Feature Story

Daila Farms: Where Roots and Visions Coexist

WHAT happens when you combine environmental awareness, revival of cultural heritage and volunteer tourism or “voluntourism” into one? Well, it’s but natural that our roots are deepened and this wonderful blue planet is provided with its well-needed attention.

For Maria Aleli Pansacola, this was but a pipe dream when she started producing her signature brand of herbal soap in the ’80s. She had practically no wherewithal and no basic knowledge and organization, but Aleli or “Ms. Daila,” as she’s popularly called, created household products that are not only exceptional but also gentle to the environment.

“The Philippine archipelago has plenty of coconut trees and other herbs,” Aleli said.

She couldn’t believe why there are so many poor people when the country is blessed with such lush vegetation.

“To address the situation, I thought of using coconut oil and essential oils from patchouli, lemongrass and other plants contracted from local farmers around the country for my soap products. For several years, it was a daunting process for our Daila Herbal Community venture,” she added.

But with the unflinching tenacity of this pioneering lady, her outreach program has been transformed into a company that is, at present, the front runner and leader in natural and herbal products in the Philippines.

It didn’t stop there – it was but the catalyst as she further pushed the envelope of her vision.

A few years ago, she provided more oxygen to her vision in coming up with a farm in Tagaytay City to showcase the country’s culture, cultivate organically grown herbs, build mud houses, and raise black pigs, chickens and other farm products.

“The cost of building houses is extremely expensive, but using this ancient technology of mixing mud, sand and grasses together and plastering them onto bamboo frames seem to work,” she explained. (As of this writing, she’s building her own home using this low-tech building technique.)

Daila Farms’ bamboo house. Image © Vics Magsaysay

At this farm, visitors are greeted by the two-storey bamboo house that serves as a dining area plus a workshop hall upstairs.

“Ulog” huts. Image © Vics Magsaysay

There are also “ulogs” (popular huts native to the people of the Cordilleras) and several “Ugnayan” mud houses where she showcases her Daila herbal products and other native articles.

Up on the higher level is a two-storey dormitory. There are also greenhouses that enclose organic herbs and vegetables. A circular-shaped “Dap-ay” follows the tradition of natives in the highlands, where they gather and hold bonfires. Beside that is another huge covered multi-purpose hall for workshops and dining, echoing the leaf motif she painted on the flooring of the bamboo house.

Once inside the farm, one is mesmerized by the sounds of an array of bamboo chimes lining up around the perimeter – truly a unique experience.

Expert kite-maker Samuel “Boying” Ledesma demonstrates the mechanics of crafting a kite to students. Image © Vics Magsaysay

Over a month ago, right after lunch, 160 high school students from Emmanuel Christian School of Sta. Rosa, Laguna, together with their teachers, a tour organizer and guides, came to Aleli’s farm. This was the first batch – divided into four groups – to undergo workshops on the following subjects: making individual kites and later flying them; creating a vertical garden with the use of recycled plastic soda bottles as pots, and learning how to build a mud house, getting their hands dirty while plastering the mixture onto the walls.

Vertical farming class. Image © Vics Magsaysay

Only four days later, another batch of almost the same number visited. This time, the students were divided into three groups. The workshops turned out to be highly successful, judging by the smiles and good feedback of the organizers, teachers and guides. It didn’t stop there; two more followed.

“Voluntourism” is a new word coined for individuals going on working holidays to volunteer their labor for worthy causes. Since last year, there have been groups of high school students coming from Japan, Singapore and Malaysia to plant seedlings and other plants on the farm.

I was also thinking of reviving our native children’s games like, “piko,” “tumbang preso” and “patintero” for the youths to participate in. These games are almost disappearing now due to the new technology like smartphones, computers, etc.,” Aleli lamented.

“That would be fun and interesting,” she then quipped with a smile.

Amused, I reflected: “Isn’t it ironic, Aleli, that you studied journalism and, instead, you ended up producing these soaps, while yours truly took up chemical engineering and is partly into journalism now, writing this story?”

What’s truly intriguing about this pioneering and visionary lady is that she has the grit to integrate and manifest her visions that will benefit many people and, inevitably, generate more environmental awareness, especially in our youths.

And with all of these youths participating in her farm activities, the words of our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal reverberate: “The youth is the hope of our future.”

Vics Magsaysay, Ph.D.
Vics Magsaysay, Ph.D., is a Los Angeles-based writer, fine art nature photographer, painter, graphic designer, makata (Filipino poet) and holds a doctorate degree in clinical hypnotherapy.

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