Farmers affected by Typhoon Odette attended a farmer training on Good Agricultural Practices and Organic farming in the municipalities of San Benito and Burgos on the island of Siargao, Surigao del Norte last December 2022.
The training is facilitated by trainers from the Rice Specialists Training Course (RSCT). The participants from barangays Orok and Talisay learn approaches on how to rebuild their agricultural livelihoods and increase their farm yields through sustainable and safe methods.
Among other things, they learn about the importance of intercropping and how to make and apply organic fertilizers and pesticides. They also learned how to transfer their newfound knowledge to others.
After the training, they will facilitate sharing what they learned with other farmers in their communities.
Photos by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | December 2022, Siargao, Surigao del Norte
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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.
The rice paddy near Erna and Ruben’s home. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)
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.
“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 cries as she recalls their experience during and after Typhoon Odette (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)
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.
The newly-repaired home of Erna and her family. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)
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.
Erna with her fellow co-op members. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)
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.
Erna at the co-op. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)
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.
Ruben washing the pigs while Shekainah observes. (Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022)
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.”
Photo by Arianne Gijsenbergh for Action Against Hunger | Surigao City, December 2022
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A family’s livelihood is a means of securing necessities in life. During disasters and humanitarian emergencies, livelihood is one of the most affected areas, thus affecting families. Almost five months after Typhoon Odette, families in Siargao are still trying to bring theirs back.
Before the storm
The community relies on agricultural produce. Leah’s husband, Julito, asks for coconut shells from copra owners to make charcoal since they do not own a farm. He then sells the charcoal and brings 800 to 1,000-peso income a day. Sometimes, they only have 300 pesos when raw materials are scarce.
After spending on food and other necessities, Leah would use the spare as capital to buy goods for their small sari-sari store.
In photo: Leah fills her basket with goods after receiving the cash assistance (Photo by Aliana Gene Sarmiento for Action Against Hunger)
Losing two birds with one disaster
When the area was placed under Typhoon Signal No. 3 last December 14, the family evacuated to a nearby school and left their house and store for hours in fear for their lives.
Leah and her husband came back three days after to find their store toppled and the goods buried in the mud. Leah said her heart sank at the sight of it. She burrowed through the debris to save the undamaged products just so she could still have items to sell.
Her husband however was left jobless after Odette had wiped away hectares of the coconut farms.
“Akong taglig-on ang akong kaugalingon.”
“I try to remain strong,” says Leah Compra-Navales, after their family survived Typhoon Odette. Makabangon-bangon na man ginagmay. “We are coping up, slowly,” she added even though they have lost their livelihood to the typhoon.
Restoring the local economy as a community
Leah’s family is among the 52 households from Barangay Libertad in the municipality of Sta. Monica that received cash assistance for livelihood restoration. Action Against Hunger’s Typhoon Odette Emergency Response in Caraga gave 10,150 pesos for each affected household in Siargao alone. This is done through the funding of the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA) and support from our consortium partners. The assistance under the Emergency Recovery Market System (ERMS) component aims to assist households to re-establish their livelihoods and restore the local economy.
Along with others affected within the community of Libertad, they also received non-food items, hygiene kits, and cash assistance of 5,150 pesos per household for food supplies from Action Against Hunger previous USAID-funded activities.
In photo: Leah receives the cash assistance during the ERMS payout. (Photo by Aliana Gene Sarmiento for Action Against Hunger)
A step closer to livelihood recovery
After receiving ERMS cash assistance, Leah immediately used the money to purchase goods from a local general merchandise store. She filled her baskets with canned goods, sugar, condiments, laundry soap, and more products they could sell. She then filled the display racks in their store with more goods.
In photo: Leah fills her basket with goods after receiving the cash assistance (Photo by Aliana Gene Sarmiento for Action Against Hunger)
Leah said that with the capital they can earn a small steady income every day, and they will not worry about food in the meantime. She is thankful for the opportunity to restart their small business through the help of Action Against Hunger and other organizations.
In photo: Leah’s daughter sits in front of their freshly-stocked store. (Photo by Aliana Gene Sarmiento for Action Against Hunger)
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Sixty-seven-year-old Carlos Tesorero had one word in mind when asked how he felt when he saw what was left of his home – painful. Carlos, or “Tatay Carlos” as they called him, had a house along the shore of Barangay Guinsaanan in the Municipality of Baras, Catanduanes.
On the morning of November 2, 2020, a day after Typhoon Rolly made landfall, he, along with the other families living near the sea, returned and saw that the typhoon’s strong winds and heavy rains had completely destroyed their houses. “After the storm had passed, at around eight in the morning we went back to check our houses, and everything was gone… It was painful,” said Tatay Carlos. Hollow blocks, scraps of wood, metal, and scattered belongings were all that was left of their homes.
“After the storm had passed, at around eight in the morning we went back to check our houses and everything was gone… It was painful.”
