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You Never Know How You Might Contribute

Aipipas Elementary School, Papua New Guinea

I took the very first ‘Permaculture Aid Worker’s Training Course’ at the Permaculture Research Institute in November, 2008 with Geoff & Nadia Lawton, and Rosemary Morrow. During the course, I was unsure of my abilities to contribute to an overseas aid project. Even though I had been studying permaculture since 2006, taken two PDCs and interned at the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute most of last year, I was afraid that if I went to a developing country to introduce any permaculture concepts, that I would really have little to offer and that I was too inexperienced, and wouldn’t be well received . Geoff and Rosemary assured all of us at the course that we had plenty to offer, and that the world needs us.

I remained somewhat skeptical.

Planting with students

Since then I have continued the Accredited Permaculture Training and Djanbung Gardens with Robyn Francis and after her additional encouragement, I spent 6 weeks in Papua New Guinea (PNG) teaching permaculture and ecology to grades 5-12. Geoff, Rosemary, and Robyn were all correct! My permaculture training made sense. I had a framework for interpreting the world around me that I had not quite realised before. I was surprised at my capacity for understanding the agricultural systems and the ecology I witnessed.

Food is grown everywhere in PNG! Driving down the road, it is common to see field after field of interplanted crops of banana, taro, corn, cassava, sweet potato, ginger and other food crops in vertically stacked polycultures. Most people eat locally produced food – usually from their own yard. People commonly share the garden’s bounty very generously. Our kitchen was always stocked full of our neighbor’s harvest!

Mambis Agroforestry Nursery staff

I thought I was going to teach and help out with creating a school garden in PNG, but my biggest contribution may have been helping out a local man, Peter Sambak Tanda, with his agroforestry program, the Mambis Agroforestry Nursery Project. I have been keen to learn more about agroforestry for months, and even though I haven’t really studied much about it yet, I was able to follow Peter’s description of forest succession, the use of pioneer species like Casuarinas and his plans for reforesting his local catchment, as if I had studied it. I borrowed a video camera and made a video about his project which you can see at bottom of this post. Additionally, I created a blog page for him and helped him get some publicity in national media. Peter was very grateful to have my assistance. I had no idea that I would do all of this, because I don’t really have any training in video production or publicity. I realised that the potential for permaculture-related projects, from education, to design and building, are virtually unlimited in Papua New Guinea, not to mention so many other developing nations. As our world is going through such a profound transition at this moment, we are facing a tsunami of… well, opportunities.

Papua New Guinea is striving in many ways to develop away from a localised economy. In this process much environmental damage is occurring and people are losing their harmony with the land. Some are selling garden raised produce to earn money to buy imported rice. Trees which are so vitally important, are being cut down much faster than they can be replaced. This means that vital habitat is being lost, the soil is eroding, and the fuel for cooking and lumber for building are becoming more and more scarce. Landslides are washing away vehicles full of people and homes as well. Even though there weren’t too many people addressing these issues from a "permaculture" perspective (from what I could discern) I found someone who did understand the connection between the health of local ecosystems and the health of human life; and I believe that if nothing else, I encouraged him and gave him a needed boost of confidence. He had been praying that somehow he would get the kind of help I was able to give him. (If anyone has a spare, used laptop to donate, Peter needs it for keeping records, various administrative tasks, and communicating with the outside world via the web.)

We permies have some valuable insights and skills that can be very powerfully harnessed in many places right now. We just have to be willing to go with open minds and hearts and see what happens.

You can see Peter’s blog at


  1. fantasic job
    I`am going to morroco in 1 month to work on a prodject there
    I`ve been involve in permaculture for a while working with geoff and bill on the ground
    but have been reluctent to teach or go some where for the same reasons jack
    your right we have a lot to offer
    we need to get out there and do!!!
    the word educate in latin means [ to lead out]

  2. Great video – very inspiring. It is nice to see that a few people can make such a huge difference in ecosystem restoration.

  3. I am so proud of the work you have done, Jack. I have always believed in your innate potential and am so enthused by what you have learned and what you have given others in return.
    Keep up the beautiful work!!!

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