Dec 18, 2013

A Green Christmas

This year going “green” took a different turn for me.

A colleague suggested we should all go green and use our own utensils, plates, cups and containers for a party. No disposable paper or plastic plates or cups. How about giving something you already have but want to give away? Recycling gifts, not wasting money, not pandering to the crazy Christmas consumerism.

In a little piece of land in Mindanao State University, groups of Maguindanaons grow beautiful flowers and lemongrass.

The colors of creation displayed along side the humble grass-like lemongrass.

Photo taken from:

Flowers grown are grown by some farmers and students from the university. The flowers are harvested and dried before they are sent to Manila.

Kept in fridges, these dried flowers are used by women of slum areas to make pressed flower cards, notebooks, calendars and pictures. These women learn how to make these lovely gifts and then, take the materials back to their homes to produce the cards, notebooks, calendars and pictures. They earn an income for each card, calendar or picture made – enough to put food on the table.

Photo of basket of flowes framed with double glass – S$50

The intricacies of the works produced by these ladies struggling to care for their families with the very little they have is amazing.

From trying to replicate the beauty of flowers, we look at the humble lemongrass.

Lemongrass or “Salay” is used so often in food to give it a distinct taste that many do not know that its extracted oil is also used as remedies for hypertension, diabetes and insomnia.

In 2010, as part of a livelihood programme, 15-20 students from Mindanao State University and farmers from nearby communities came together to prepare two hectares of land for a lemongrass farm.

The farm yielded approximately 1,200 kilos of fresh lemongrass that were harvested by five students and farmers. The harvested lemongrass have to be sun-dried for two days, chopped into four-inch pieces and distilled in a machine. This produces 3,500 ml of lemongrass oil. One of the by-products of the distillation is hydrosol. This watery but strongly aromatic substance is used as pesticides on farm plants and as an odor repellant in the goat’s barn.

A good harvest depended on the plant’s growth which is affected by the weather. If it is too hot, the land would dry up which slows the lemongrass growth. If it is too wet, weeds would grow faster than the lemongrass impeding lemongrass growth. So regular fertilizing and weeding is needed.

To address this challenge, the planting of lemongrass was extended to nearby communities such as Sitio Tagenek and Sitio Lumpong. Ten families planted lemongrass in their own small land and Care Channels bought their harvest.

Care Channels Maguindanao also decided to transfer the farming and distilling to a mountainous and high altitude town of Upi in partnership with the local church. Upi’s soil, cold and moist weather and the vastness of its land was just right. The people who now benefit from this livelihood are the Tedurays, a marginalized indigenous people group in the highlands of Maguindanao.

So how does planting and distilling lemongrass help a farmer? Well, how about this – you see these little bottle of lemongrass oil? One family saved enough to put up a galvanized house roof replacing the nipah (coconut leaves) roof that they had. They are now sheltered comfortably and safely when the heavy rains come.

Photo shows a set of 2 bottles of lemongrass oil – S$20.

Photo shows bottles of lemongrass oil which are S$12 each.

If you are interested giving a perfectly “green” Christmas to the ladies of the slum areas of Manila or the Manguindanao, check out Care Channel’s online shop at

Story by Wong Kah Wei

Craftwork, Empowering (PH), Innovative (PH), Philippines, Sustainable (PH)