I2M 2019: Centre for Ecozoic Living and Learning

On Easter Monday, 22nd April, day 6 of the Invitation to Mission group visit to the Philippines, the group were taken to the Centre for Ecozoic Living and Learning (CELL). Marina Smith, a teacher at a school in Coventry, shares and reflects on the experience.

Having had a very welcome 8 hours sleep our little group set off to visit the Centre for Ecozoic Living and Learning (CELL) which is about 30km south of Manila. In contrast to our previous days of emersion, CELL gave a beautiful green greeting with a fresh scented breeze and a well-ordered pathway leading down to Brendan Hall. As we climbed the first few steps of this bamboo conference facility on stilts, we were gently reminded to take off our shoes which immediately put me in mind of holy ground. Beni, who lives and farms at CELL with his family, welcomed us and led the orientation.

Origins and Aims of CELL

CELL was founded in 1999 by three Columban priests (Frank Carey, Dominic Carey and John Leydon) and was born from the realisation that the system that denies the poor a livelihood is also the system that is destroying the earth – both injustices are intimately connected.

In typical Columban fashion, prayerful insight led to practical action. CELL is a kind of demo farm, a teaching tool, set in 1.2 hectares which explores how we can adapt our way of living, thinking and being to be more connected to and respectful of creation, our common home. No need to goggle Ecozoic – it is a made-up word. Three words in one (Eco – home / Zoe – life / ion or epic – a long period of time) designed to capture the intentions of the educational enterprise.

The overall frame of reference for CELL is the New Story of Creation and our responsibility to care for the Earth by renewing the permaculture. CELL aims to inspire visitors to learn and to live ecozically by:

• protecting and facilitating the restoration of biodiversity
• using organic farming methods
• the use of native architecture
• planning for zero waste management and renewable energy

Experiential learning

Before long we were hands on with those great citizens of the earth – humble earth worms – and admiring their waste products. We saw the ‘sleeping lady’ flowers, tasted cocoa beans, marvelled at the Tibig tree (a native of the Philippines and very important in water retention), used the gas from human waste to boil water, and visited the zones that are the basis of the permaculture philosophy.

Particularly impressive for me were the very practical natural buildings made from bamboo. We were then put to work planting lemon grass, which I must admit was a bit ‘Blue Peter’ like as the holes had been dug for us priorto our arrival. We finished our tour with a wonderful lunch consisting of papaya, sweet potato, bananas and wonderfully refreshing fresh herbal tea.

Awaken the dreamer – change the dream

After lunch we were very privileged to be taken on a swift journey through the Laudato Si training programme devised by the Columbans. John and Arleen, our host Columban Lay Missionaries, led the condensed version of the workshop called “A deep journey into Laudato si”.

It was a beautiful, inspiring, reflective and challenging afternoon which gave us lots of ideas on how to bring this message back to our own communities and spread the word. Alone we are quite weak but together we can face typhoons – just like the humble strands of bamboo we sat upon. Each piece is fairly vulnerable on its own yet when united in a structure, which each piece in a place appropriate to what it has to offer it can stand up in strength.

Making the link

For me there was a very strong link between my emersion experience in Malate parish and CELL. The lady from the parish who gave me shelter in her home for two nights had been to CELL as part of a parish group.

Even though her house was very simple and without any of the comforts of modern living there was still evidence of what she was doing to change the world. She recycled her food waste and used the compost produced to nourish the soil in her pot plants which hung from a space in the breeze block wall. She also collected all plastic wrapping and cut it into strips. By filling a litre bottle with such stripes, she could sell it for 100 pesos for use in plastic strengthened bricks. Very humbling, as is the work of the Columbans in the Philippines.

Moses took off his shoes as he was in touch with the Creator (Exodus 3:5). Mission works here because the leaders know that the Creator can only be found through the created. Those who are divested of the need to possess material things can be more open to the universal spirit.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, yet it bends towards justice”
Martin Luther King