T(ha)ime to go home

T(ha)ime to go home

As my time in Asia comes to an end, I figure it’d only be right if I ended where I began.  So right now, I am currently making my final blog post in the same seat, in the same airport, that I made my first one.

Over the two months I’ve been here, I’ve developed a certain distaste for the way poverty is approached in the western world.  Granted, some nations have their heads on straight and have the generosity to use their resources and power to actually help those in need.  On the other hand, it personally hurts me that my own country, one with seemingly endless wealth, an abundance of resources, and millions of people able and willing to help, continues to make excuses and dance around the subject.  I have seen more impact in this community, which was literally created out of rocks (seriously.. this place was a quarry 7 years ago and now it’s nature is thriving beautifully) than I have in the country that could easily end hunger in an overnight.  After being away from the culture so long, it almost makes me sick to think about the fact that people are against helping those in need.  Gawad Kalinga is not just some charity that makes homes for the homeless or feeds the hungry.  Gawad Kalinga gives those who came from nothing the tools, knowledge, and voice they need, in order to thrive on their own.  I’ve met kids who, in only two years, have done more to invest in their legacy, than I have throughout my whole life; given my major advantage in upbringing when compared to said students.  I forgot that back home, we don’t see value in those who are of a lower socioeconomic status than ourselves.  I forgot that endless monetary wealth is the “dream,” and that you can’t possibly live a happy, fruitful life without it.  I forgot that everything is a competition, and in the long run, every man is for themselves… Because that’s “just business.”

It’s disheartening to say the least.  I was in Europe during the last presidential race.  There, I got to witness from an outside perspective,  the hate and nastiness that has laid dormant in my country for some years past (No this isn’t politically driven, I am referring to both sides).  And now that I have got to look in on society from outside once again (especially given the recent events that have taken place), I see an even greater divide.  I hope that I am able to bring some of the Filipino mindset and spirit back to America with me.  I hope that I can lead the charge in helping those who are less fortunate and spur a new wave of unison, as that’s what I have been surrounded by and have come to love.  I’ve spoken with Tito Tony and countless other self-made social entrepreneurs here on the farm.  They all know that the GK spirit and vision can be brought about in the States.  I also know this to be true.  But as I mentioned earlier, to end the battle against poverty both domestically and globally, we have to win the battle against the poverty of our minds, and poverty of our hearts.  Everybody has potential.  It takes help from all of us to help people come to know this for themselves.  Everybody has a purpose, everybody can contribute, and no single person is useless.

This will most likely be my last blog post.  We just concluded our post-program travel (10 days in Thailand).  I can definitely say that I am looking forward to seeing all my friends and family, but if I’m being perfectly honest.  I am not too excited to come back home.   I’m looking forward to seeing what impact I can bring back with me.  If you’ve  been keeping up with my blog, thank you for the support.  I hope you enjoyed the journey and I hope that I have helped you to take something away from all of this.

  • Kuya Laurence

Fresh Prince of Baler

Fresh Prince of Baler

Rain rain go away, come back another day.  Last week, it started raining.  And it didn’t quit for 168 hours.  We been through every kind of rain there is.  Lil bitty skinny rain, big ole’ fat rain, rain that flew in sideways, and sometimes, rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.  Unfortunately, it still hasn’t stopped.  We experienced our first typhoon this past week and it killed all ideas we had for outdoor projects.  Given this, I still managed to finalize my first ecobrick video and come up with the outline for my second one.  I also completed my interview video edits and scheduled my final three for this upcoming week.  Other than that, the only other thing on my to-do list is to write up my final solar dehydrator blueprint for Friendchips.

This past weekend we went to the small beach town of Baler (a soon-to-be major, tourist attraction).  The first night we just went to a restaurant and then Jake and I played some intense chess (he beat me 2 games to 1.  The last game he literally beat me by one move but, it’s whatever).  The next day we hiked through the rain through a beautiful forest and a couple rivers.  sadly, our trip was cut short because we eventually encountered waters that were too high.  We decided to set up camp at a nice stream with a makeshift diving board.  Against my best judgment, I decided to jump in the water a couple times although my tattoo isn’t fully healed (don’t worry it’s safe and progressing well).  Later we had some drinks and hit a couple bars.  I befriended the guy who owned the bar.  He was some ex-pirate that had put on a couple pounds and moved to Baler start a new life with his wife.  He ended up giving me his treasured wrist band and a couple of us concluded the night with some skinny dipping on the beach.  The next day we finally had some sunshine and clear skies so we decided to hit the beach and some of the group tried to surf.  Katie and I were sidelined because of our tattoos, so I got a lot of reading done.  We ended the trip with some burritos and a long drive home.

