The bamboo and a B.O.N.G.G.A. campaign for climate awareness in the PhilippinesAfter powerful typhoon Haiyan slammed the Philippines in November, Iowa student Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz thought she would like to raise awareness about the changing climate in the birthplace of her mother.
At the center of her campaign is the bamboo, this eco-friendly tree common in Asia and known for its value to biodiversity. The bamboo is often romanticized to represent Asians as a sturdy yet serene people.
Vanessa is a graduate student in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa. She studies climate change and how it impacts farming communities such as the Philippines. Her degree concentration is in environmental land use.
She is currently on Indiegogo crowdfunding in the amount of $42K for B.O.N.G.G.A. or the ‘Bamboo on New Green Ground Ang Ride for Climate Justice.’ ‘Bongga’ is the Filipino word for fabulous, outlandish, or crazy in a good way. She will ride her bamboo bike (“bambike”) across Iowa to raise awareness for climate justice in the Philippines. Her campaign basically brings together her continuing fascination with the bamboo and pride in her Filipino heritage.
Vanessa’s mother was born in Mindanao and moved to the United States when she was 9. Her father was formerly in the U.S. Navy. She recalled spending most of her childhood living in different countries. The family stayed briefly in Subic Bay when she was a baby.
“’Bongga’ is pretty much how I feel about this ride!,” said Vanessa.
The money to be raised will go to the Philippine NGO, InHand Abra, for the purchase of a bamboo processing tank, which will increase efficiency in production and yield greater profits for the farmers, she said.
She worked with InHand Abra, an organization of bamboo farmers, when she was in the Philippines in 2011 on a Fulbright scholarship.
“Bamboo is not only a sustainable crop, but is especially fast-growing and provides a critical safety net for farmers facing increasingly common natural disasters,” she said.
Vanessa told The FilAm she became interested in bamboo even before she came to the Philippines. “I noticed it growing in my backyard in Durham, North Carolina. I realized I could build things with it and how quickly it grew back!”
In 2010, she received a Burch Fellowship from the University of North Carolina and began researching this fast-growing tree. She studied with the Bamboo Network of the Philippines in Los Banos. The following year, she met with Carmelita Bersalona, executive director of InHand Abra.
“She opened the doors of her organization to me, and I was able to document the work that they have been doing with bamboocraft communities near Bengued, Abra for the past three decades,” she said.
Bersalona, executive director of InHand Abra, is deeply moved by all those willing to contribute to B.O.N.G.G.A. She said, “Your help brings trust in our products, joy in our family, peace in our community, and harmony with Mother Earth through bamboo.”
For Vanessa it is her feeling of deep connection to the Philippines that sparked the campaign and is keeping it going.
“I feel honored to represent my heritage while shedding light on some of the challenges communities are facing with climate change,” she told The FilAm. “Hopefully the connections between increased natural disasters and the creation of financial safety nets through sustainable resources can be strengthened.” — Cristina DC Pastor