows how the electricity price should be set for cost recovery. I’m also hoping to integrate tariff schedules into the model. Although the cost part of the project is straightforward enough, the revenues aspect is giving me some trouble because I do not know how to estimate usage without surveying the community. I was originally scheduled to visit the project sites, but then Typhoon Ondoy struck (and then Typhoon Parma struck, and now it’s still raining) and  many rural areas are inaccessible due to bad roads and mudslides.

Which brings me to the most significant part of my update: Typhoon Ondoy. Manila, where I live, experienced the worst flooding in 70 years exactly one week after I arrived. 80% of a city of 13 million people were submerged, and 300 people died. Over 13 inches of rain came down in less than 6 hours. The volume of water pouring down on the city led government officials to open the flood gates of a dam without warning any of the citizens downstream. This caused river levels to rise about 20 feet in some areas, leading to the total devastation of many river communities.

Matt and I took most of last week off work to help out in the relief effort, which mostly involved carrying boxes and pouring rice from 50 kg bags into smaller bags so it could be distributed. We also got to take apart, clean, reassemble, and test some motors that had been submerged in a workshop that makes toys and wheelchairs, and Matt employed his structures know-how to assess the damages on our boss’s house. Working in the relief effort was a moving experience for me. I was able to see first-hand how relief efforts were largely organized and executed by Manila citizens. They didn’t feel like there was time to depend on the government to organize an emergency response, so they just did it themselves. The city truly mobilized.

Next week Matt and I will go live on a farm for a while. We may do some planting, harvesting, assess the site for a renewable energy project, and learn about bamboo construction, the Filipino language, and local cooking. I love how this Fellowship allows me to do so much hands-on work, and I’m very happy to be here.

Read Full Post »

Below is a report describing the development and installation of a hydraulic ram pump system in the community of Herminal. It provides details about the community and the background of the project. While this project is not fully completed the community members are very pleased to have a steady source of water near Herminal.

Background: In 2006 the community of Herminal, through the Barangay, requested that the AIDFI (Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc.) conduct a survey for a water system for the community. The Barangay had heard that there was a possibility for AIDFI to pump up water to higher elevations without the use of electricity or fuel. A survey was carried out and the project was found feasible. This project was later on absorbed in a program through Green Empowerment. However, even with this partnership, there were still not enough funds to cover the full costs of the project. The director of the AIDFI tried to get some counterpart funds from the Municipality of Silay, but the talks between the director and the City Administration of Silay did not result in additional funds. Other projects in the Green Empowerment program were therefore prioritized and when the director of AIDFI went on to another organization, the negotiations were picked up again by another staff of AIDFI and the project was implemented.

Community: Herminal is a sugarcane plantation community that is located on the island of Negros in the Philippines. At the time of the first survey, the place was still a plantation.  In 2008 the area was placed under the land reform program and the sugar workers were able to advantage of the land. The title is still common and needs to be subdivided. There are 78 households and one of the big problems is the supply of water. Previously, before the ram pump system, the people had to fetch water from an unprotected source some 300 meters away and 20 meters down into the ground. In dry season this source would dry up and the community members would have to fetch water from a source that was farther away. Their consumption was limited to an average of two containers per day because of the distance. For bathing and laundry the households would go to the river, which is about 1 kilometer away.

Survey: Herminal was re-surveyed on February 25, 2009 to be sure about the expected output of the source. AIDFI has experienced many sources where the output has diminished over time. From the survey a new design was made and the expected output (to be delivered by the ram pumps to the community) was calculated at 16.500 liters/day.

Design: The amount reserved for Herminal from the Green Empowerment budget was enough to cover the cost for the impounding, catchment, two ram pumps with drive pipe systems, delivery line and a 10.000 liters tank and 5 tapstands. At least water could be pumped to the reservoir, making water more easily available to the community.

Social Preparation: The organizer of AIDFI was assigned to have meetings with the community to form a water assocition, discuss counterparting and participation in terms of labor and local technicians. The organizer also spent a lot of time trying to deal with the Municipality. It was suggested that AIDFI should get itself accredited by the Municipality of Silay in order to be approved as a financial counterpart of the Municipality. Normally, in other Municipalities, this is not too hard, but in Silay they came up with all kinds of additional requests for papers. We sensed that it might take a long time to get a financial contribution so we decided to explain the financial limitation of AIDFI to the community and meanwhile complete the initial parts of construction, meaning installing the ram pumps to pump water up to the reservoir. This would also give us the chance to work on getting financial support from the Municipality in the meantime.

Implementation: A technical installation team from AIDFI worked for 28 days on the installation. The hardest part of the work as the impounding since the soil structure was made of limestone and hard clay. Besides the main source, three other small sources were tapped (protected by cement boxes and connected with HDPE (high density polyethylene pipes). As per plan the system built by AIDFI pumped the water up to the reservoir, leaving the distribution to the tapstands up to a future financial contribution by the City Government. On a rotation basis the people from the community helped in the construction. The water association arranged the schedule for this. The people were paid daily and a small portion of the budget for the local labor went to the association’s fund. This was 20 pesos (40 dollar cents) per day/worker. The system consists of three different springboxes, one big impounding structure and a catchment which is directly connected to the first ram pump of 1 ½” ram pump, followed by a second ram pump of the same size (which utilizes the waste water of the first), delivery pipes from different sized HDPE (each ram has its own delivery pipe) leading to the reservoir over a distance of 230 meters. Then there are five tapstands still to be connected.

