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'Hope Stories of Haiyan'

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Keeping Hope Afloat
by Gia Leanne Luga

One year after Haiyan, the fishermen of Ajuy build back their boats, livelihood, and unwavering hope for a better future – one where their children are not as vulnerable to nature’s wrath and poverty’s cruelty.

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In the island barangay of Punta Buri, Tagubanhan (Ajuy, Iloilo), the sun was still hidden under the horizon and the roosters were just starting to crow. But Zaldy Ferrer was already up and about – preparing his bright orange Balangay boat for another day at sea. From the shore, the water looked eerily calm. The waves became harsher as Zaldy and two other fishermen made their way to the deeper part of the ocean, but this didn’t bother them at all.

When they got to where they placed the Bobo fish traps a day ago, they took out the catch, replaced the bait, and dropped the fish traps once more. With one glance at the few pieces of fish (and one tiny octopus), Zaldy knew that what they had caught probably wouldn’t even reach a kilo – not good enough to sell to the market. But there was no trace of sadness on Zaldy’s face.
“This can feed my family for the day. Things will be better tomorrow,” he said with a smile.

At the crack of dawn, Zaldy Ferrer and company gather the Bobo fish traps that contain their catch for the day

The Darkness of Haiyan

As a fisherman, Zaldy deals with the uncertainty and dangers of the sea on a daily basis. There are times when luck is on his side and he can earn PHP 1,000 from a hard day’s work. But more often than not, being a fisherman means earning a meager PHP 100-300 per day. And then there are days like this one.

Fishermen like Zaldy have no control over what nature gives them.
They deal with the uncertainty and dangers of the sea on a daily basis.

But there is nothing quite like the day Haiyan (Yolanda) almost wiped out northeastern Iloilo, one year ago.

As if it happened yesterday, Zaldy remembers the howling wind that sent tree branches, metal sheets, and all kinds of debris flying everywhere. He remembers the crashing waves that engulfed not just the shoreline but also their houses – destroying everything in its path. He remembers fearing for his family, knowing that they could no longer run to the safety of the elementary school.

They may have survived Haiyan, but having to deal with its aftermath was worse.

“Sakit tong niagi na Yolanda kay pagtapos bagyo walay ka na trabaho. Kay ang imo mga gamit, imong pump boat naguba. Imong mga gamit sa lawud nga wala nakuha naubos man.” (What we went through with Haiyan was really painful.
After the storm, we lost all our material possessions, our fishing boats, and our livelihood. Even the fish traps I left at sea were not spared.)

The Dawning of Hope

Without their boats (most of which took years to acquire), they couldn’t even go out to sea and catch fish for their family. They relied on relief, their debts piled up, and the future was getting bleaker as the weeks passed. Hope finally dawned when they heard about the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Balangay program, in partnership with the local government and numerous private partners.

Zaldy had to work with other fishermen whose boats were totally damaged, such as Johnny Baroba and his 3 sons. As part of a fishing barangay that was determined to keep hope afloat, Johnny also had to muster the courage to start over and build back from scratch.

“I thought I’d never be able to fish again. But we just lifted it all up to God. Today, we are very grateful to GK for giving us the chance to stand up and recover.” Together, Johnny, Zaldy and the rest of the fishermen of Brgy. Punta Buri built back their livelihood and started rebuilding their lives.

The fishermen of Brgy. Punta Buri work together to rebuild what they had lost. They finally set the boats out to sea last March 25, only 4 months after Typhoon Haiyan.

When we made it back to shore that day, the sun had already risen. The water once again looked eerily calm, and then suddenly, a bright splash of orange broke through the greyish blue scenery. It was a Balangay boat full of school children. As it turned out, there was no other means of transportation from one side of the island to where the elementary school was situated, and this particular boat serves as their “school bus.”

So that the children can go to their classes, a Balangay boat transports the school children
from one side of the island to another.

Those school children could have very well been the classmates of Zaldy’s 8 year-old son William James (Jam-Jam), whose name is painted on his Balangay boat. When I ask him about his other kids, Zaldy smiles and shares with me his dreams for Jam-Jam, as well as 3 year-old son James Zaldy and 1 year-old daughter Althea Nicole: “Paskwelahun jud nako sila. Para sa ulihi di sila mapereha sa aton nga kung ara bagyo piliton ta kay kung di ka maglakat sa lawud way man ka ipakaon sa ila. Kung ako lang indi gid kay pirte kabudlay sa lawud – perte pang ulan, perte pang tugnaw. Perte ka budlay sa lawud. Mao na ako gusto ko nga makaswela gid.” (I want them to finish school. I don’t want my children to end up like their father, who goes out to sea even during a storm just to make sure they can eat. Life at sea is difficult – something I wouldn’t wish upon them.)

One year after Haiyan, I realize that for Zaldy and the rest of these fishermen, their brand new Balangay boats mean so much more than just livelihood and survival. These boats carry the dreams that they have for their children. These boats represent their unwavering hope for a better future – one where their children are not as vulnerable to nature’s wrath and poverty’s cruelty.

Let us join them in this fight of keeping hope afloat. Together, we can #endpoverty.

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'Hope Stories of Haiyan'


Through the GK Balangay program, Gawad Kalinga, the local government unit (LGU), volunteers, and partners join hands with fisherfolk in repairing hundreds of fishing boats (797 as of Oct 31, 2014) damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. More importantly, through community organizing and values formation, the program helps fishing communities stand up on their feet again.

But thousands more need our help, and the work of rebuilding is far from over. Find out how you can help #buildhope after Haiyan and  #endpoverty for more families.

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