In photo: Action Against Hunger staff visit the wreckage of houses in Barangay Guinsaanan where the houses of Carlos Tesorero and his neighbors once stood. It is now categorized as a ‘no-build zone’.
The residents of Barangay Guinsaanan were no strangers to such weather conditions, especially for those residing along the shore. In fact, in less than two weeks, the province had experienced the impacts of three typhoons – from Quinta to Rolly to Ulysses. Amongst the three, it was Super Typhoon Rolly that greatly affected their homes and livelihoods.
Tatay Carlos worked as a tour guide since 2015. He would accompany tourists to Binurong Point, one of the top tourist destinations in the province and about an hour’s hike from his barangay. Back then, he would get two visitors in a normal week, earning him 200 to 300 pesos. During summers, there would be more tourists and he would get twice the amount of visitors. This all changed when the lockdown was implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were okay before. But when the pandemic happened, it was hard because I had absolutely no income,” Tatay Carlos shares.
Tatay Carlos and his fellow tour guides looked for alternative sources of income. He went on to extract and sell dried coconut meat taro leaves, papayas, or other crops, earning just enough to get by. Unfortunately, most of the crops and coconut trees were damaged after the consecutive typhoons. He then started to collect dried wood and would sell them for firewood. He would earn enough to buy his food for the day. Tatay Carlos said he tried to apply for manual labor jobs like construction but was unsuccessful. “No one was accepting me because I was old, unlike the others,” he lamented. “I guess this is how it is when you get older, it’s more difficult to get a job.”
In photo: Tatay Carlos happily smiles with his cat named ‘Jasper’ who is his current companion inside his temporary home.
In photo: Tatay Carlos happily smiles with his pet inside his temporary home.
After the typhoons, the sea level had risen significantly, making the land where his home once stood into a no-build zone. Like the other families who lived there, Tatay Carlos now has to start from scratch. Fortunately, he was allowed to reside in a small building that was previously used as a barangay hall for the meantime.
With all that he has been through, what saddens Tatay Carlos is going through these ordeals alone. His wife, daughter, and grandchild visited a relative in Bulacan last year, but because of travel restrictions and financial constraints, they have not been able to return to Catanduanes since then. “If there was no pandemic, they would want to go back here,” he said. He tries to keep in contact with them regularly, but their conversations are often limited due to weak cellular phone reception.
Despite living alone, he continues to be in good spirits by regularly talking to his neighbors. Tatay Carlos also enjoys the company of a white kitten which he keeps as a pet. He spends his day going to the sea to catch fish for his own consumption since these are usually too small to sell. Some days, he checks if there are any crops to be harvested and sold. Tatay Carlos’ daily food is augmented by relief packs from various organizations. Mineral water is sold in the barangay, but since he has no income, he would get drinking water from the deep well.
In photo: Inside Tatay Carlos’ temporary home, his beddings on one side and the relief goods he received on the other.
Tatay Carlos works hard each day in order to provide for himself and perhaps earn extra income to save. “What we really need is money,” he says with a weak laugh. “We received noodles and canned goods as relief, so food is all set. We got some soap too, but those ran out quickly. I have to admit, sometimes I loan items from the sari-sari store items like cooking oil or laundry soap, and I pay them back once I manage to sell some of the firewood I collect,” he adds further.
He was excited when he found out that he was selected to be a beneficiary for Action Against Hunger’s multipurpose cash assistance (MPCA). On January 27, Tatay Carlos was one of the 60 beneficiaries from Barangay Guinsaanan who received cash assistance amounting to 5,200 pesos. The MPCA was conducted as part of Action Against Hunger’s Emergency Assistance to Typhoon Affected Communities in Catanduanes and Albay, which is co-implemented by CARE Philippines. The project is made possible through the funding of the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA). The project is expected to reach a total of 14,500 people through MPCA alone. The goal of the program is to enable the most vulnerable households affected by Typhoon Rolly to meet immediate food and basic humanitarian needs.
“My number one dream is to have a house of our own again,”
With the assistance he received, Tatay Carlos remains hopeful and positive. “My number one dream is to have a house of my own again,” he shares. The makeshift house he is currently residing in is being sold at 30,000 pesos and he hopes to earn and save enough money so he can buy the lot someday. He also adds that one of his priorities as well as to have his daughter graduate as this was his dream for himself when he was younger. “Even though she now has a child of her own, I want my daughter to finish her studies,” he says.
In photo: Tatay Carlos at the Multipurpose Cash Assistance (MPCA) payout orientation at Barangay Guinsaanan, Baras. (Photo by Joyce Sandajan for Action Against Hunger)
Despite losing both his home and livelihood, Tatay Carlos smiles as he shares the many ways he tries to make ends meet on a daily basis. Knowing he has to start from nothing pains him but says he is thankful that there are people who are willing to extend kindness through various forms. He may have been through a lot the past year, but his family and the support from his community keep him going.
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