This week will be full of community immersion and project wrap ups, as we have officially begun our final week at GK.  Last night, Jake and I went to have dinner at our tita’s sisters house in Angat.  This was by far the best meal I’ve had in the Philippines and it was a true bonding experience.  Hopefully, we’ll get to have our final meals with a couple other community members we’ve come to be good friends with.  The French interns are going to throw us a Despedida on Thursday and Friday will be dedicated to our final goodbyes.  Becuase of the rain, I don’t have much to update you on.

Becuase of the rain, I don’t have much to update you on.  Just stay on the lookout for my final blog post that I’ll be writing on my way to Thailand.

*Insert funny rice pun here*

This past weekend I had the pleasure of riding in a 13 person van crowded with 16 people for 9 hours.  The time had come for us to take the road trip that would lead me to the great Whang-od.  But, before we reached her, we made a couple of stops.

We left at 8 pm Friday night to arrive in Banaue at 4 am Saturday morning.  Somehow, someway, my crankiness threw off my thinking enough to convince myself that I did not need to eat before our 4-hour trek through Banaue Rice Terraces.  Oh well.  After watching our first mountain top sunrise, we got dropped off at the start point and took off.  Now, I apologize, but I’ve never been one to go into great detail about describing scenery and places I visit.  I always feel like my words don’t do such places justice.  Same with pictures, a picture is worth a thousand words, but a thousand words aren’t enough to describe what I saw this weekend.  So I’ll give a brief description of the view and let pictures do most of the talking:

1st: Banaue Rice Terraces

After the rice terraces, we packed up and went to our hostel in Sagada, where we rested for the rest of the night.

The next day we woke up at 4 am again to go to the Sea of Clouds.  Just take a look:

2nd: Sea of Clouds

After leaving the most stunning view I’ll probably ever see in my life we took off for the Hanging Coffins in Sagada.

3rd: Hanging Coffins

– forgot to take pictures of the actual coffins :/

OK, now it was time to go meet the legend herself.  We drove another 2 hours through stunning/ dangerous mountains.  Finally, we had made it to Tinglayan, Kalinga.  My heart started racing once I saw the remote village up in the mountains.  I was ready for our third mountain hike in 24 hours.  Mai, our supervisor went to talk to the locals and get us a tour guide.  Unfortunately, she came back with devastating news.  Apparently, Whang-od was not doing tattoos today, a large group of foreigners had arrived the day before us.  She said that if I wanted to get a tattoo from the legend I would have to stay overnight. Imagine the disappointment I felt upon the realization that the tattoo I had been looking forward to for the last 4 months would not be happening unless I stay alone in a remote, mountain village with no phone, and somehow had to make the journey all the way back to GK the next day alone.   Although nobody else was up for it, I packed my bag and we hiked up to the village.  When we got to the top, our tour guide was going to take us to at least meet the adorable old lady, but her line was too crowded and we could not get through.

So, defeated and disappointed, we walked all the way back to the van and went home.




I’m kidding.  Luckily, a reporter had recently told Whang-od that her Kalinga tattoo style was a dying art and would end with her.  When she learned this, she decided to teach 5 of her nieces and daughters the art.  (Sidenote: Whang-od doesn’t have a clue that she’s famous…  Crazy right?)  So, Katie and I went up a couple more levels and found two of her nieces who only had one person in the chair, meaning we could get our tattoos and make it back in time to catch the van.  I went first.  I sat down in the chair and told her what I wanted.  My idea was to get the moon and sun Kalinga design circled around the tattoo of my sister’s tombstone on my back.

Nope…  they couldn’t find a circle big enough to trace the design around so I had to think of a new tattoo on the spot.  If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo, you can imagine how frustrating it would be to find out you have to come up with a new tattoo on the spot, after the one you had been planning for weeks now could not be done.  So I let Katie go first.  She got a scorpion on her wrist, and it only took 10 minutes (and looks pretty sick).  Now I was ready with my new design.  When I watched Katie get hers, I thought she was just being a baby when she was cringing at the pain.  I knew these tattoos hurt more than normal machine tattoos, but it couldn’t be that much worse, right?  I mean, it was only a small wrist tattoo.  So I sat down.  I’m not going to lie, my other tattoos did not come close to the pain of the needle and hammer.  So for about 45 minutes, I sat with my jaw and fists clenched.
It was 100% worth it:

I decided to go with the serpent eagle design.  Not for any particular reason, I just thought it looked cool.  I found out after, that the Kalinga serpent eagle represents “freedom through bravery.”  I guess that has a pretty nice ring to it.

