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Experience The Philippines “Organically” At Happy House Farm

TM: What is Happy House Farm’s purpose?

David: The purpose of the Happy House is to act as an education center focused on enhancing human potential, as well as a special home for ourselves.

Right now we are in the early stages of development. We are creating all the infrastructure, so not a lot can be seen apart from two buildings—the Little Happy House (our home plus a self-contained guest house attached) and the Happy House (self-contained guest space). There is also a ‘Big’ Happy House on the property plans!

Creating all the infrastructure from nothing, in an environment with limited water resources is challenging. Even after four years of hard work, we still do not have tap water, but we now have more than sufficient water, which is a huge blessing.

By early 2017, we will have the final pieces of our water infrastructure in place and will have abundant running water to all parts of the property, in an area that, on average, goes seven months without rainfall each year.

How did it get started?

It started with the focus of being our private home, but little did we know at the time that it would evolve into something much bigger.

When we purchased the property four years ago, we were looking to create a “getaway” space for ourselves. At the time, we were focused on running a busy SME business with a staff of 40 employees out of Singapore, Manila, and Baguio City.

Two years ago, our previously successful business ran into massive challenges and we were finally forced to close it down, which left us with “nothing” to do! The challenge was that we had lost our major cash flow. We were left with very little except the land, a Mac computer, and our very simple home (the Little Happy House) that was built in two weeks when we were soon to be homeless.

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Our ‘loss’ was the start of something so new, that for a while we did not know where we could take it. For a year we just focused on survival, with little or no income to expand the farm.

After a year, a close friend offered to ‘give us a hand-up’ (in their words) with a loan. They told us to put together a proposal, and they would see how they could help. I created a ‘big brush stroke’ proposal that would need two million Pesos to implement—not a massive amount in Western terms, but still over 44,000 USD.

Our friend was so polite, and said they were looking at something that we could easily afford to repay! It was then that we got a lot more focused and looked at what we already had and what we could easily create.

We already had the foundations for the Happy House, so we ran with a proposal to create a temporary building for those foundations that could accommodate eight people with lots of space.

Our friend confirmed our focus by giving us 300,000 pesos in cash the very next day to do the upgrade. We were ‘off and running’. Six weeks later, we had the Happy House all ready to receive guests. Since then, it has accommodated over 200 special people from all over the world.

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What kinds of travelers normally stay at Happy House Farm? What types of programs do you offer to people?

Most of our early guests were overseas travelers who were looking for a different experience. They came and helped on projects. Our initial guests did not pay anything and contributed on a 100 percent work-exchange basis, but this was not sustainable for us because we needed cash to expand the project and to survive.

We implemented a nominal contribution to cover food and accommodation, and it worked as a win-win for everyone. At times we would have seven or more people staying and helping out.

At the beginning we tried to run workshops and training courses, but with our location being a little out of the way, we were not successful in attracting local Filipinos. We let things go for a while until we could expand our infrastructure. Right now, we are in ‘trial-and-error’ mode, trying out different ideas to see what creates attraction.

The long-term vision is to become an international destination for people who want to focus on enhancing their human potential, but right now we do not have all the pieces of the puzzle in place to allow for this to happen.

For the time being, we are building our overseas network of teachers, who in the future will be excited to come here when the time is right. We continue to focus on infrastructure, beautification, and local integration (with local support projects like Billy and Be Proud).

The majority of our visitors are still travelers that come from Europe and North America. On average, around 40 percent come from North America, 20 percent from France, and the rest from other European countries and Australiasia. We receive most of our guests from online websites like Workaway, HelpX, and WWOOF.

We recently joined AirBNB, and have received quite a few local Filipino people as guests for the weekend who want to experience something very different.

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Why is organic farming important, specifically in the Philippines?

To be honest, Organic Farming is a secondary focus, but nonetheless a ‘nose-to-the-ground’ focus. Our focus is on eating healthy and natural foods instead of polluted foods. Organic is really a given. It’s not something special for us. It’s all about choosing what feels right, and at the end of the day, why someone would choose unhealthy farming practices over healthy ones.

For overseas visitors, though, organics are VERY important. Here in the Philippines, there is a low understanding on the real benefits of organic agriculture. Overseas, people know the benefits and are attracted to the fact that we’re an organic farm.

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What is most rewarding about Happy House Farm and organic farming?

Watching the bamboo sway in the cool evening breeze after a full day’s work and drinking a cold beer that costs much less than 1 USD!

Life is very simple here in the Philippines. Being a Western person, I find it VERY quiet here at times. And yet I feel deeply nourished as I learn to let go more and more, and deeply enjoy simple things and simple living.

As each day passes, we focus on improving what we have on the farm and bringing the long-term vision more into focus.

 

About David and Carol

d77646_a8ce733ad8884111bff84a75f2a78992David was born in the UK, and has lived in Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, and now the Philippines. He has traveled to Germany, Scotland, England, Ireland, India, Nepal, Australia, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. He has created and co-created eight companies in five countries over 20 years, and is most proud of Buy1Give1.com. He is now a ‘trainee’ organic rice farmer in the Philippines with Happy House Farm.

Carol was born in the Philippines. She has lived over 15 years in Singapore, and is now back in the Philippines. Her passion is people. She wanted to be a nurse and started the training, but didn’t have enough money to continue her studies. Instead she cared for her six siblings, paying their way through school by working as a domestic support person in Singapore. These days, she is a mother to Kyra, who is still only three years old but loves cooking and caring for our guests.

March 31, 2016
Climate Change Work & Life Abroad In The Philippines

TM: What kind of work do you do with climate change in the Philippines?

Naima: I am working under two different hats in the Philippines: one a policy hat, the other a private sector hat, but both hats share the same “green” color.

Under the policy hat, I work as a research fellow for the Ateneo School of Government towards collaborating with the private sector on developing policies and incentives consistent with sustainable development and climate change objectives in the Philippines.

Under the private sector hat, I work with WEnergy Global, a one-stop renewable energy solution provider with a regional focus in ASEAN countries.

How did you come to work internationally?

After graduating high school, I decided to take a gap year and volunteer in Guatemala, where I taught English and health to the children of migrant coffee workers. It was during that year that I was first exposed to both the challenges and excitement of living in another country. I have since become addicted to that environment.

During university, I spent a summer in Uganda working on malaria prevention. I also returned to Guatemala to carry out my thesis research. Since then, I have also lived and worked in Bangladesh, Germany, Spain, and now the Philippines, with a two-year New York City stint in between.

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What are the effects of climate change on a country made up of islands?

The Philippines constantly ranks in the top three most vulnerable countries to climate change. A country made up of 7,000 islands, the Philippines is in a part of the world that gets a lot of big tropical storms. In the past few years, the Philippines has experienced some of the worst storms ever to make landfall on Earth. The mayor of Tacloban, one of the cities that was hit in 2013, continues to find cadavers around every two weeks.

As a developing country, with very little access to vital resources, the Philippines has a low ability to adapt and cope with disasters brought about by climate change impacts.

A report by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources identifies five different risk factors that contribute to its vulnerability: A rise in sea levels, extreme rainfall events, extreme heating events, increased ocean temperatures, and a disturbed water budget. Given the Philippines’ vast shorelines and built-in geographic susceptibility, any one of these could be disastrous.

Debris lines the streets of Tacloban, Leyte island. This region was the worst affected by the typhoon, causing widespread damage and loss of life. Caritas is responding by distributing food, shelter, hygiene kits and cooking utensils. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

Climate change will continue to affect sectors that are strategically important for economic growth, e.g. agriculture, fisheries, and water resource management.

Given the island remoteness of much of the population, many people are not connected to the main electricity grid and have to buy expensive diesel instead.

In addition, while the country is committed to reducing 70 percent of its emissions by 2030, the government is considering approving 20+ coal plants. This is clearly a big case for transitioning to renewable energy!

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How does life as a non-native give you a different perspective on the country?

More than 10 percent of Filipinos are OFW (overseas foreign workers), a majority of these living in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Compared to the reputation of the U.S. among most other countries in the world, Filipinos actually adore the U.S. They fanatically follow politics, sports (especially basketball), and pop culture. Most of my colleagues here know more about the latest Kardashian update and Trump idiocy than I do. So be prepared, if you plan to visit here, to answer A LOT of questions about the U.S.

One of the most startling realizations I made here was how many Filipinos work in call centers. Because of the Philippines’ history under U.S. rule, most Filipinos speak English and learn it in school. The accent is very light compared to other call-center-heavy countries (e.g. India), so the U.S. prefers to hire them (to lessen the harassment that some rude Americans give to people who speak English with any hint of a foreign accent).

The unfortunate consequence of this outsourcing is the negative impacts of the work on the health and psyche of these mostly young employees. They work shifts ranging from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. (given the 12 hour time difference to EST). This leads to unnatural biorhythms, high HIV rates, and increasing rates of depression–thanks to the monotony of the job and abusiveness of the clients. So next time you call customer service, think about what time of night it may be for the other person on the line.

Children greet the aircrew of an SH-60F Seahawk helicopter in Balasan, Philippines, July 1, 2008, after they delivered humanitarian supplies to their school. The helicopter and its crew are assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 4, Carrier Air Wing 14, which is embarked aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) under way in the Sulu Sea off the coast of the Philippines. The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to victims of Typhoon Fengshen, which struck the Philippines June 23, 2008. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

Nonetheless, no matter what difficulty Filipinos face (including probably the most annoying one of all–the inescapable traffic of Manila), they always maintain a light-hearted spirit.

I have never come across a people as sympathetic, happy, friendly, welcoming, smiley, positive, fun-loving, generous, and hospitable as the Filipinos. The vibe here feels like the exact opposite as that of New York City.

Several times, I have had an experience such as the following one: I wait forever at the bank, for an Uber driver, or at a cashier due to some technical issue, system failure, or crappy Wi-Fi connection. I am exasperated by the time I am finally attended to, and want to make some snarky remark.

But within 10 seconds, that cashier, driver, or bank teller has won me over with their smile, sincere apology, and go-lucky attitude. And I am once again feeling so happy to be here.

 

About Naima

d77646_5588ead6fb934947b5d44cf026e848cbBorn in Guatemala to Costa Rican and German parents, Naima proudly brings a global perspective to whatever she does. Previously working as a strategist to accelerate public mobilization on sustainable solutions, she has also worked with GIZ in Bangladesh, and UN Women in New York. She is now based in the Philippines. Naima earned her degree in Public Policy from Duke University and wrote her thesis on the use of efficient cookstoves in Guatemala. Alongside her work, Naima is a trained salsa dancer/acro-yogi and loves performing.

March 31, 2016