Technical data: The flow of the combined sources is 105 liters/min. The first ram pump is 5.5 meters lower than the catchment and delivers around 6.6 liters/min to the 56 meters higher elevated reservoir. The second ram pump is 6 meters lower than the first and also pumps around 6.6 liters/min over a height of 62 meters. The total output is more or less 19.000liters/day and is more than expected. This provides around 240 liters/household/day. This is 200 liters more than before. The ram pumps still have to be fine-tuned and may even deliver more water. The fine-tuning can be done when the installation has gone through the whole curing period.

Impact: Despite the long wait between the first survey and the final installation, the community members have expressed their happiness about the project. Many plans were heard now the members have more water available. From the experience of AIDFI with other communities, we can expect healthier children with less diarrhea and skin diseases, more livestock (mostly pigs), vegetable production and even some aquaculture. Also, because people no longer have to make the long walk to the water source, people will have more time available for more productive activities.

Read Full Post »

The blog below is written by Wendy Phelps, a US Citizen teaching English in Japan with the JET program who spent her alternative spring break learning more about the Philippines with the Green Empowerment partner, AID Foundation Inc., on the central island of Negros in May 2009.

Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Incorporated (AIDFI) was a wonderful host for my five days in the Negros Occidental region of the Philippines.  From the moment they met me at the airport to the very comprehensive schedule they prepared for me, I could not have asked for a better experience.  During my time with them, I got to see first hand the many components of their organization in action.

DAY 1.  Visiting ram pump sites

After Liloy and Roy picked me up from my hotel, we headed east out of Bacolod City to check on two existing ram pump projects.  After driving for almost 2 hours on muddy dirt roads, swerving around overloaded tricycles, we reached our first stop.  We were greeted by half a dozen members of the water association standing under the corrugated metal awning that served as the association hall.  Roy explained to me that out of the dozens of projects AIDFI has implemented in Negros, this is the only community to build an association hall.  Not surprisingly, the ram pump project in this community is well maintained; the result of a strong community leader and real sense of ownership among its members.  After a brief conversation, we went to look at the pump.  From the center of the community where we parked the car, it was about a 15 minute walk.  The last 200 meters were a bit of challenge, weaving through trees on a steep, forested slope.  We found the pump clanging away, providing the 45 members of the association with clean water for drinking and washing, 24 hours a day.  After almost slipping twice en route to the pump site, it was easy to see what a difference having access to water close to home makes for the association members.

We got back in the car and headed to stop two, a slightly bigger installation that serves 150 people who live along a four kilometer span of road.  When we arrived at the leader’s house, there was no one standing out front to greet us.  Closer inspection revealed there was no one home; my guides explained that everyone had gone into town to shop at the Sunday market.  The walk down to the pump here was less treacherous than the first stop’s, but we did have to walk daintily around some large cattle that were also using the path.  Since there was still one more stop on the agenda, we couldn’t wait for the association leader to return.  As we drove back towards the main road, we passed several families walking back home from the market with huge sacks of rice and sugar across their backs.

After a lunch break, we made our way to the last community of the day.  We took the car as far as it would go on another narrow, uneven dirt road, then got out and walked almost a kilometer to reach the house that would host that afternoon’s organizational meeting.  Since it was raining, everyone tried to fit into the small, dim living room, but once the rain stopped, the group, which was mostly women, went outside to better accommodate everyone.  I couldn’t understand much of the content, but their excitement and enthusiasm was easy to recognize.  After electing the officers for the new association, everyone signed their names onto a list, agreeing to help with the installation and maintenance of the ram pump, and verifying their understanding of the monthly dues.  Dues would be around 20 pesos a month, or less than US$0.50.

DAY 2-3.  Staying overnight in Mambugsay

The next morning, I met Toto, an expert in organic farming and composting, who accompanied me on the three hour journey to Mambugsay, south of Bacolod City.  The community we visited is not only home to a ram pump project, but also has an organic lemon grass oil industry.  Each member of the association has a small plot of land (usually under one acre) which they use to grow lemon grass.  At harvest time, lemon grass from different growers is combined in the communal distiller to produce oil, which is then packaged and sold at the AIDFI office.  On the afternoon I arrived, preparations were underway for processing a batch of lemon grass the next morning.  These included removing the remains of the last batch from the distiller and chopping a few hundred kilograms of grass into short pieces so that it would fit into the distiller without being too bulky.

