Exactly a month ago, we told you about STN Staffer Brendon Johnson and his relief trip to the Philippines. Brendon, who was raised in the Philippines, embarked on December 8th on a four month trip to help those in the country he called home. Most media has quieted down regarding what was called the biggest storm in history. Today on the blog, we have a few stories straight from Brendon that are both reports of brighter days for the Filipinos, and reminders of the hard realities they’re still facing. -EJ
“Since we arrived in the town of Hernani on the coast of Eastern Samar, a pastor named Sam has been taking us around the town to introduce us to the locals here. Walking among all the washed out concrete houses and freshly assembled tents, it is very evident to see the effects the storm surge had on this place. Yet, all the people we meet are smiling, upbeat, and carrying on with the day’s chores or activities. It is really amazing to see how the people here make do with what they have, regardless of what has been evidently been taken away from them.
One local we met is Fredrick, a young married man and father to a six-month old. Fredrick is a part-time fisherman who is now devoting most of his time to collecting scrap metal left scattered around what used to be his house. He and his family now have a shanty style shelter setup next to a relief tent. They only use the tent during the night, since it is too hot under the heat of daylight. Fredrick and his family have a lot to be thankful for in spite of their current living conditions. Fredrick explained to us that during the peak intensity of the storm, he and his family took shelter in the school across the street from their house. Moments later, a 30 foot storm surge came up the beach and swept their house away. As the waves made their way to the somewhat protected concrete school rooms, Fredrick and the other townspeople were caught swirling around in the turbulent water. With quick thinking, Fredrick then fled with his family across a courtyard to a more protected church, where they waited out the rest of the storm. Fredrick said that not everyone was so lucky, since he knows of at least one baby that died during the whole devastating ordeal.
For this family, there is a lot to think about with such a traumatizing experience still fresh in their minds. Even when the wind picks up from time to time here, Fredrick says that he still gets nervous and can have trouble sleeping.But Fredrick and his wife say that they are blessed just to be together and that they can still make a living. The Global Crisis Response Team I’m working with was able to make a small provision by lending Fredrick some tools to help his recycling work. Fredrick used these to make quick work on some buried metal. Life goes on for this special family, and they know that they are not alone in this relief effort.”
“Below is a photo of from the town of Santa Fe. Santa Fe’s school (and basically all the other schools on the island) was heavily damaged. While repairs are being done by foreign aid, you can see the tents where classes are being held. This really good to see, as families return to a somewhat normal routine of daily life. ”
When you spot Brendon Johnson in the lineup, one of the first things you’ll notice is the 8-rayed Filipino sun tattoo on his upper back.The second thing you might notice is how strange it is that this patriot of the Philippines looks nothing like a Filipino. With blonde hair, blue eyes and standing at over 6 feet tall,you have to wonder what the link is between this american caucasian and a cluster of islands on the other side of the world.
Brendon grew up in Cebu, Philippines as a child of missionary parents. His family provided a learning center to provide educational material, books and tutoring for children in need. After moving to the mainland for school and spending some time in the US Coast Guard, Brendon ended up in Hawaii at Surfing The Nations. Brendon’s love for the country he was raised in never weakened, and he, along with a few others, started to organize trips to the Philippines through STN. The vision of Surfing The Nations, to be surfers that give back that bring good to communities, was a perfect fit for meeting needs in the islands of the Philippines.
Just a few weeks ago, the storm of all storms hit the Philippines and the destruction was unveiled to the world. Help has been sent through several avenues to the places devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, and now, Brendon is committing the next few months to join in the effort to help the country he has called home for so many years.
Brendon is joining forces with a team called Reach Global that will be working in the southeastern side of Samar. One of his roles will include being a cultural mediator in the Filipino communities. As well as organizing communication, he’ll be helping out with whatever clean-up, rebuilding and anything else that is needed.
It doesn’t take much to love the Philippines/The natural beauty of the islands are outstanding, and eclipsing that is the warmth and kinndess of the Filipino people. But it does take sacrifice to go: to give money, energy, and time to get in the rubble and help rebuild. It takes willing people like Brendon to go, and behind him there must be a team of willing people to give.
The generosity of many has helped provide the funding for Brendon to fly to the Philippines and start work there. At the moment, he is still in need of $3,900 to be able to stay until March and invest time in more long-term projects.
We are sending him off from Hawaii on December 8th! If you’d like to be a part of the relief work in the Philippines, we can think of no better way than to help an outstanding guy like Brendon. We know he is going to be a great ambassador of hope, comfort and relief in this time.
If you’d like to donate to Brendon’s trip, simply go to the following link and donate securely through Surfers Church donately:
The Philippines is famous for its world-class break ‘Cloud 9′ on Siargao Island, secret surf spots and breathtaking nature. As amazing as the memories and the photos are, when the time comes for you to board that plane back to reality, you’ll want to bring back some things to remember your epic surf trip by (and maybe some stuff for those back home that couldn’t join in the adventure). Here, I’ll show you some non-cheesy souvenirs you can pick up in this amazing country:
1. Sarong- If you travel a lot, you know how valuable it is to have both a versatile item with you that also doesn’t take much space in a suitcase! Sarongs are perfect for beach days when you don’t want to carry a bulky towel and can serve as a towel, pillow, scarf, or super flimsy blanket when you’re traveling. One night I missed my flight and had to crash at the Rome airport. I was in the midst of traveling for a few days, so my sarong served as both a towel AND a blanket. Needless to say, it’s my new best friend.
