An Inherited Nature Sanctuary


When my late father Tony Mercado was developing the Forest Club from raw land in 1992, I could not quite appreciate what he was doing. I did not know why he spent so much money planting trees that did not bear fruit. While most people I knew who wanted a weekend farm house developed fruit tree orchards, my father focused on planting indigenous forest tree species, explaining that he wanted to re-create the forest of his youth. I thought that it was simply expensive landscaping.

Through the years, I witnessed how the place was transformed. How the trees grew, how they attracted insects, how these insects attracted birds that feed on insects, and other small predators. So I am witness to how the Forest Club has transformed over the years from raw land into a real living ecosystem. Though not quite the forest environment of my late father's youth, I marvel at the thought of how Mother Nature has recovered in this relatively small piece of property, in a relatively short period of time. Now we see Large Billed Crows roosting among our trees. We hear Black-Crowned Night Herons calling out when they hunt for prey after sundown. We see White Collared Kingfishers perched near the waterways, shrieking to make their presence felt throughout the day. Black Naped Oreoles entertain us with their melodious songs. At harvest time, hundreds of pristine white egrets fly over head. And when the African Tulip trees are in full bloom, we witness how flocks of bee-sized Olive Backed Sun Birds feed on the nectar of their fire orange flowers. It is somehow a lesson of what is possible in our country to arrest the harrowing rate at which our forests are disappearing. If, as a community, we make a commitment to stop cutting trees and instead start planting them, Mother Nature can rebound quite quickly, as demonstrated by the example of the Forest Club. The Forest Club, therefore, is a very significant symbol and a beacon of inspiration of what is possible in terms of environmental recovery. There is hope in turning things around for our country, and providing our children with a better place to live in.

The Forest Club is clearly our father's "Pamana" to us, his children. Realizing this precious gift, my siblings and I have now made a commitment that this will be our own "Pamana" for our own children. I, for instance, have taken my daughter's class twice to a "Nature Camp" at the Forest Club to teach them about the importance of zero waste management: how to segregate, compost and recycle, introduce them to medicinal herbs, teach them how to propagate and plant forest trees, and how to tend to their own vegetable garden.

But our commitment to the environment extends not just to our own biological children. We are now committed to make a difference in the lives of our country's children as well, by teaching them about how to work with Mother Nature, and not against it; how to take care of themselves and the environment in which they live. In January 2006, the Forest Club launched the Eco-Adventure Program that has modules on: zero-waste management, organic vegetable gardening, vermiculture, medicinal herbs, healthy eating, the ill effects of too much junk foods and soft drinks mixed with an array of team building games, survival games, Filipino games and trust games. Several schools have benefited from this program already. Kids from as young as Grade 1 to young adults in their college years have visited the Forest Club to undergo this program. We also involve the local community by recruiting and training students from the UPLB and SK members from the town of Bay to act as facilitators for these programs.

My late father envisioned the Forest Club as a place of wellness and healing. A place where people learn how to work hand in hand with Mother Nature to help Mother Nature heal herself. A place where organizations and individuals can pause, reflect, examine and evaluate themselves, and then plan and commit to a better future for themselves and their country.

We are working towards this vision three ways: 1) By re-investing a portion of our profits to become a more eco-friendly resort. In the drawing board, for instance, are plans to build a bio-digester that will filter our sewerage, produce methane gas that we can use to fuel our kitchen, and turn bio-degradable waste into organic fertilizer. 2) By developing training programs through alliances, so that our place is not confined to just a seminar venue, but eventually transforms into an institution that offers our own programs. Such as the Agimat Ni Apo Leadership Program of the Center for Family Ministries. And the Eco-adventure Program for schools. 3) By deepening our involvement in the environment by becoming part of Haribon Foundation's rainforestation project. Under this arrangement, we shall propagate forest tree seedlings for planting in identified de-forested areas. We are also turning the Forest Club into a bird sanctuary according to the criteria set by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.

So far, we are able to contribute to healing and wellness in three areas: 1) Healing of Mother Earth through our environmental programs; 2) Organizational Wellness through our team building programs; 3) Psycho-spiritual Wellness through the workshops of CEFAM and the RCW Foundation.
What seems to be missing is physical healing. So we are exploring possibilities of partnering with alternative medicine experts in Ayurveda, Acupuncture, Colonics, Yoga, Tai Chi, etc. so that in the future, we will be able to offer detoxification and rejuvenation programs at the Forest Club.

Wawel Mercado
April 2006

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