Super typhoons. Flooding. Landslides. No running water. Having showers and flushing toilets with a bucket. Spam and fishbones for breakfast. Rain. So much rain. Rain so hard it would make Vancouver puke. Everything wet all the time. Relentless mosquitos. Sleeping on the floor with rats. Roads that swallow parts of cars.
Life is simple, but everything is difficult.
What is it that lures me to the tattered edges of one of the most impoverished places in the World?
The old lady who flung her broken (in half) arm around like a toy as she smiled. We found her over a month after Typhoon Haiyan destroyed her home, her family, and her entire community. The only thing which didn’t even flinch, didn’t lose an ounce of strength. Her spirit.
The kids who try to give you money for treats you are trying to give them for free. The distraught man watching from the steps above. Flipping me his only coins to try and buy treats for the kids who you are trying to give free treats to. Kids on the loose everywhere. People taking care of each other.
When you give a kid a coloring book and box of crayons it changes their world. You can’t get sick of that.
The countless people who helped me. Fed me. Shared their typhoon stock coconut wine and red horse beer with me. The strength and the smiles survivors gave me when all I saw of their world was loss and sadness.
I went to the Philippines thinking I would help people. I was giving clean water and medical supplies. Lifting their spirits. But the reality is that they helped me more than I helped them.
And that is the way of the Filipino people.
When I arrived in Manila with a bag full of water filters everyone thought I was crazy. You are by yourself? Where will you stay? Who do you know? What will you eat?….
A few weeks earlier I was planning a surf trip to Siargao Island — A tropical paradise with palm tree lined beaches, warm turquoise water and good waves.
But the most powerful storm ever recorded took over international headlines. Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in Guiuan Eastern Samar with 380kph winds, destroying everything in its path. A huge tsunami followed, wiping out entire communities.
Why Kapuluan Coconut Oil
Life changed when I arrived in Tacloban.
I had never seen the World that way. So much chaos and destruction. Fires burned in the streets. 8 massive container ships were washed into the middle of the city, turned to pirate shelters on top of crushed buildings below. People, zombie-like, wandered everywhere. Miles inland bodies floated in stagnant ocean water. Burned animals lay in the streets. When I saw a hole filled with thousands of dead bodies I understood the terrible smell that lingered day and night.
When I set out to visit rural Barangays (villages) which had been cut off from clean water, food, and medical help for over a months I didn’t really know what I was in for. I have no disaster relief training. No medical background. I had my neck sliced open by a hockey skate when I was younger. That was about the worst thing I’ve ever seen.
I rode around Eastern Samar on the roof of a delivery truck. Ducking under palm trees and downed power lines. We went to the most remote areas we could get to. Sometimes it took days.
People stuck at the edge of the world and clinging to whatever life was left. This was the apocalypse. The entire experience was incredibly difficult. Some of the things I saw are unforgettable. But the one thing that always kept me in awe, was the overwhelming amount of destroyed coconut palm trees.
The Coconut is a way of life. Relied on since the day these tropical Pacific Islands were inhabited. Not only because of the amazing nutritional and health benefits, but because they provide key resources and opportunity to make a living. Without coconut there is no food, no soap, no job, no money. I didn’t understand what “Tree of Life” meant until I was surrounded by 33 million broken Coconut palms.
One morning I saw some kids playing basketballs across the street so I went over to join. I wasn’t wearing shoes and I’m a terrible basketball player. It only took about a minute before I got schooled and slipped on the wet court, cutting my foot. Under normal circumstances, it would have been no big deal, but we were in a disaster zone and things weren’t exactly sterile.
Two days later I was on a flight out with the Philippines Army. Headed to Manila with a foot the size of a football.
Before I left the Philippines a friend of mine gave me a bottle of Raw Coconut Oil. I knew there were a ton of coconut oil benefits so I gladly accepted and took it to Bali, where I spent the next few months surfing, riding motorcycles, and reading books.
The Coconut Oil replaced almost everything in my drop-kit; I used it for moisturizer, shaving oil, hair conditioner, sunscreen, lip balm, bug repellant; I ate it and I cooked with it.
Yvon Chouinard is a hell of a guy. His company Patagonia was one of the first to take a hardcore stance on land preservation, and had on site daycare at their offices and paid young mothers and fathers on maternity. One day I read his book — Let My People Go Surfing. Then I met this guy in Bali with a clothing line called Smile. They donate school uniforms to kids when they sell their t-shirts. The thought of business as a way to facilitate positive change was inspiring.
I hadn’t been able to let go of my experience in the Philippines and I had a thought that planting new Coconut palm trees would be a great way to help the farming communities I had spent time with to recover from the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan, while contributing positively to the environment and sustainable agriculture.
I loved the coconut oil my friend gave me, and it fit in perfectly with my lifestyle and my beliefs. 100% natural, sustainable, extremely healthy. It can be used for a number of things.
Kapuluan Coconut was born.
I dont know anyone who doesn’t love Coconut. It smells like summer and is sexy, often associated with dreamy thoughts of palm covered white sand beaches. But despite the crazy popularity of coconut products worldwide, the industry really lacks awareness for farmer standards and fair trade. Everyone supports Fair Trade coffee. What about Coconut?
In the World’s top Coconut Oil producing country, Coconut farmers exist at the subsistence level and are considered some of the poorest people in the Philippines. The Coconut industry faces adversity on many levels. Exploitation of the small farmer and unsustainable industrial agriculture, are challenges which threaten the way of life for more than 3 million Coconut farmers, of whom over 60% live in extreme poverty.
And now, The Tree of Life which takes 7 years to grow and produce, was gone.
90% of coconut oil is derived from a product called copra, which is made from often rotten and mouldy Coconuts.
It’s refined, deodorised and bleached. And it’s in almost all personal care products as “Coconut Oil” or Cocos Nucifera. Not only is coconut oil derived from copra unhealthy, it is environmentally unfriendly and creates unnecessary waste. The industrialisation of the industry along with a low-value product has led to some coconut farmers referring to copra as a form of modern slavery.