Originally from Australia, my daughter Freyr and I have been living outside Australia since the start of 2016… in the Philippines (Palawan) we stayed with several families for nearly a year who helped to take care of Freyr and gave me the support I needed with her. I remain so grateful to the families in Philippines who helped me when I couldn’t get the support I needed for my daughter in Australia. I hope to return to Palawan again and stay with the families in the beautiful and relatively unspoilt area of the hillsides behind Napsan (probably now like Bali was 30 years or so ago).
Living in Palawan sparked my interest in bamboo; I witnessed local living conditions and barriers to bamboo becoming a sustainable building material there. I progressed to bamboo after realising that living INSIDE Earthships may not be so desirable in tropical environments (due to insufficient ventilation and high humidity) and had started this design (back in 2013/14) with the intention of having an Earthship base and then a bamboo structure (main living space) above which could be evacuated in the case of a cyclone… However I couldn’t quite convince the locals here on the car tyres ... So decided to just focus on Bamboo in Bali (where the most skilful bamboo builders and craftsmen are located) to learn Everything I can about this material and to keep sharing along this journey.
It's crazy, local people don't VALUE these skills - and it's not the skills themselves... it's the Environment we create practicing them... maybe not quite like a knitting circle (I don't know I've never been to one... but those crocheting circles seem quite dangerous and all with those CoalSeamGas girls going around the city crocheting trees and pushbikes). But it's this "Being" state, and Being together (drug-addicted rats prefer to be with other rats than take heroin) which nourishes me, brings me out of "isolation"... welcomed into a Real family actually (in my opinion). Perhaps like the Irish don't like potatoes; Filipinos don't like bananas... you don't know what you got til it's gone kinda thing... But it takes more than a village to raise a special needs child... maybe a multi-layered international village will do the job... It's this state of Beingness ... Connectedness ... just sitting around/working with other families and kids around (familyful - my new word for the day)... There was nothing I "needed" to achieve but there was work to be done. I could take a swim in peace and close my eyes for a few minutes and feel the sunshine through my eyelids and forehead activating I don't know what chemical or hormone centre inside my brain but gee it feels good when I can close my eyes and switch off for long enough to recharge my brain like that.
I came to Bali initially to learn about bamboo preservation after finding that, when helping one family to build a small homestay house in Salacot, termites were a huge issue and wreakers of mass destruction without heavy chemical treatment which I avidly wanted to avoid. Also bringing water to homes from nearby water sources to save time and energy manually carrying water was an issue (no electricity in this area). So I came to Bali expecting that the Green School was somewhere teaching this kind of stuff to people. It wasn't at that time... but I toured the Green School buildings and visited the factory... none of which was really relevant to what I needed to learn. But I started cottoning on to local knowledge, helped build a Lumbung from bamboo (the basis for this design) and had some time to focus on myself and put my hand to something. I later returned and started this bamboo project with local craftsmen. Freyr attends a beautiful school here with other local children with special needs and has a program I could have only dreamed about in Australia. I guess you could say that I’m primarily here for Freyr… but I have also had this amazing opportunity to learn about and experience building with bamboo.
Now I see bamboo as a Therapy for me actually. It's a way for me to be present, focused and enables me to share time and conversation with others. Also like the community-farming experience my daughter and my friends and I had with our local Bhutanese refugees in Cairns.... Westernised cultures have really lost this "space" and "tranquility" that comes (I believe) with working together in Community (for the common good - not ourselves so much)... when we were simple "peasants" collecting hay, sything the field etc etc... we had very little mental health problems. I think it's just we're too much about "ourselves" and in our own "heads". When I start experiencing anxiety now, I alert myself to it and just gently step back, go downstairs, find my tools or just stare at things and feel my Cobb oven. Get focused into feeling things and breathing gently to slow down my sympathetic nervous system. Switch off the adrenalin and activate the parasympathetic... Within 15 minutes of throwing some bamboo on the floor and experimenting with a weaving pattern... I suddenly noticed that my anxiety had disappeared.
I used to experience anxiety frequently after my nervous system became extremely worn down not having a break from Freyr (who is like a perpetual toddler) you could say and I really nearly lost my shit totally. I did too much Vipassana in my early 20's so when I was explaining to Disability Services in Australia what was happening to my nervous system and mind in such an "objective" way - they didn't take me seriously. Better if I had gone in there screaming and crying and having a fit-of-breakdown on the floor. I knew I was close to it and had all the warning signals in my body - but yeah, they didn't take me seriously. And I didn't want to reach that point and Have a total breakdown... because what good would I be to my daughter if I was in a nut-house/medicated drongo (as my friend put it well to me).
My next step was to put Freyr into foster care. When I looked into that option and asked Child Safety about the process, they said that there were no care-houses for under-18 people (with disabilities) in Cairns and that she would probably get moved around every 2 weeks and I might not get to see her. They also said I would have to stand before a judge and say why I am unable to look after my daughter... and there was another thing but I must have blocked it out of my memory for now. Horrified, that became the very very last-resort option. My psychologist said she'd looked into as many options as she could and couldn't find any support for me either. She recommended that if I felt like I was going to lose it, to get a taxi to the hospital as they would HAVE to take Freyr into care. So I kept a bag for her packed in case it got to that stage. It was at the 11th hour that my Philippine friend asked me to come and stay with his family in Palawan.
....My vision is to crowd fund between families of kids with special needs to create a time-share model for meeting the needs of ourselves and our children now and into the future. I aim to create a type of Super-Natural-Annuation which parents and people with disabilities themselves may co-invest in to propagate disability-friendly, accessible, inclusive, fun and natural spaces for people to coexist and work together - becoming self-sustaining through community-enterprise activities and sharing new possibilities With other families for harmonious supported living.