2. Goggles- The Philippines is country made up of 7,000 islands, so the Filipino people have been watermen for centuries and made the gear to go along with their lifestyle. These goggles are about as simple as they can get, with a plastic coil, wooden frames, plastic lenses and thread. Yet they are unique and represent an innovative people. Grab some of these to bring back, as well as the handmade wooden fins they use to swim with!
3. Hammock- Not so much a traditional lazing hammock as it is a swinging hammock, these are everywhere on the trees on Siargao Island. The kids pile on them and swing as high as they can, and even though they don’t look so comfortable, you can definitely still find a sweet spot and get a good nap in. Don’t try to fit more than one adult in them though- one of the funniest memories we’ve had of our trip was of a hammock snapping from that very thing!
4. Cloud 9 candy bar- The surf break itself is named after this favorite candy bar, so you know it’s got to be good! Most people compare it to the taste of a Snickers bar. These are great gifts for your family and friends back home.
5. Shells (and things made out of shells)- The shells on the beaches of the Philippines are unreal! They are perfectly formed and covering the beach wherever you look. It’s easy to find some colorful, fun jewelry to have as a memory and for gifts.
6. Hand carved slingshots- I wouldn’t go into battle with one of these, but the simplicity of these slingshots are what makes them special. I have many memories of walking down the sandy roads of the village and seeing the kids playing with them. They represent both the playfulness and resourcefulness the Filipino people.
7 and 8) Shirt and bag from ARTWORK- On the way to our remote destination of Siargao, we had to wait a long time for our boat, and most of that waiting was done in shopping malls in Cebu. If you’ve ever been to a shopping mall in Asia, you know how overwhelming it can be, so we were fortunate enough to happen upon this rad store. ARTWORK is an 18 year old company that started out as a manufacturer that specialized in silk screen t-shirts but has now become a popular T-shirt retailer with complete clothing lines. We had no problem killing time as we looked at the many graphic designs influenced by art, music and pop culture.Some of my favorites were graphics that were made with masterpiece paintings morphed with different shapes and colors. From their bags down to their dressing rooms, ARTWORK is full of fresh, unique design. Their website definitely doesn’t do them justice, but check it out at artwork.ph
Cover photo credit: brommel.net
Surfing is infamous for being chosen by kids over school since anyone can remember (probably since its existence!) And who can blame them? Of course, surfing is more fun than sitting in a classroom hour after hour. But the freedom that is felt when skipping class to surf, crashes down as the kids go into the ocean of adulthood; when their lack of education hinders their ability to live productive and debt-free lives.
One non-profit organization, Balikbayod (Returning Wave) is revolutionizing the way kids approach education and surfing by creating a program that incorporates both. When you break down Balikbayod, bayod is Suriganon (language of the island of Siargao) for ‘wave’ and balik means ‘to return. Balik both reflects the Filipiono-American founders who return to their island, and the culture of giving back that they are committed to bring with them.
The concept of bringing opportunities for surfing to the kids of the Philippines came when Balikbayod founder, Lynn, was visiting her native country. She noticed that nearly everyone enjoying the Philippine’s waves were not local Filipinos, but tourists. Lynn wanted to see the kids enjoy the wealth of their country’s waves. One of the kids asked her to bring them a board when she came back. Knowing that she could not bring a board for just one child, she started to think of ways to make surfing possible for the kids in Siargao.
Through a team of hardworking volunteers, an after-school board borrowing program was put together at the surf break known as ‘Cloud 9’. The dream of seeing the kids of Siargao have access to boards was realized, but there was the age-old problem of the kids choosing to surf over their studies!
The teachers on Siargao island sought out a partnership with Balikbayod, and together they came up with a plan to keep the kids in the water and the classroom.
The kids are not allowed to attend the program unless they are confirmed by the teachers to be attending school and maintaining good grades. If they’ve already dropped out of school, they have the opportunity to use the boards if they continue their schooling through the alternative learning system. The after-school program instills a culture of sharing and mentorship, as the kids learn to share all of the boards, make repairs when needed, and the older kids teach the younger ones how to surf. Surfing The Nations has had the chance to see the local groms stoked and thriving through this powerful combination of ambition in and out of the water that Balikbayod promotes.
Balikbayod has found a way to not only integrate education into a surf lifestyle, but make it a primary part of it: They have made education the currency of surfing for the kids on Siargao. This system is changing the mindsets of kids and teaching them how to value their education and take care of each other. It’s teaching them to honor, care for and take ownership of the opportunities given them, whether it’s a homework assignment or a surfboard. Balikbayod’s motto is, “Supporting education first, through the love of surfing.” One can only imagine how much of a positive impact this is going to have on future generations of Filipinos.
While there are team members running the board borrowing program at Cloud 9, there is a whole team facilitating the acquiring and sending of the boards in the Bay Area of California. The community in San Francisco comes alongside Balikbayod, from donating boards, to participating in board repairing parties and fundraising events. If you’re in the San Fran area, make sure to check out their art fundraiser at the I-Hotel, July 28th and August 25th! Check out their website for more ways to get involved!