Mango processing in Bulacan, Philippines
Name of village: Sto Niño

Figure 1 - SunnyHill's simple sophisticated name card.

This was what I thought started it all: SunnyHills. Before I get to the nitty gritty details of some amazing time spend in SunnyHills (which includes Pineapple Cakes and Coldly Brewed Tea), I'll start with the reasons why I joined this programme.

The main motivation that propelled me to sign up for this programme was the thought of travelling once more, and the first-hand experiential learning through field work. I found that ideas of the entire journey being fully funded and getting exempted from the module next semester just as tempting, however in my eyes, they were an added bonus and I got to enjoy. I have an innate desire to travel and wander, hence wanderlust as an adjective suits me well.

I mentioned "first-hand experiential learning" earlier and you might be wondering what it means. In my diploma (Diploma in Applied Drama and Psychology), we were often bombarded with stories of our seniors having the chance to have an actual interaction with the communities on site and directly impact them with drama, resulting in positive consequences. I always craved the opportunity for interaction, however, I was not given the chance. Therefore, the prospect of successfully being selected, made me exhilarated for our upcoming adventures together.

The only fear I had, which was also echoed throughout the entire trip, was that of not productively catering and meeting the needs of the community. Though it may be easy to know the issues that the community faces, facing it head-on is not an easy task. This may not seem like a substantial thought that one often toys in one’s mind, but I really hoped that everyone in the team, though I may not know them well, enjoyed their time there in Philippines. After all, it is through playing that we learn, not only about ourselves but the people around us.

Figure 2 - Group Picture with SunnyHill's invaluable assistant, who educated us about the structure of how they operated the company, in place of the owner, whom was not in that day.

My very first impression of the group was that it was a myriad of colourful personalities whom all,impressively, glued extremely well together. At first glance, one who expects clashes due to the different attributes of everyone on the team, however, much to my surprise, we respected our boundaries and had some common interest that we could converse on.

My impression of Mr Chan, our facilitator, was one of awe. Though we was of small stature, he had the charisma to command silence and attention from everyone. He had the aura that makes noise die down almost instantaneously with his underlying strength from soft-spoken words. Additionally, as he refined and polished the knowledge he gained both in his life and in his career, the content that he shared with us is always interesting and engaging. As such, I noted that our group had built a good rapport with Mr Chan, which I felt oddly satisfying, perhance due to the comfortable atmosphere that we have all create to ensure work productivity and fun.

Figure 3 - Mr Chan in action! Thank you Mr Chan, for all the laughs we had with this picture.

On to the learning journey, all of us made our way down to SunnyHills, located in Raffles Hotel. It was a beautiful and sophisticated place, filled with the aromas of coldly brewed oolong tea and specially made pineapply cake. It had a comfortable aura and was made to feel like home.

The assistant of the place greeted us warmly and we introduced ourselves as Singapore Polytechnic students to him. We informed him that we were there as we were all curious about their business operation and was keen to find out more. He served us freshly made pineapple cakes and oolong tea and told us that it was on the house! He started the long process on how they started their business from ground zero and continued with inspiring stories of the motivation of the owner.

Unfortunately, the owner of the SunnyHills was not in that day and was currently running his business elsewhere. We were slightly disappointed when we found out that we could not speak to him but it was all in all, a rewarding trip as we gained a new perspective on how to run a business as well as have a relaxing trip with all the members in our team!

Philippines, Bulacan!!!

On to the journey, our adventure to Philippines, Bulacan, starts now! We were greeted with warm gushing air once we stepped out from the airplane. The skies were misty with raindrops and night was fast approaching. All of us were worn out from our flight to Philippines, Bulacan and longed for the comfortable beds we had at home. After the arduous process of going through the customs and finding our bags, we approached our bus and collapsed heavily onto the seats, some of us falling into a deep slumber.

We reached Bulacan State University's Hostel in 3 hours and had a really sleepy supper before knocking ourselves out on the fluffy white pillows the University provided. The first few days went by in a blur, we had language classes, tours around the campus, getting to know our buddies and most important of all, recapping the DT knowledge we learnt back in Singapore. Though it was mostly all fun and games, we understood the magnitude of why we were there and could not wait for the days of Homestay to come.

Figure 4 - All of us huddling around and discussing our ideas for our DT project.

Homestay was just around the corner and most of us were itching to round the bend to spend more time with our buddies, idealising the time that we could spend with them, you know, typical girls talk as night falls, boys excluded. The day came as soon as the morning broke, we packed our bags, bid our farewells to the other teams, wishing them luck, and made our way to the village. It was only a short ride away, may have amounted to 20 minutes, which was surprising, as we have geared up for a long tiring ride.

Nonetheless, after alighting and walking a short distance, cutting through wide rocky spaces and houses, we found ourselves facing an opening, spanning relatively wide with plants and fauna adorning the the sides and a sea of smooth pebbles littered the ground, leading to the space which we would be spending most of our time discussing and dining.

Figure 5 - The opening to our host's house and her farm.

Unfortunately for us, we did not get to witness the amazing event of villagers harvesting mangoes as it was not the season for harvesting. Moreover, due to safety concerns, we were not permitted to try farming and harvesting other plants and fruits, such as tamarind, eggplants, rice, etc. However, in place of that, we had the opportunity to interview villagers, explore the rice paddy fields, learn the preservation techniques on how to convert mangoes to mango vinegar and explore ourselves under the stars. It was purely stunning; the many things we have learnt during the short three days we were there.

