• Francis Borja | Communications and Information Management Assistant, IOM Philippines

Marife has endured storms her whole life. She grew up in Ormoc City, Leyte and moved to Genitligan, a small barangay (town) in Catanduanes that faces the Pacific Ocean where some of the most powerful typhoons are born every year — twenty of them, on average, pummel their way through the Philippines.

Although Marife says storms aren’t new to her or millions of Filipinos, in all her years living on the coast, she says they have, in recent memory, become angrier.

Marife and her husband were unable to finish college, so she was all praises for her children who are on the right path, learning and all on track to graduate from university. She would have aspired to that herself but was happy enough to see this dream being fulfilled by her own children.

Her eldest child hopes to work abroad. They are currently working as a teacher in a local university in Virac, a nearby town, biding their time until they find the right opportunity to see the rest of the world. In their free time, they study foreign languages, a hobby that has filled their days with wonder and yearning, in the hopes they may one day use these languages in conversation abroad.

Marife enjoys entertaining family and friends from other towns in her humble home. She explains to them that there are only chairs in her house and not much else — there is no shame in having a small house, she says — because all of what little money she has was “not spent on unimportant things” but on her children. This ethic has shaped her children’s performance and opportunities in school: one graduate and another one soon. “Education is the solution to poverty,” Marife says.

Townspeople from Genitligan participated in the Safe Migration Campaign in the town covered court. Photo: IOM/Francis Borja

To show how deeply committed she is to her children’s future, Marife attended IOM’s Safe Migration Campaign sessions in Genitligan. The sessions provide valuable guidance to locals who aspire to work overseas. The campaign, delivered through a series of trainings and workshops, promoted official migration channels to keep community members informed should they choose to one day move.

As she took notes on behalf of her child, she says she worries for them for when they finally migrate, away from family and the community they’ve known their whole life. Taking notes for them gave Marife some comfort about her child’s future abroad, especially noting that through the campaign she learned how her child would migrate through legitimate channels. “I guess it’s not as terrifying to travel abroad as long as we go through proper means,” Marife says.

“That nervous beating in my chest, of me not wanting my child to travel without knowing what will happen to them once they’re there — that’s now gone.”

Apart from the Safe Migration Campaign activities, the town also decorated their streets and cleaned up their shore. Photo: IOM/Francis Borja

The week-long campaign in Genitligan also included contests among the puroks (districts), including beautification and cooking. From confetti-colored drapes to freshly caught shellfish, each district came together to adorn their streets and prepare some of the best cuisine the town has to offer.

Ahead of the campaign, Genitliganons had worked for many long days to paint their sidewalk fences and harvest bamboo from the mountains to prop up street flags. They also spent much of their time cleaning the shoreline from plastic pollution even as the sun burned their skin, with several bags of trash as evidence for community work done well.

One of the town’s primary sources of livelihood is the production of abaca fiber, considered one of the strongest natural fibers in the world and is used to produce textiles. Clean, vibrant abaca is so abundant in Catanduanes that it was declared the abaca capital of the Philippines.

However, the recent typhoons that have battered the island have felled many abaca trees and have forced farmers who had worked for months to grow them, to harvest them much sooner which turns them darker in colour and lower in quality, and therefore sold for so much less.

The municipality of Baras, Catanduanes faces the Pacific Ocean. Photo: IOM/Francis Borja

Fisherfolk are also some of the town’s breadwinners and the seas have been generous to them on good fishing days. But the ocean is also unforgiving, with powerful Pacific storms made more violent by rising temperatures caused by anthropogenic climate change.

Typhoons prevent fisherfolk, like Marife’s husband, from sailing out to sea, reducing their catch and their earnings. The townspeople are ultimately made poorer by forces they did not provoke.

Genitligan previously received shelter and WASH assistance from IOM after the onslaught of Typhoon Rolly (international name: Goni), considered the strongest typhoon in the world in 2020.

The activities that ran in Genitligan came a month before the town festival, an annual celebration of their labour and triumphs over the years, often as a reminder of how far they’ve come as a community bordered by tough mountains and even tougher seas.

The natural environment that surrounds them has provided bounty in the form of food, shelter and livelihood, a kindness that only environmental custodianship can pay back. But that same environment has been forcedly altered so rapidly beyond its natural capacity to undergo change. And while the small coastal town of Genitligan is far from the top carbon emitters that have fed ever stronger typhoons, it sits on the direct path of destruction.

Marife on a local street that faces the ocean. Photo: IOM/Francis Borja

Marife sits on a bench made of bamboo from the mountains behind her and faces the ocean ahead, as its waves lap on the rocks while small boats prepare for their next trip out to sea. She no longer has qualms about her child migrating, venturing into the world that they had only seen through other people’s eyes. Now, she speaks with some excitement and a lot of pride as wind from the ocean blows through the town. As the sun began to set over the horizon, she beams, knowing her child’s future has only begun to rise.