Sis. Alice Sobreviñas, peace advocate

Passion for the earth, respect for life

Catching on her one busy Sunday morning at the convent grounds, Sr. Alice obliged to media interviews amid her over-sight tasks as official time-keeper of the children’s art workshops and tree planting for the International Day of Biodiversity on May 21.

Baguio City’s Sta. Scholastica Convent co-sponsored with the Baguio-based Tebtebba Foundation the mother-and-child activities for this year’s Biodiversity Day on May 22 and the convent grounds was teeming with some 50 children and more guardians who also took part in the art and tree-planting activities whole day that Sunday.

“It is also the International Year of the Forests,” she reminded the group, as she emphasized that the tree-planting activities at the four-hectare Catholic estate was the first of a series of planned tree planting to re-vegetate the existing pine forest along Wagner Road.

Sta. Scholastica Convent, established in 1917 by German missionaries of the Order of St. Benedict (OSB) as a retirement home, is also home to what the nuns call the Seven Healing Gardens of Eden.

These gardens also keep the nuns at the convent busy but it is Sr. Alice who oversees the overall upkeep with the help of three Igorot gardeners. “She chose to remain as the main caretaker of the healing gardens,” one of the guests said.It is a priory mandate to establish the Seven Healing Gardens of Eden according to Sr. Alice.

“I am not a gardener but a teacher,” she beamed, “But I learn a lot from the gardeners and came to love the soil,” she admitted. Edgar Guevarra of Geofarms in Barrio Mangayao, Bayambang, Pangasinan, helped conceptualize and design the gardens.

Officially started in August 2005, the seven healing gardens mean a lot to the sisters at the Sta Scholastica Convent. According to the Benedictines, seven is a perfect number, all the plants are supposed to heal and Eden implies a harmonious relationship between God, human beings and the environment.

Sr. Alice hopes to come up with a set of vision-mission-goals for the Seven Healing Gardens of Eden to guide her. Now these include lush fruit trees, vegetables, salad, flowering and ornamental plants, herbs, cacti and a pool of spirulina. These occupy almost one fifth of the convent grounds, giving Sta. Scholastica a well-cared for haven of robust vegetation for aesthetics and health.

For whatever impact these leave on the visitor, anyone would want to come again even for just a stroll.

For Sr. Alice, the Seven Healing Gardens of Eden is her “way of sharing passion for the earth amid the worsening crisis — the climate change and the impending food insecurity, and the consequences of global warming and climate change on the life of people.”

Walking through the gardens with peace

Scents from various herbs and flowers greet visitors, besides the sight of an array of colors displaying all hues of blue, yellow and red. Yellow fennel flowers exude the enticing smell of anise. Caressing the earth are sweet-smelling taragons, lemon grass and citronella.

Angel’s trumpet come in white and purple. Geranium, nasturtium and several herbs, with or without flowers, never fail to get the guests turn their heads a second time.

Specially noticeable are the basins on which gota kola abound. These look so much like the native takip-kuhol, a type of ginseng that has been proven to cure several types of ailments, including cough and fever.

“Three leaves a day is enough to keep one’s memory going,” Sr. Alice said of the golo cola, the leaves of which are like tansan (bottle tops). It is said to enhance the nerves, including the brain, thus it prevents the onset of Alzheimer syndrome.??Growing on almost every pot of other plants and herbs are three-leaf clovers, usually eaten raw for its medicinal properties.

These are the ones, which every Baguio child enjoys for its mildly sour taste that leaves a lasting agreeable flavor in the mouth.

Spirulina, according to Sr. Alice, appears like a magic potion. This blue-green algae when used as a facial cream leaves the skin soft, clear and wrinkle-free. When taken orally,in tablet or capsule, it cures many dreadful diseases including cancer. It is a potent anti-oxidant and strengthens the immune system and frees the body of toxins. It also balances cholesterol and raises energy levels, rejuvenating the body.

Night-shift garden helpers

Besides the healing gardens to care for with the help of some men and women who do menial jobs around the convent, Sr. Alice also takes care of African night-crawler worms.

“These are my night-shift workers in the garden,” Sr. Alice says fondly of the worms that feed on decaying rubbish.

The convent has 12 beds of worms, which eat all garden shavings and kitchen refuse and whose vermi-casts turn into rich invaluable fertilizer for the gardens. Sr. Alice gladly showed the vermi-beds and a kitchen-type vermi-bin, which also traps the by-product verm-itea.
This tea serves as an organic pesticide. Harvesting the vermi-cast every 45 days gives the nuns enough organic fertilizer to nourish the healing gardens.

The convent’s vermi-culture project is among the best in the vicinity, according to Traditional Knowledge Network Coordinator Judy Cari?o, one of the organizers of the biodiversity day activities.

Emptying one’s self in order to give more

To keep her body and spirit high and in good shape to face another day of service to the people, she sits daily in the convent’s Zen Center. She devotes at least 30 minutes everyday to “empty herself.”

On Sundays, the sitting session takes up to two hours, with a five-minute walking allowance every 25 minutes to stretch out the legs and other bodily muscles to improve circulation. “I do not sit alone. I have a community who also practice Zen here,” she says. Sr. Alice finds the activity as a renewal of one’s energy.

“It is letting go of everything to enable one to accept more. When you are empty, that is the time when you can give everything,” she stresses. The Zen Center started in 2004, with a group of Baguio residents now joining her in the sitting sessions.

“I started in Pampanga years back. My colleagues there referred me to the group of Alda Perez who welcome me into their circle,” she says.

Winding up

Convent pet Yakin, called her attention and Sr. Alice obliged. The dog used to be like a crybaby when it was a puppy. ” It used to cry a lot,”she said. With Sr. Alice, though, the dog appears at peace, even in front of the more than 100 visitors moving about the convent grounds, which it rules and guards.

Yakin then left Sr. Alice, with the gardener fixing its collar to keep it under his control. Lanky, a puppy, came three years after Yakin, his uncle, according to Sr. Alice.

As she resumed her task for that Sunday, with a bell, she called the children to a dining area right at the herbal garden and led them to say their grace before meals, which she started by asking the children to look up and tell her what they saw and proceeded with a group prayer.

In her introduction at the peace consultations in the hinterlands she invoked for the participants and witnesses to remember the farmers whose dry and calloused hands tended to the fields, which many of them did not own; or the many sectors in Philippine society crying for a humane existence; or the urban poor struggling on the basis of each meal for food to temporarily relieve hunger and the indigenous peoples fight for ancestral domain and self-determination.

Her prayer with the children was far too simple yet as strong-willed as that in Abra. ??(

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