Anyways, we paid for our tattoos (mine only cost me 800 pesos, which is about $16 USD…absolute steal), thanked Marie, and made our way back down the mountain.

I’m pretty sad that I did not get to get a tattoo directly from Whang-od, but I heard hers hurt a lot worse (I’m also trying to go back next week to get mine from her).  Also, I got to see her in action and meet a couple of her sisters.  Funny story: I did not know that she had sisters, so I went up to one of them thinking she was Whang-od and shook her hand and attempted to hug her.  So that was pretty embarrassing.  The rest of the trip was just a bunch of uncomfortableness and complaining by myself and fellow interns and we made it back to the farm around 2 am Monday morning.  Safe to say, this was a great trip filled with even greater memories.  Now we only have two weeks left on the farm.  Last week, I made my first ecobrick video covering ecobrick capacity.  This week, I will begin my next video while waiting for final approval on my first video.  Other than that, I will be sitting around, waiting for my next opportunity to be used on the farm.  Waiting for the call when I am needed.  I may not be the intern that the farm deserved, but I am the one that it needs… Laurence, The Dark Night Rices…  (had to get my rice pun in there :p)

Oh btw, Hi Katie’s mom.

King of the Aeta

King of the Aeta

I came, I saw, I conquered….

You can now refer to me as King Buhok.

This past weekend we embarked on the “Tribes and Treks” tour with MAD travel in San Felipe, Zambales.  We arrived at our hostel around 11 pm on Friday night, after traveling with public transportation for 7 hours.  The hostel was small, adorable, and contained many ecobrick structures which really captured my interest.  The next day we took a jeepney to a remote town about 15 minutes away from our hostel.  From there, we began our one and a half hour hike to the middle of nowhere.  ONce we got to somewhere, nowhere, Zambales, we were shown a nursery where MAD Travel had begun its tree planting operation

I guess a little bit of background is necessary.  Zambales fell victim to natural deforestation when the local volcano erupted and destroyed a huge majority of forest cover decades ago.  Since then the toll has been ever-increased by illegal, unregulated logging.  Recently, reforestation efforts have been initiated, which was part of the reason we were there.  After 2 hours of work in the nursery, we had successfully planted 1,060 seedlings.

Once we were done planting and had finished our lunch, we took another hike and eventually arrived in the Aeta village.  The Aeta people are an indigenous tribe that live in scattered mountains on Luzon Island.  They are considered Negritos and have very small stature.  But the one trait I must mention, which was also my favorite trait, is the beautiful, lusciousness of their hair.

*Story Time*… During my time in the Philippines, I have noticed that people tend to laugh at me whenever they see my afro.  At first, I thought it was out of pure admiration and astonishment (most of it was).  But later, I learned that curly hair was often associated with lower status indigenous tribes of the past and that is what was making people laugh.

Back to the post…  These people all had beautiful curly hair that looked like it was styled by the hair gods themselves.  And then here I come, all 6’4″ of me, fro out and freshly detangled/ conditioned, finally arriving amongst his people.  They loved it!  The kids took a certain liking to me and I was eventually turned into a human jungle gym against my will.  If you want, you can come to their school and observe the official art gallery of “Mr. Buhok.”  In Tagalog, buhok means hair.  If that wasn’t enough to solidify my celebrity status, this might do it.  About 15 minutes after we arrived, the tribe elder Chieftess ( A beautiful 95-year-old lady who still moves like she’s in her early 60’s) hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek (in front of her husband *crowd gasps*).  At first, this didn’t seem like anything but a cute gesture.  I was later informed that this apparently symbolized our marriage, making me “King of the Aeta’s.”

In all seriousness though, this trip was my favorite weekend I’ve had in the Philippines.  I was given the privilege of becoming acquainted with the most unique people you could meet.  I was taken in and accepted as a Kuya and friend.  I learned archery and got to buy an authentic Aeta bow and arrow set.  I got to take on some beautiful views amongst the landscape.  And, I got to aid in reforestation efforts in a land that desperately needed it.  We ended the trip by relaxing on the beach for a short stint and then finished the night off with some cards and drinks.

It was an all in all great time that I would do over in a heartbeat.  Today we are leaving for Banue and we will be traveling all weekend.  I’ll finally be meeting Phang-od and getting my Batok tattoo.  Wish me luck on that.  I’m hoping I don’t end up getting a life threatening infection like some girl I read about in a blog post who had also gone to the legend for a tattoo.

Until next time, have fun and go enjoy life.

Progress Report

Progress Report

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and I apologize for that.  Things have been moving pretty slow, at times, here on the farm.  The past couple weeks have mostly consisted of bonding with the community and trying to find ways to develop our projects.  So, just to update you on the projects I mentioned in my last post…

1- video content:                                                  – This is coming a lot slower than I had hoped as a majority of the SEED students with enterprises are on their break and won’t be back until around the time we leave. That being said, I have completed editing the interviews of two of the three biggest enterprises on the farm. I have met with the third entrepreneur and we are currently working to set up a time. As far as the student interviews go, I’m having a little bit of trouble coordinating with them, but once I get my hands on them you’ll have the videos I promised.

2- Ecobricks:                                                         – We had a meeting with the MAD Travel team and have set up our goals and expectations for this project. Katie and Jill were given the tasks of coming up with 30 social media posts for ecobricks, while I am supposed to come up with an ecobrick promotional video. We are supposed to have these done by July 20th. In the meantime, we have been going around the community speaking with prominent titos and titas about getting on board with our project. So far, all of the ones we’ve spoken too have agreed to collect community plastic so that we can come around and collect it for later use. Finally, we have finished our presentation for the management team, and have received a one hour demonstration outline to present to the community/ schools.

3- Friendships:                                                     – We are having a lot of trouble getting funding for any of our projects and most of my time has gone to ecobricks, so I have not yet started on my solar dehydrator. Given this, I have the model drawn up and know what supplies I need so as soon as I get funding Jake and I will begin construction.

4- Natural pesticides:                                         – After I spent a couple hours researching this we decided to focus mainly on ecobricks as a social enterprise. Therefore, we are done with this project.

5- Composting and waste management:        – It took us a whole week, but we finally got our compost area set up. We cleared a 40 square foot plot and made 15 compost bins. All we have left to do with those is create the barriers which hopefully will come with the completion of the ecobricks.

6- Azolla pond:                                                     – This project never took off and we were given permission to trash it in order to focus on everything else.

Aside from that, farm life is going great. There was a bit of a security scare for a couple of days the past week but security has been enhanced and we’re all good now (Jake and I also bought machetes so I dare someone to break into our room). I desperately miss American food. I am completely used to the heat and humidity and have become comfortable with my surroundings. We just got back from a trip to Cagbalete Island. We spent the weekend there with a large group of Filipinos. I’ll throw some pictures up but other than that, we’ll just leave it at “it was fun.” We celebrated 4th of July to the best of our capabilities (beer, pool, and country music), and I got to enjoy my first Despedida (look it up). All in all, I still feel like this is a great personal experience and there is still a lot to come in these final three weeks. We have one trip planned for Zambales, where we will be replanting a forest, doing some archery, and attempting to surf with an indigenous tribe. One trip to Baler, where I will perfect surfing. Lastly, one trip to Banaue, where we will be visiting a mountainous rice terrace, and making the dangerous trek to find the oldest mambabatok tattoo artist, Whang-Od (100 years old, she’s famous, look her up).  Until next time, enjoy!

Time to work

Time to work

The fun is over, and the research has begun.

After going through our 7-day challenge and a week of meeting with our supervisors, we have finally set the terms for our research projects.  As a part of our internship, we are required to keep an activity log, keep an active blog, conduct research on topics given to us/ topics that we see necessary within the farm, and reflect on the knowledge gained upon returning from our trip.

For our work on the farm, we are required to engage in farming activities with community members and basically serve where we are needed.  At the same time, we are expected to work and get involved with the student-run enterprises.  This task is posing a problem right now since most of the students are either on break or busy harvesting mangos.

Project 1: Video Content

  • This is my personal, side-project that I hope to give the most time to, as I believe it is the most necessary aspect GKEF is missing.  I have begun conducting interviews with the owners of enterprises on the farm and a select group of students/ community members.  For the enterprises, I would like to get the story of what they do and their contribution to ending poverty in the Philippines up and running on the GK website in order to enhance their marketing presence and give people an idea of what is going on here on the farm.  My goal is to gather the content and then, beginning in August, work with someone with more experience in website design, to create an interactive map that outlines the farm and its enterprises.  For the people,  I am interested in getting their personal stories online and on the blog for the world to hear.  There is no question that the greatest part about Gawad Kalinga is the people and their stories.  never have such stories had such an impact on me personally, especially in such a short period of time.  I believe that everyone back home could benefit and learn something if they have the opportunities to hear what I have heard.

