Stronger than the Storm: Behind the Scenes with Sanjay

 

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The man and his boy are bowed over the side of the boat, their faces dark in the shadow of the setting sun.  Cast against the light fading behind ageless mountains, they seem to flow formlessly with the sea, and, but for the flash of nimble fingers and woven nets, they are specters on the water.  The world is a wheel of dissolving colors in that encroaching night, and through it all the fingers dance and dart and cut through the shadows.

The man stands, his muscles straining.  The boy bends and grasps something below the surface, then lifts the hand-woven trap from the water and stands alongside his father.  Together they examine the crab clacking through the mesh.  There is a murmur of dialogue and then silence, as they bow over the side of the boat again.

I observe them from my boat until they have finished for the night, and in tandem we return toward shore.

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Not long ago, this same man watched helplessly as his family began to starve. The sea that had once given Cesar the means to send his children to school had taken everything away from him, including his ability to feed his wife and kids.  With no food and no income, Cesar had no hope.

For people in the Philippines, the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan is measured not only in lives, but also in livelihoods.  When the unprecedented storm finally retreated into the ocean, thousands of boats lay in splinters along the coastline, leaving thousands of families with no source of income or sustenance.  In a country where life depends on the haul of one’s boat, the chaos was unprecedented.

The storm didn’t just take Cesar’s boat—it took most of his roof, too.  He thanks God it didn’t take any of his family, though that alone is a miracle.  When he showed me the damage to his house, I was amazed that there were no fatalities.  During the storm, the family fled to a downstairs corner in the kitchen, huddling together against the wall while the winds tore the roof piece by piece, leaving a gaping hole in its wake.  Had any member of his large family been caught upstairs, they would never have come down alive.

Fifteen months later and the roof is still a gaping hole.  When it rains, which it often does, Cesar and his family maneuver tarps and sheets and hope they hold, which they often don’t.  Over time, they have grown accustomed to the inconvenience. For Cesar, it is simply that—an inconvenience.  Compared to the agony of helplessness when he was unable to fish and feed his family, a roofless house is a small problem.

In the wake of Typhon Haiyan, ADRA got busy restoring order.  As soon as the immediate needs for food and clean water were met, they began repairing boats and nets and livelihoods.  They also offered a cash for work program where fishermen could earn money in exchange for making crab traps, which they then got to keep.  Watching them weave these crab traps was like watching a farmer planting seeds in a field.  These traps are the seeds of their future harvest, and a bastion against hunger and extreme poverty.

Crab Net

Now that he has a boat again, and new nets and crab traps, Cesar is confident that he will soon be able to fix his house.  For him, like so many others who depend on the sea for survival, it is all about the boat.  Just by owning this simple wooden vessel, Cesar has the means to feed his entire family, while earning money.  And though there may be a hole in his house, Cesar has a boat.  And that is the hope he needed.