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A Parisian learns from the Chickens
by Louis Faure

*This article was also published on last December 20, 2015

My name is Louis, I was born and raised in Paris, studied in a prestigious business school and today I raise hundreds of chickens under the mango trees of the GK Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan.

When I arrived in August 2014, at 21 years old, I knew very little about the Philippines. I didn’t even know who Manny Pacquiao was, but I did know about Gawad Kalinga.

In search of a meaningful use for my competencies, I flew to the other side of the world to do an internship in “the hub for social entrepreneurship in Asia,” as GK founder Tony Meloto described it to us. I didn’t know what I would do there, I simply wanted to learn, to be challenged and to step out of my comfort zone.

Indeed, I had lived all my life surrounded with people coming from the same background, going on holiday to the same places, studying in the same schools… I was living in an artificial bubble, blind to a much bigger world lying right behind the wall.

That’s how, after a few weeks of getting to understand how the farm works, I was presented with the challenge of managing the Animal Farm where a few animals were raised in pretty bad conditions.

The easiest place to start – so I was told – was with the chickens, so I dropped my case studies from my business school about Apple or Coca-Cola and researched instead about azolla, Newcastle disease, slaughtering techniques, effective micro-organisms, composting, etc. That’s how I spent eight months building and fixing pens, drying manure under the sun, slaughtering chickens with my hands…

Meanwhile, my friends were in Paris with L’Oréal, in Hong Kong with Louis Vuitton or in New York with Morgan Stanley. What on earth was I doing here? Let me put it this way – while they would take the metro to work, I would ride a horse. Although they had an office with a view, I had a view with an office, and while they would grab a coffee on the way to work I would grab a mango from the tree...

But most importantly of all: I had acquired a brand new family I never knew I had, comprising 50 nanays, 200 brothers and sisters and… 400 chicks.

Learning by doing

Back when I arrived in August, I could not tell the difference between a hen and a rooster; agriculture wasn’t even in my vocabulary. But I was able to learn the language and memorize the names and stories of the people who shared their lives with me… I learned to genuinely care for people who welcomed me as one of them. Those who were said to be a threat to a white guy like me, those who would cheat on me or try to steal my wallet, actually became my family and my protection. I discovered with them a world of opportunities, lying behind the greatest but untapped resource of this country: Filipinos themselves.

Today, I work with Felmar, 26, who dropped out of school at the age of 13 to support his family. Felmar has a hard time reading the weighing scale, and I still struggle to get proper feeding records for my cost computation, but during the day he’s taking care of the chickens just like a mother would do, and at night he designs new chicken pens and studies English before turning off the light.

Along with Melissa, Jerome and Vincent, my three interns from SEED (our university for social entrepreneurs), we develop our own expertise in organic chicken farming, learning by doing, step by step, with a very clear vision of where we want to go.

So one day, we told our chickens: dear friends, a time will come when you will feed this country with healthy meat and eggs, mitigate urban migration and restore the cycle of nature in agricultural practices. The dream is big (and honestly they were intimidated), but so is the problem: today most Filipinos consume chickens that are raised in crowded factory farms where they survive 30 days thanks to a heavy use of antibiotics, hormones and GMOs imported from Western countries.

The consequence of this growing industry isn’t just that the tinola has lost some of its taste, but that people become less resilient to disease as their immune system is affected.

What’s more, the land is being polluted by millions of tons of toxic manure every year, while small local farmers cannot raise chickens anymore because of their poor infrastructure and limited access to expensive feeds and medicine.

Our chickens, a crossbreed between cute native hens and heavy French roosters, are today roaming around freely, roosting at night in the kakawate trees, playing hide and seek below the cassava leaves, resting under the shade of the mango trees, running after termites for merienda, drinking oregano juice when their throat is itching… and soon enough, they’ll be doing so all over Bulacan, in integrated one-hectare plots where farmers will be trained for organic farming and given financial support to start their flock.

The first trainers will be Felmar and the three SEED interns themselves, and my job will then be focused on what I was once trained for: have those organic, locally raised chickens reach the markets of Manila where a growing demand is left unsatisfied.

We could feel discouraged facing the problems of the world, and complain about policies we believe governments fail to implement; or we could see it as a call to make better use of our competencies in order to design the world we want to live in.

In GK, I met young people with nothing dreaming for their people, when I, with all my education, could only dream for myself.

Today, living and working with farmers seven days a week, I have found my mission through being a bridge between the rich and the poor, between the city and the province, between France and the Philippines, to build together a world of peace and prosperity for all.

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