At the Bamboo Bootcamp, Culture and Community are Reconstructed

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno

The Bamboo Bootcamp is dedicated to changing the world through the humble grass. As its founding principal and plantation consultant Rica Gadi writes, they want to rewrite a story that leads to hope for humanity.

As the sun starts to rise, the celebratory cheers of the fresh graduates of the Bamboo Bootcamp fade into the misty foggy mountains of Baganihan. Emerging into the morning light, I set my gaze on what will become my new, temporary home as it sits on top of a bridge. Tulay, at Hayag Farm School is a 240 square meter structure made out of Bamboo.

Four years ago, I didn’t put much thought into sustainability, let alone Bamboo. But one afternoon in Manolo Fortich turned my life upside down. It rearranged my priorities, and caused me to eat, breathe, and live bamboo for the last 50 months. I accidentally stumbled into a bamboo workshop sometime in February of 2020, after which, I decided that green is gold.

As I take a quiet morning stroll along our pathwalk with a 180-degree view of Kwagsik Falls, 90 minutes away from Downtown Davao City, in Marilog, I soak in the different Bamboo structures we have built here. Each structure has its own story to tell about me, my family, and the Bamboo Bootcamp team. 

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno

When I first arrived at Sitio Puting Bato, I only wanted to get away, to escape the depressing state of the City. COVID has terrorized everything and everyone, I felt suffocated. I wanted to be able to breathe. At the “bukid,” I spent most of my days staring into the forest, in silence,  able to finally hear my thoughts. I realized that it was not the city I was trying to escape, it was a part of myself I was trying to find. 

I took inventory of what we have around us: deforested land, from past logging concessionaires, at least 25 local people, members of the Matigsalug tribe, an Indigenous community, who may be willing to work. We have an abundance of water. We decided to plant Bamboo on 25 hectares. 

But there were practical questions and concerns- Now do we wait 10 years to harvest? How can I ask the local community to be patient, for the bamboo to be ready for construction use? How would they believe, in time, it can provide a stable home for their families, the whole community, when their only experience with bamboo is unfavorable? How will they earn in the meantime? 

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno
Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno

We thought, maybe we must build something monumental. This is how the Bamboo Bootcamp was born, with it, the making of one of the tallest bamboo structures in the Philippines. 

Designing and building with bamboo first requires an understanding of what it is capable of. Bamboo is as strong as steel, but a third of its weight. It is flexible, bending and moving with wind or tremors in the earth. It regenerates, as long as it is well-managed. When used as a building material, it needs to be stripped of its starch and sugar content, the food of its insect borers. Built bamboo must be shielded from water to ensure its longevity.

As the bamboo artisans appear to start their day on the site, their wives tend to the Bamboo spaces, vegetable garden, and edible landscapes. In just three short years, what started as an escape, turned into a community resurgence endeavor. Through the language of bamboo, at times we revisit culture through construction and past building tradition. People relearn fabrication skills, connecting them to the value of their land, the environment. 

Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno
Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno

When we first presented the community with a scale model made of bamboo sticks of what the dorm villas were going to look like, we had found a way to communicate and connect, hurdling the  barriers of language,  and cultural and social differences. It gave us a solid foundation to start building as a team.This is when this project turned into a passionate advocacy.

Jed, Kevin, and I, along with our spouses and our families have been chasing bamboo ever since. Through our workshops, we travel around the Philippines teaching about our learnings.  Bamboo is a tool. It is part of a bigger permaculture plan with the goal of regeneration. It allows us to rewrite the story which leads to hope and humanity, living harmoniously in an abundant earth.

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