CAPALAYAN, SURIGAO CITY — Erna Crisologo, 35, is proud to be a rice farmer. Growing up in a family of rice farmers she has lived in the middle of the rice fields her whole life. Besides the rice field bordering their home, Erna and her husband Ruben Cabalan, 35, also own a small coconut plantation higher up the mountain.
In December 2021, Typhoon Odette raged across the Philippines leaving a trail of destruction along its path. Erna and Ruben’s home in barangay Capalayan, a rural area on the outskirts of Surigao City, was completely washed away, along with their rice plants and coconut trees.
Erna joined the livelihood training sessions and received cash assistance to restore her family’s livelihood. This was part of the Typhoon Odette Emergency Response implemented by Action Against Hunger in the province of Surigao del Norte with funding support from the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA),
“Our rice plants were totally washed away, our coconut trees damaged. We had no more source of income, no source of food.”
In the aftermath of the typhoon, Erna, Ruben, and their daughter Shekanaiah, 8, found shelter in the school nearby. The school functioned as an evacuation center. The first days after the storm, the situation was dire. The center was overcrowded and the families were hungry. It took almost a week for food supplies and other relief goods to arrive because the roads were unpassable.
With no home to return to, Erna and her family stayed in the evacuation center for 2 months. “I was very stressed that time due to our situation,” recalls Erna, “Our rice plants were totally washed away, and our coconut trees damaged. We had no more source of income, no source of food.”
Erna was heavily pregnant with a second child, which was due in February. Sadly, the stress took a toll on her body. On January 23 Erna had a miscarriage. “My baby is over there,” says Erna through her tears, pointing at a small grave next to the rice field. “That’s where we buried him. A boy. We named him Anton.”
Thankfully, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Erna’s family received donated housing materials, which they combined with leftover planks from their old house to build a new home.
Once her family had a roof over their heads again, Erna and other typhoon-affected farmers in barangay Capalayan attended a training on good agricultural practices and organic vegetable production, organized by Action Against Hunger. Erna learned how to make and apply organic insecticide and fertilizer and how to improve their dyke construction. “Before we were making our dykes larger and higher,” explains Erna, “but the trainer told us that if you make the dyke too big, it will attract mice who will make it their home. It should be like this, just high enough to prevent the water and fertilizer from flowing away.”
Erna also joined a training on financial literacy and wrote a business plan to access 15,000 pesos cash assistance. She used the funds to buy a tools like sprayer for the organic fertilizer, a shovel, a raincoat, rubber boots, organic rice seeds and to pay for labor costs for land preparation. “I feel very happy and excited to start planting rice again,” says Erna.
“I learned that it is very important to save so that we will not be hungry if a disaster comes. We are very thankful that Action Against Hunger gave us funds to restart our business. Now we have no debts to repay and we can start saving immediately.”
In addition to the training sessions and cash assistance, Action Against Hunger coordinated with the Philippine Coconut Authority to provide seed nuts to the farmers for restoring their coconut plantations. Erna and the other beneficiaries take turns weeding and watering the seed nuts in the nursery until they are ready for transplanting.
The project’s livelihood support measures are implemented in cooperation with the local farmer cooperative, where Erna volunteers as finance officer. Her mother was one of the founders.
“My mother’s passion is also my passion: serving our co-farmers. Even though we are poor, we are able to help other people,” says Erna.
Three months after planting, the rice will be ready for harvest. Erna plans to invest some of their earnings in buying pigs as an additional source of income. The family already owns three pigs which Ruben feeds and washes every morning, while Shekanaiah laughs in delight at the sound of their squeals.
Erna also wants to open a savings account. “I learned that it is very important to save so that we will not be hungry if a disaster comes. We are very thankful that Action Against Hunger gave us funds to restart our business. Now, we have no debts to repay and can start saving immediately.”
The USAID-funded project supports families like Erna’s to recover from disaster and rebuild fulfilling lives. Erna smiles contentedly, “We are doing well now. Not just well, we are doing good.”
The livelihood support is part of the ‘Emergency Assistance to Support Local Recovery Capacity of Families and Communities Affected by Typhoon Odette’ project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA) and jointly implemented by Action Against Hunger, CARE Philippines, and ACCORD Incorporated.
Written by Arianne Gijsenbergh