Siargao Island

Some choose to spend blue Christmas helping fellow islanders on Siargao

Roel Catoto
Some choose to spend blue Christmas helping fellow islanders on Siargao

BANANA RELIEF ON CHRISTMAS DAY. Villagers in a typhoon-ravaged town on Siargao Island get their share of bananas delivered to them on Christmas Day by a local relief aid group called "NextGen For Odette."

Roel Catoto/Rappler

Members of a group of islanders on Siargao Island are pooling their resources and spending their own money to help families that are suffering more than them in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette

SURIGAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – It was a blue Christmas for typhoon-battered Siargao Island, but some spent it meaningfully and selflessly, helping others instead of staying in a corner in desperation and counting their losses.

Jiji Ortiz, a businessman on the island who owns Haole restaurant, said he was already falling into depression a week after Typhoon Odette devastated Siargao.

Things became harder for him when his son Gino and his girlfriend left Siargao for Manila to get some aid, four days after the typhoon battered the island. “I felt sad living in a roofless abode. Our business is now shut down, and our workers have no jobs and no means to survive now,” Ortiz said.

With more time in his hands now, Ortiz joined his friends and volunteered for a group called “NextGen For Odette” to help in disaster relief operations on Siargao Island.

The group has members who have been pooling their resources and spending their own money to help families that are suffering more than them. Members of the group, some foreigners who made Siargao their home, have been relentless in their efforts to help fellow islanders since December 16, the day Typhoon Odette made landfall and flattened communities on the island.

“We mobilized, used our cars, and made our equipment available beginning with the rescue operations,” said Matt Cuadra, one of the volunteers.

It was NextGen that sponsored the first chartered flights to bring in relief goods from Manila and help several stranded tourists fly out of the island.

On Christmas Day, Ortiz volunteered as a driver to run errands and deliver to Pilar town boxes of bananas sent to Siargao by the Tagum Agricultural Development Company, bottles of water, and some construction materials.

“This is a meaningful Christmas – to be with the needy and typhoon victims,” he said.

Spanish Iago Castro also found himself volunteering as a truck driver to deliver potable water to far-flung villages. “It’s an awesome deed for the people,” Castro said.

Richard Sharpe, a Filipino-Canadian living in Pilar, returned to his family in Siargao from Cebu where he was stranded for five days.

As soon as he returned, he went around the island to assess the damage and then started helping. “It’s my most meaningful Christmas,” Sharpe said.

Like others on the island, Sharpe suffered, too. His famous Lindum Lodge in Pilar was 80% destroyed by the typhoon.

Sharpe’s family has so far spent more than half a million pesos for private rescue, relief, and rehabilitation efforts. Even on Christmas Day, he was out helping people.

“Siargao is my home, and I just want to help people first. Once they are okay, we will restore our place and renew life,” Sharpe said.

It would be good, he said, if people would send Siargao more food, bottles of drinking water, tin sheets, plywood to build makeshift houses, tools, and other construction materials.

With chainsaws, they can make lumber out of fallen trees, Sharpe said. –