Seaweeds for survival

“Always wear a smile on your face no matter what happens because being angry or sad won’t do you any good.”

This is how 37-year old seaweed farmer Samer Sarzona sums up his attitude towards life. Living in extreme poverty for years in the remote island of Dawahon, Bato, Leyte has rather taught him to not let go of a positive outlook.

“Being optimistic is important for survival,” he says. Samer claims he has experienced a lot of trials in life already.

Being poor, he says, makes him and his family familiar with the word “hardship” on a daily basis. With very little earning as a seaweed farmer, he can only afford to feed his wife and three children (ages 16, 11 and 3 months) two meals a day. “This is the situation of many families here,” he explains.

His wife, Evelyn, stays at home and takes care of the children when he is out in the sea. Their house is a small, crudely built shack made of light materials. Nevertheless, they consider it their only safe haven where the children can eat, play and sleep.

When Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines in November 2013, their home was easily torn down. He admits there was no way their house could have survived the ferocity of that super storm.

But the worst feeling came when he discovered how badly damaged their seaweed drier -a platform made of bamboo and scrap wood slightly elevated from the shallow water where farmers dry their seaweeds- was!

“I was teary-eyed when I saw in plain sight how the typhoon tore down our platform,” recalled Samer. He knew he would be facing a more difficult predicament.

“The money used to build that platform was just lent to us by our master. We cannot borrow again because the previous debt is still unpaid”, explained Samer when asked why their platform has not been rebuilt.

Aside from their broken platform, their seaweed farm was widely damaged as well. Almost all of the seaweeds were washed out. Though Samer was able to salvage a few lines from his farm, they were eventually stolen by unidentified individuals.

Days after the typhoon proved to be tougher times for Samer and his family. Because of no income, he could not buy enough food supply for his household.

Without the seaweed farm, Samer wished he could fish in the sea instead. But his boat, which he normally would use for catching fish as an alternative livelihood, was also damaged. The limited mobility was a huge hindrance for seeking help from the mainland.

“There were times when we had nothing to eat. Thankfully, our neighbors would just share with us their few supplies. I felt great pity for my family,” he says.

Instead of losing hope, Samer remained optimistic. “I somehow knew that help was on its way.”

Samer was chosen as one of the 300 household beneficiaries of the Food Assistance to Typhoon-Haiyan Affected Vulnerable Household (FATAH) project of ADRA Philippines.

With funding from the Canadian Food Grains Bank through ADRA Canada, this number of poor families were given a much-needed boost to get back on their feet. The FATAH project mainly provided Samer and hundreds of 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) families the materials they would need to rebuild their seaweed farms.

Based on a series of consultations with the farmers themselves, ADRA provided the following materials necessary for reconstruction: deformed steel bars, P.E. rope numbers 12 and 8, and one roll of soft tie.

Moreover, the farmers were each given 250 kilos of seaweed seedlings to jumpstart their production. The project also gave fish traps to another set of 50 households that rely mainly on fishing as a source of livelihood.

Like Samer, Agrefino is familiar with many types of hardships being born and living poor. “Every day is a challenging journey of survival for us,” says Agrefino.

His older son was forced to stop high school to be a laborer in the barangay. His eldest daughter, who has a child of her own, was also forced to work as babysitter in order to help the family.

The family’s situation got worse because they were also victims of the fire that razed the island in May. They not only lost their house and belongings in the fire but also the little money they saved up from their previous harvest.

“These fish traps are a huge help to small-time fishermen like me. That’s why I am very happy with this assistance from ADRA,” says Agrefino.

This project did not only help the vulnerable households restore their lost livelihood but also provided immediate response in terms of alleviating hunger. This was done through the distribution of food vouchers to the same 300 families under the Cash-For-Work initiative.

For twenty days, the beneficiaries were involved in a coastal clean-up drive, which aimed to minimize the amount of garbage irresponsibly disposed on the island’s front beach. Their collective effort cleaned up a total of 30,000 sacks of trash.

Instead of giving money as remuneration for their work, rice and grocery vouchers amounting to P3,200 were paid to the beneficiaries. This was done to ensure that food is being purchased by the beneficiaries in exchange for their labor.

“If not for ADRA, we won’t be able to restore our damaged farm because we cannot afford anymore to start up another farm. The seaweed kit and the food items from the CFW Program that we received really minimized our hunger.”

Samer explains that because of the CFW Program, they were able to save money for the repair of their damaged boat. They used the vouchers instead to buy food for their daily consumption.

“In reality, the words ‘thank you’ are not enough to describe how grateful I am to ADRA. This organization has given me more reasons to remain positive in life despite our every day trials,” he says.