Figure 6 - The amazing view of the rice paddy fields in the background, plus the trio's jump shot!

Figure 7 - Learning the process of making mango vinegar with our very own host, Ma'am Au!

On to the main topic, why were we there? We came into this project with the misconception of the wastage of mangoes being a huge issue in the community. However, after much intimate discussions and interviews with the villagers in the community, we realized that this was simply not true. Most of the villagers did not have any wastage at all, while the financially and economically more stable families only have approximately 50 mangoes that were wasted per one season of harvest. Compared to the actual harvest they do; 50 mangoes amount to nothing at all. They did not consider it to be wastage.

Some of us were completely blown away by the fact that the problem we once thought they had was not a problem at all. Initially, we thought that all the work we have done were useless, yet, our facilitator and our lecturer, Mr Chan, kindly informed us that it was alright, that it was completely fine that we make mistakes. Presently, the success of the project now depends on us to pick ourselves up and stand once again in the face of failure. He also told us to enjoy our failure and relish in the thought of experiencing success through failure in this overseas journey. This inspired all of us to throw ourselves more into our work and work to serve our community in Plaridel.

Figure 8 - One of the interview sessions we had with the villagers as we get to find out their motivations, aspirations, challengers and pain points which they faced in their life.

We scouted for more problems and found out that most of them were contended with their lives, but they wanted more as well, to allow their family to live comfortably and to provide their future generation with education. Ironically, they also informed us that the harvest of mangoes was in decline, due to the chemicals they have sprayed on the trees to improve growth. Additionally, with the increase of temperature, comes with it the increase of the population of insects, damaging the mangoes and fruits that they planted. Therefore, we concluded that the income that they were making from the mangoes was unstable and ineffective

Hence, we came up with our new problem statement, one that revolves around sustainability and income, not on wastage, as wastage would be naturally reduced if the villagers were to gain the knowledge of preservation techniques and increasing income. This was what we have come up with: I need more knowledge to preserve and market my mangoes for a sustainable means of income.

Figure 9 - Meet Farmer Ernest, a.k.a Earning Ernest our Persona who was created after much discussion and data clustering. Coupled with him are his motivations, aspirations, hobbies and challenges and pain points in his life.

they already have and to go on a business venture with the entire community of villagers so that they could all flourish together. To do that, let’s go on to the next picture.

Figure 10 - Business Representatives' Design Concept

We have created two design concepts for transparency between the business representative of the village and the villagers.

Firstly, the business representative would have to apply for permits (e.g. sanitation, business, etc.) to sell the mango vinegar at an outlet or a store, in this case, Pasalubong. She\ would proceed to train the villagers on the different types of mango preservation techniques and after they are finish making their version of the mango vinegar, she would buy the product from them. To ensure the consistency of texture, taste and colour of the mango vinegar, she would continue by mixing them all together.

Moving on, she would have to continue a quality control test, such as comparing the colour in a test tube, or using a universal indicator to ensure that the mango vinegar batch is at the right pH value, so on and so forth. As we are collaborating with Bulsu, they would help in ensuring that the mango vinegar would pass the quality control test.

After the quality control test, the business representative of the village would package and label the product, mass produce it and sell it at Pasalubong centre. The bonus profit she earns from this venture can be divided and given as incentives to the other villagers. This would then serve as motivation to the villagers to make more mango vinegar and thus, the entire community prospers together!

Figure 11 - Villagers' Design Concept

The Design Concept for the villagers contain some similarities with the business representative’s. This is done in the point of view of the villagers.

After knowing about an announcement of the commencement of a seminar involving mango preservation techniques and a collaboration, the villagers would arrive at the seminar and learn all the preservation techniques to make mango vinegar. They would then collaborate with the business representative if they are keen to pursue a business venture with her.

After the selling of their mango vinegar to the business representative, the business representative would follow the steps as listed above and sell the combination of all the mango vinegar to Pasalubong Centre. Continuing that, the farmers and the business representative would split the profits amongst each other as additional incentives and bonuses.

Though we have not delved into it, mass production is one of our future ideas. The mangochine that we have engineered, would aid in the skinning, de-seeding and mincing of the mangoes to ensure faster generation of mango vinegar. We realized that we should pursue this in the future as it is not a feasible idea as of now. To start a business, one should start small and steady and that would be our approach.

Figure 12 - The 'Mangochine' as we call it. Helps with the mass production of the mango vinegar.

With all sides covered, we set to work and presented the ideas to the villagers. The ideas were allall very well received and we were all very relieved. Just like the first few days, the last few days went by so fast and we were already on board the airplane, flying back to our homes.

After two weeks of working with the community and with our buddies, now our close friends, most of us felt a sense of accomplishment and pride that our project succeeded. Without the guidance of our lecturers and friends, we definitely could not have made it this far. I miss our buddies very much, reminiscing about the days we had bouts of laughter and fun. However, this is not the end! I am sure we would all meet again someday; I foresee that it would be very soon as our group is preparing for the continuation of our project! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I am very excited for what’s to come in the future! Sadly, this is the end for this storyteller’s role. I hoped you gained some insight through this post. In the future, if we do meet again, let’s trade stories and enjoy the moments we had together! For now, bye! See you soon!

Figure 13 - Thanks for all the memories Team Plaridel!!!

Written by: Elsabella Wong