Next on the afternoon agenda was checking up on the composting program Toto had started the last time he was in Mambugsay.  The existing piles were home to some disgusting looking white grubs, which meant they were progressing well and full of nutrients.  The next step was to start a pile for another member of the association.  Half a dozen people worked together to gather materials from nearby.  We used dead lemon grass, green and brown banana leaves, chicken manure, and sticks and leaves from a cacao plant to form a cone.  The outside layer was protected by fresh banana leaves.  Toto said the pile should sit for 45 days, then be turned and left for another 15.  At the end of two months, the compost would be ready to use.  Using compost made of local materials is more economical and much healthier than spraying pesticides, and insures that the oil produced in the community can be sold with an organic label.

Chopping Lemon Grass for the Mambugsay Distiller

Chopping Lemon Grass for the Mambugsay Distiller

The next morning was spent back at the oil distiller.  There was still a sizable mountain of lemon grass to be chopped, and the chopped pieces needed to be scooped into bags and weighed before they could be put into the distiller.  All together, this batch of oil used about 200 kilograms of grass.  The grass was poured into the top of the distiller.  A fire was built underneath.  As the grass heated up, it produced steam that was diverted into a separator.  Once the steam cooled, it would condense and separate into water and the desired oil.  Since water is denser than oil, it left the separator out of a spigot at the bottom, while the oil dripped out from one at the top.  The whole process took about 3 hours, and at the end there was 1.2 liters of oil to take back with us to the AIDFI office.

Compost Pile in Mambugsay

Compost Pile in Mambugsay

DAY 4.  AIDFI Office and TechnoPark

After seeing a few projects in person, I was looking forward to seeing the place where they started from, the AIDFI office.  The office is located on a main road leading out of Bacolod City.  Downstairs is a coffee shop and a garage where the technicians work hard manufacturing different components for the ram pumps and other technologies.  Upstairs there are desks and computers where the director, community organizers and human resources department work.  Out back is the TechnoPark, where several AIDFI technologies have been installed.

On the day I visited, AIDFI staff led two groups of local college students through the park, explaining how each project worked and could be used to benefit communities in sustainable ways.  After the tour groups left, I spent the afternoon working with Toto; feeding the pigs that produced the methane used for cooking in the coffee shop, sifting the substrate from the worm culture pen, and tidying up the grass and small vegetable garden.  In addition to serving as an outdoor classroom for interested members of the general community, the TechnoPark allows the technicians to test their products right on site!  Overall, I was really amazed by the efficiency of the whole operation.  The TechnoPark wasn’t much bigger than a football field, but contained about a dozen different, yet complimentary technologies.

AIDFI’s Techno Park

AIDFI’s Techno Park

DAY 5.  Mt. Kanlaon Area Projects

Each day of my itinerary with AIDFI involved something different from the previous day, and the last day was no exception.  Today’s agenda took us to three communities in the scenic area near the base of Mt. Kanlaon Volcano.  From our approach on a rocky, narrow dirt road, the first community looked just like any of the other ones I had visited.  But a short walk from where we left the car revealed something entirely unique—a community managed swimming pool!  I was so surprised to climb up the stairs and almost fall into its clear blue waters.  Clearly, quantity of water was not an issue here, although like so many other small villages, accessing the water involves a climb over steep, wooded slopes.  This community already has a few ramp pumps which provide water for irrigation, so the purpose of today’s visit was to talk with the leaders about the installation of a small hydropower generator.  While Liloy, Roy and Carl talked about the specifics of the project with community members, I jealously watched the younger residents enjoy the pool.  The pool is a wonderful asset in the hot climate, and has the capacity to be enjoyed by members of neighboring communities, but the bad conditions of the roads in the area leave the pool under utilized.

Our next stop was at the home of a farmer, who like almost all of farmers in the Negros region grows sugar for giant corporations.  This farmer though, has been specially recognized for his high yield crops.  The secret to his success—growing organic!  While we were there, we also got to sample some of his organically grown coffee.  This farmer’s commitment to not using chemical pesticides and fertilizers has paid off with contracts with foreign companies.    From what I understood, he was currently seeking organic certification with a distributor based in Germany.  These contracts help diversify his income, helping to protect his livelihood if one crop fails.

The last stop of the day was to visit members of the AIDFI team who are currently living in a community and preparing the parts of a ram pump to be installed there.  The community had loaned the technicians the use of an empty house to sleep and work in.  Since there is no electricity, they were using a generator made out of an old motorbike engine to power the tools needed to manufacture the pipe connections.  This is the kind of thing I would never think about, since I have always lived in place where electricity is available at the flick of a switch.  This stop exemplified the commitment of the AIDFI staff to their work.  The technicians had been working away from their families for a few weeks, and when AIDFI does projects in other parts of the Philippines, the technicians are sometimes away from home for more than month.

With AIDFI’s busy schedule, I feel very honored to have been able to spend a week with them.  Reading about the projects before I went to the Philippines, it was easy to come to the conclusion that the work they are doing is important.  But to actually visit the projects they have completed and see the enthusiasm in the communities were the work is just starting gave me a much deeper appreciation for what they are able to accomplish.  The ram pump technology may be simple, and consist of door hinges and old tires, but it so much more than just the sum of its parts, freeing up precious time that used to be spent collecting water for other economic pursuits, family time and leisure.

Community Near Mt. Kanlaon

Community Near Mt. Kanlaon

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »