From Sydney to Siargao—Surfing for our small solutions to disasters

Typhoon Odette’s near-destruction of paradise island prodded this unique upcoming auction—surf art made from discarded bottles

Originally published in TheDiarist.PH

On 16 December 2021, category five super typhoon Odette made landfall in Siargao, an island off Mindanao. Up until that day, Siargao was known among locals and international tourists as the surfing capital of the Philippines, and was voted by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler as the top Asian island tourist destination months before the typhoon hit (see Readers’ Choice Awards 2021: All the winners – under ‘Best Islands in the World’). Siargao was destroyed, its tourism industry which many relied on decimated, and its infrastructure torn to the ground, leaving most people homeless. In all, there were 407 deaths, and well over 1100 people injured.

Siargao Fin 2 is part of the Gavel&Block ‘art+design’ online auction on Feb. 4, 2023.

I was born in Australia but lived in the Philippines most of my life, so I’ve seen communities here whose lives have been upended due to flooding, and broadly, the effects of climate change. While Australia too experiences such calamities, the major difference is that there’s less funding from both the public and private sectors in the Philippines to support those displaced. Oftentimes, people are left in community centers for months while trying to find somewhere to stay. With limited supply of food to share, hunger is not uncommon.

The author speaking in the New South Wales Parliament House Legislative Assembly: ‘To leave the world a better place…’

Seeing this while I was growing up and largely unaffected by these disasters always made me wonder if there was any real long-term solution I could contribute to make the lives of at least one family just a bit easier. To leave the world a better place than when I arrived.

Since grade 4, I was always interested in advocacies related to the environment, raising funds for the NGO One Million Lights which aimed to replace the health-hazardous kerosene lamps with chargeable solar lamps. Last year, having moved back to Australia to continue my in-person studies as a result of the pandemic, I was selected to join the Energy, Environment, and Climate Committee of the NSW Youth Parliament in Australia, representing my electorate of Vaucluse. I applied for the position as it gave me a limited opportunity to use a position of privilege in a first-world country and act as bridge between it and the Philippines in order to bring my unique perspective into conversation in Australia where ideas and assistance can be exchanged. This would benefit not only the Philippines but Australia as well, as climate change solutions benefit not only the local but also the international efforts to reduce global warming. For example, limiting Australia’s coal and garbage exports to third-world nations like the Philippines and instead trying to have Australia address such issues locally, rather than sending away their problems to nations with less resources, I believe, would help both countries in the long run.

The author and the New South Wales Youth Parliament 2022 group standing in front of Government House, Sydney, with New South Wales Governor Margaret Beazley. The author stands behind the governor, slightly to the left. (Contributed photo)

In Youth Parliament, I met a delegate from the northern New South Wales city of Lismore who told me about the vast challenges in her area as a result of flooding due to a lack of funding and action despite knowledge of the incoming rainfall. Lismore was especially prone to the effects of continued downpours, its terrain shaped like a bowl serving as water basin. The maximum height of the flooding even reached 14.4 meters at one stage. However, she also spoke about the slow but progressive reconstruction of the town through generous external funding and donations. While Lismore is still some way from how it was, various philanthropic efforts have been made to fund the process.

Catangnan Cruiser 2
Maasin Scrapboard

Drawing on inspiration from Australia, to mark the first anniversary of the Siargao disaster, I started collaborating with the BBDO Guerrero, the Philippine office of the BBDO worldwide ad agency, on Project Re-Dew which aims to raise funds through an online auction of surfboards and surf fin sculptures inspired by popular surfing spots in Siargao, all made out of PET bottles recycled into resin and wooden materials collected from the typhoon wreckage. These art pieces are presented as symbols of hope and regrowth for the people of Siargao.

The author in the New South Wales Parliament House Legislative Assembly, seated on the right side, lower couch, 6th from the front. (Contributed photo)

The online auction in on 4 February 2023, to be hosted by the Gavel&Block ‘art+design’ online auction, with all proceeds going to two beneficiaries: Rise Siargao, an NGO dedicated to rebuilding homes for typhoon Odette victims, and ReMaker Space, a Siargao-based facility that uses upcycling machines to transform plastic waste into sustainable construction solutions.

Like Siargao, Australia has a wide surfing community, sharing a love for a sport and the effects of climate change with the Philippines. To better raise funds I volunteered to spread the message not just here but back in Australia, where I will bring a sample Scrapboard fin in hopes of gaining interested bidders there as well.

It’s through connections, such as these, between nations with vastly different cultures that bring the international community closer together, looking beyond politics and differing ideologies to help one another. In a time of global crises, it is imperative to work together, bringing knowledge drawn from broad experiences to bring about sustainable solutions for the future.

Link to the auction catalogue:

Diego Lerma

is a Year 11 boarding student at Cranbrook School, Sydney. He is a varsity tennis player and is member of his school’s debate team, winning the 2021 Debate of Origin, the 2022 Combined Associated Schools (CAS) Debating season, and the 2022 University of Sydney Union (USU) Schools’ Tournament. He was selected for the 2022 YNSW Youth Parliament representing the state electorate of Vaucluse in the Energy, Environment, and Climate Committee.

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