Fun and Purpose: The Story of Zambawood

Zambawood’s owner Rachel Harrison about her most awe-inspiring travel experience, her advocacies and what’s next for her

Photo by Jericho San Miguel

Zambawood is an enchanting resort in the coastal town of San Narciso in Zambales – a place not just for fun and relaxation but also for finding your purpose. Going Places talks to Zambawood’s owner Rachel Harrison about her most awe-inspiring travel experience, her advocacies and what’s next for her.

What was life like before Zambawood?

I’m an architect by training but I did not practice. I really wanted to but I wanted to see the world. I became a flight stewardess. My prime years were really spent traveling.

Have you had the chance to live abroad?

I have been blessed to be posted to several countries and I’ve also had the opportunity to live in different places. Hong Kong is fantastic. The vibrancy, the spirit, the soul of the city is just phenomenal. Every single time I go back to Hong Kong, I still feel excited. Hong Kong was my second home for a long time. I spent 11 years there, most of my adult life. I’ve been in Singapore now for 10 years.

What has been the most memorable out of all the countries you’ve visited?

I love Switzerland because it offers you a different tranquility. The beauty of the surroundings is amazing. It really speaks to the soul. Everywhere you look is postcard-perfect. I also like Canada because of the mountains and the lakes. It’s a beautiful country.

Where do you plan to go next?

I’m trying to get to know Zambales. There are islands out in the north that people don’t know about yet.  I would also love to go to Sagada.

What places in a certain locality do you usually visit when you travel?

When I travel, I go to temples and churches because I want to experience the spirituality of a certain place. A very memorable one is the Vatican. It was overwhelming. I was in awe.

Tell us more about Zambawood. How did you come up with its look?

We really wanted a place where you feel like you’re living outside. When you look at Zambawood, it opens to the view. The wood we used are all from old houses – from the cabinets, to the kitchen counters, to the furniture – and these are interspersed with a collection we’ve had through the years.

At the time I was traveling as a stewardess, we would travel around Asia a lot. I was very attracted to batik so I started collecting different textiles in my 20’s. There are pieces from China, Indonesia, India, and of course, indigenous fabrics from around the Philippines. The Asian culture really appeals to me. It’s eclectic mix of colors and patterns. The more you mix the prints, the better. Life is also like that. You have to open up to a lot of things and not focus on a certain theme.

What inspired you to create it?

The idea is inspired by Julyan, my son who has special needs. Julyan is a realization that you can do anything you want. We want to educate and equip people like Julyan with skills in the visual and culinary arts. The idea is to expose them to a lot of things they might do and can do, geared towards empowering them. We want to create a community where they can integrate into the society.

Being with people with special needs opens up your emotions. Your compassion, your patience, understanding and unconditional love is put to a test and it makes you a better person. We want to encourage is getting in touch with yourself from within.

The vision is for Zambawood to showcase everything that’s beautiful and artistic. I’d like to feature artworks by people like Julyan and this is why we’re putting up an Art and Skills Training Center. We’ll have an artist-in-residence and we’ll invite local and international artists to share their expertise.

What kind of experience can people have at Zambawood?

People can do camping at the beach and eventually, around the farm. We also want to teach urban people how to do farming. It’s amazing to watch a plant grow even if it’s just tomatoes or garlic. Part of my advocacy is to give dignity to farming. There is a lot of joy in farming and it’s a form of therapy. The soil brings you back to where you came from. When people come to Zambawood for teambuilding, we want them to find themselves and remind them to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of life, that you can find happiness by being you.

What other advocacies are you pushing for through Zambawood?

We’re also an avenue for other disabled people like deaf-mute. The Rotary Housekeeping Center offers barista and housekeeping training for deaf-mute and people with autism. At the moment, we are the only one supporting them for on-the-job training. I want to encourage other establishments to do this because they’re also part of our society.

Where do you get inspiration?

I get inspiration through prayer.

What’s next for you?

I’m really forward to the opening of Arts and Skills Training Center. I’m also starting a line of merchandise and working with Helena Alegre who designs handcrafted jewelry. I’m also looking forward to pushing my new advocacy on bamboo. Hopefully, I’ll also be helping the people of Marikina River and Pasig River to plant bamboo by the bank. It’s a very ambitious project but we’re doing it for the next generation. We’re also planning of opening a café in Manila.

Zambawood is located at Fernandez Compound, Purok 1B, Barrio La Paz, San Narciso, Zambales; www.zambawood.com 

This story appeared in Going Places January 2017 issue.