Project 2: Eco-bricks

  • I will be working with one of the French interns to develop and implement a system of eco-brick construction on the farm.  In short, eco-bricks are a collection of used/ recycled plastic bottles that are filled with trash and used as building infrastructure.  This is a great form of recycling that is really beginning to poke its head out the door in the Philippines.  This will be my main research project.  My 3 goals with this project will be:
  • 1. To create a community outreach program.
  • 2. To create a youth outreach program
  • 3. To create a demo for the GK management team and potential Sponsors.

Project 3: Friendchips/ renewable energy options for agriculture

  • I have been asked to assist with research for the social enterprise: FriendChips.  This enterprise creates healthy, and creative snack alternatives for the Philippines.  My job is to research more efficient methods of drying and packaging the products.  At the moment, I am looking into different chemical preservatives that can enhance the process while also trying to create a solar dehydrator; allowing them to abandon their current method of using an oven, for a renewable, self-sustaining drying system.

Project 4: Natural pesticides

  • Us interns have been separated into 2 different groups of 2 for our final projects.  The first project is the renewable energy options for agriculture which I will be working on with Jake.  For the second, Jill and I will be looking into creating a business model for a natural pesticide social enterprise.  We are currently in the stage of researching Filippino agriculture.  This includes problematic pests, current herbicides and insecticides used in farming, and natural solutions/ replacements for these mentioned factors.  In the coming weeks, we will be presenting the business model at a GK-run business camp for social entrepreneurs.  Wish us luck!

Project 5: Composting and waste management

  • We had been looking into creating and implementing a compost system within the farm, as the one created a couple years ago fell through.  We met another French intern who began recreating a compost system in a section of the farm.  She was unable to complete the project, as she did not have the manpower.  So beginning sometime this week, we will be assisting her with that.  We are also looking into raising community awareness for waste management.  There is a decent amount of trash lying around the farm.  The reason for this is that there are not many disposal bins/ areas and education on the subject is minimal to non-existent amongst community members.  We are going to try and create waste/ recycle bins out of compost and create signage for them.  We are also going to go into the local schools/ community to try and give information sessions on the importance of proper waste management for the surrounding environment.

Project 6: Azolla Pond

  • This project I am not so sure about.  We have been given the task of improving the Azolla Pond which is a 6×6 ft concrete-enclosed pond with no room for expansion.  Nobody in the farm has any information on Azolla and all we know about its current use is that it is fed to livestock.  We did find out that it can be used as a fertilizer in rice cultivation so I guess that might be the route we take.  We’ll see about this one.

This is a lot to do in only two months.  But the thing we have going for us is the fact that there is not much else to do on the farm other than work and research.  In addition, every Friday we will be traveling to other GK villages in Bulacan to get a taste of how GK is run outside of the farm.  The next blog post will be uploaded once I have a progress report on some of the projects.

In other news, Jill and I found the local gym and got memberships.  That’s where we’re headed right now.  Catch you later!



Finally Famous

Finally Famous

You guys I’m finally famous. Kind of… Not really… But being here might be the closest I get to experiencing that life.

The other day we took our first trip into the city (Angat). Before we came here, I was told that me being a 6’4” black guy with an afro would get a little bit of interest from the kids. What an understatement. We rode trikes, which are basically a small motorcycle with a sidecar attached, into the city and I’m too big to fit inside. So I got to stand on the back. I am not exaggerating when I say that I had every single eye in the city locked in on me and my hair. There were people driving on the other side of the road who, with total disregard for public safety, turning around to stare. Kids eye would light up with joy (sometimes fear) and one even followed me around for 5-10 minutes. In the village, one of the elderly ladies starting dancing as soon as I walked in her store. Leading to her and a friend asking to pet me. I’ve had a truck of people take out their phones to record me, and I can’t walk through the GK village without little kids wanted to treat my hair like a jungle gym. Let’s just say, that my ego was definitely bigger than the fro itself.


Full-body massages were 400 pesos ($8 USD), and you can actually have someone come to your room and give you a massage. I also met someone in the village named Laurence. I don’t know what it is about him, but I like that kid. I guess that power just comes with the name. We have a pool with a beautiful mountain view right next to our rooms. Ugh, what else? I wish I had been writing everything down as we go because there is just way too much to take in. Yesterday a couple of us interns got to go on a day trip to the breathtaking Ta’al Volcano. That night we ended up on the Manilla Strip and the big city got a nice introduction to Laurence Henderson. I can tell that thisIi going to be an exciting two months filled with hard work, relationship building, heat stroke, good food, and lasting memories. I feel like I could write a book on everything we’ve done so far and it’s only been a week. But I will spare you the small details and keep this one short and simple.

Maybe I can become a Filipino hair model or something.


Update: The next post will include my current projects and research that I am conducting.