British family who found island paradise in Siargao face uncertainty after 'Odette'

Mico Abarro, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 31 2021 03:10 PM

The El-Haj family. From left to right: Jmayel, daughter Story, and Sacha. Courtesy: Eight Miles from Home Facebook Page
The El-Haj family. From left to right: Jmayel, daughter Story, and Sacha. Courtesy: Eight Miles from Home Facebook Page

MANILA - A year ago, British vloggers Jmayel and Sacha El-Haj along with their daughter Story moved everything they could to live in Siargao Island in the Philippines. They fell in love with the tropical paradise after being stranded there because of the government's COVID-19 lockdown. 

But after Typhoon Odette devastated the island earlier this month, the family is now uncertain of their fates and whether they should continue staying on the island. 

On Jmayel and Sacha's YouTube channel, "Eight Miles from Home'', they showcased the life of an expatriate family adapting to life in the Philippines. From trying out Filipino food, to buying at local public markets, to comparing island life in the Philippines to their lives in other places they traveled to. At times, they even ventured out of Siargao to Mainland Mindanao to see Bukidnon and other areas. 

 

Eventually, the El-Haj family settled down at a villa in Siargao's Pilar town, overlooking one of the island's many beaches. Siargao was going to be their new tropical home. 

When Odette hit the island on December 16th, however, the El-Haj family felt the full brunt of the storm. Intense winds blew off the windows of their home and felled numerous trees in the vicinity. What was once their paradise had been ravaged. 

A church in Poblacion, General Luna in Siargaio Island is left destroyed by Typhoon Odette on December 20, 2021 days after the the typhoon wreaked havoc in parts of the Philippines. Val Cuenca, ABS-CBN News.
A church in Poblacion, General Luna in Siargaio Island is left destroyed by Typhoon Odette on December 20, 2021 days after the the typhoon wreaked havoc in parts of the Philippines. Val Cuenca, ABS-CBN News.

 STRANDED TOGETHER 

 Jmayel and Sacha touring a beach in Pilar, Siargao. Courtesy: Screenshot from video on
Jmayel and Sacha touring a beach in Pilar, Siargao. Courtesy: Screenshot from video on "Eight Miles from Home" YouTube channel, uploaded November 30 2021.

Before coming to the Philippines, Jmayel and Sacha had already traveled the world extensively. Between the United Kingdom, Thailand, and Portugal, the couple had been documenting their travels since 2012. According to the description of the very first video they uploaded on YouTube on April 21, 2012, they were searching for something “more than an ordinary life,”and decided to do that by living abroad. 

On the Eight Miles From Home website, Sacha describes herself as a photographer with a long-held interest in travel. Jmayel meanwhile says he caught the “Travel Bug” from Sacha after going on a trip around the world with her in 2005. 

“When I returned, a normal life didn’t satisfy the relentless need for more adventure and we set about finding a way to travel on a more permanent basis,” Jmayel said. 

What was first a series of cinematographic videos on living in Thailand, Eight Miles from Home grew over the years into a daily vlog in the perspective of a British couple traveling abroad. It then became a family vlog when their daughter, Story, was born in 2016. 

The El-Haj family was about to embark on a series of trips they called "The Wandering Eight", to go to places they hadn’t been to. But on the Philippine leg of their journey, the planned series of trips had been cut short by the declaration of a lockdown over Luzon on March 15, 2020 and subsequent cancellation of all their flights. 

UNCERTAINTY 

Jmayel and Sacha El-Haj at their beach villa in Pilar, Siargao following the onslaught of Typhoon Odette. Courtesy: Screenshot from video on
Jmayel and Sacha El-Haj at their beach villa in Pilar, Siargao following the onslaught of Typhoon Odette. Courtesy: Screenshot from video on "Eight Miles from Home" YouTube channel, uploaded December 26, 2021.

"We've had almost two years now of this ridiculous pandemic situation keeping us from doing anything normally and then at the end of it all, when you start to see hope, at the start of a new year, just before Christmas time, now this," Jmayel said during a vlog on the aftermath of the storm, uploaded December 26, 2021. 

What was once lush greenery composed of coconut trees and other plant life had been reduced to debris, interspersed with shells of former houses. Though the El-Haj family's villa remained largely intact, the same could not be said for those who lived in the surrounding area. 

 

The storm had already passed, but the problems it brought did not. Power in Siargao had been knocked out, while food and drinking water was running low. 

"If we can't get drinking water and people around us start to leave and evacuate the island for whatever reason, we need to work out, perhaps we also need to leave," Jmayel said on the channel's latest video, uploaded December 30th. 

"People are dying from thirst, lack of shelter, and illness," Eight Miles From Home said on its official Facebook page, also on the same day. 

 CALLS FOR HELP

The family has already put out a call for donations for typhoon victims to the NGO "Nature Kids of Siargao," run by Joseph "Cocoy" Davis and Sanne "Sunny" Sevig.

 

According Eight Miles From Home, those interested in sending donations may avail of the following options: 

WITHIN THE PHILIPPINES: 
1.) Bank transfer
- Name of bank: BPI
- Account name: Sanne Sevig
- Account number: 9389-2554-21
- Type: Savings
- Address of bank: Rizal Street, Surigao City
- SWIFT: BOPIPHMM
2.) GCash
09-3333-555-13, Sanne S.
3.) Paypal
hi@naturekidsofsiargao.com (4.4 % fee will be deducted)

INTERNATIONAL 
1.) Bank transfer
- Name of bank: Swedbank
- Account name: Sanne Sevig
- Account number: clearingnr: 8150-5, kontonr: 4635787-7
- Address of bank: Jonkoping, Sweden
- BIC/SWIFT: SWEDSESS
2.) Paypal
hi@naturekidsofsiargao.com (4.4 % fee will be deducted)
3.) Swish
+639-3333-555-13, Sanne Sevig

"Sanne is a personal friend of ours and has been instrumental in the care of local people on the island for over 10 years," Eight Miles From Home said on its Facebook page. "You can trust that your donation will go right to the people that need it most."

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Separately, a donation drive has also been set up by the El-Haj family's landlady Mary Jane Ysulat and Learni Snyder on the Eight Miles From Home supporters Facebook page.

 

In their latest video, the El-Haj family said they had already reserved a spot for themselves on a plane away from Siargao. However, the flight’s only destination was Manila. 

“We don’t really want to go there,” Jmayel said. “Because, at the moment, we kind of have an action plan here. We know what we’re doing, whereas if we would take a plane to Manila, it would be, I don’t know; it would be like throwing myself out to the wild.”