There are many reasons to visit Siquijor: diving, its coastal and mountain attractions, and maybe to scare yourself a bit with its myths and folktales. Surely, I had mine. American friends raved about the province when they went more than five years ago. I wanted to see for myself, experience its laid-back beaches, and dive in Visayan waters. Little did I know, I would also end up finding family.
In planning the trip, I ran into Daman Harada. An unknown in the country’s capital and perhaps elsewhere other than Siquijor, he has taken the province’s school system under his wings and has done more for its children than any politician I could think of. And he’s not even of Siquijor, just its adopted son – someone who has chosen to serve the place he now calls home.
The Villa Marmarine Family
Daman’s Siquijor home is Villa Marmarine, a small family-owned resort with around five well-appointed guest cabins. It employs a few key staff, people I saw throughout the day, like co-managers Flor and Max who I was in touch with before actually getting to the province.
Flor acts as resort manager and coordinates their day-to-day. Max does similarly but concentrates on the affairs of their new dive center. He was one of the dive master who accompanied me on three dives. He played rescue diver to Bismark, a dive master and Dumaguete local. A friendly support crew mills in the background, cooking wonderful meals, among other tasks.
At night, a different set of support staff shows up to arrange dinner tables, keep the candles lit and serve meals. They are younger and work in traditional Japanese wear. I would later find out that they are some of Daman’s scholars, his angels.
Home in Siquijor
You feel good when you’re at Villa Marmarine. Regardless of your temperament, where you are in your life and what you come to Siquijor for, it gets to you. You start with a smile, greet your hosts and give a polite bow. Breakfast is eaten as you look out into the ocean; you know it’s going to be a great day.
Daman, and his wife and son are hands-on owners/employers who mingle with their guests whenever they can. They are always present during mealtimes, like a family with an unending throng of visitors to entertain. There are occasional “events” you can join, like board game night. While I was there, I joined an introductory game of Gateball, which looks like cricket and plays like holen (at least to me, the lone Filipino guest/player).
I always look forward to seeing the family. There’s a good vibe about them – positive, genuine. And you know this is imbibed by the people around, the staff and guests. You are never alone when you stay at Villa Marmarine; you feel at home.
This is pretty much what it feels like when getting to know Daman and his project, Siquijors Angels. You sense that it is a family affair, one that’s constantly expanding with new members.
Siquijor Angels is an NGO established by Daman in 2004. He and his wife had just retired and were traveling. He dreamed of continuing his vocation. He had always been a teacher – in Japan and the countries he was assigned to. He had been to Kuwait, the Netherlands and even war-torn Lebanon. He wanted to relocate to a place where he can make the most contribution. That was how he came to Siquijor.
There were 63 elementary schools in the province, most of which lacked proper irrigation and clean toilets. During break time, children took turns to fetch water from nearby wells. They relieved themselves in latrines. Daman thought that if the children were to concentrate on their studies and really learn, they shouldn’t have to deal with such conditions.
So, he set about raising funds and facilitating the rehabilitation of these schools. He put aside some of his savings and a portion of Villa Marmarine’s revenue to get things started. He reached out to the Japanese communities in the country and in Japan. In between, he engaged with the children of Siquijor. He taught them Origami, and Japanese greetings, phrases and songs. He played dodgeball and volleyball with them.
Daman wasn’t so lucky the first time around. He made the rounds of charitable institutions and came back with hardly anything. This stalled his project so he sought help.
Two things came to his life that made everything better: 1. his membership with the Rotary Club of Siquijor in 2009; and 2. the gayuma given to him by a local shaman. It was surprising that someone from Japan, with all the country’s modernity and science, could believe in an amulet. True or not, it brought good fortune to the children of the province. Siquijors Angels finally took flight.
Spreading Their Wings
By 2014, Siquijors Angels has accomplished a lot. The NGO has finished the rehabilitation of the province’s elementary schools. It is now actively soliciting learning aids, such as used computers, microscopes and musical instruments.
The number of angels has increased too. Aside from the school kids, Daman has taken on 15 scholars. Some are working students who help around the resort after school hours. Others have qualified to study in Cebu colleges and Japan. Max was actually one of them. He chose to come back from Japan to work at the resort.
All this might just be at the surface. A few days with the family and the Villa Marmarine crew cannot capture their struggles and motivations. I sometimes wonder what the takeaway is for Daman and his family. He has taken on a lot of responsibilities and with nothing to his name. No government title nor living wage. No fawning profile in big media outfits. Just the fulfillment of his selfless dream and, in doing so, allowing others to follow their own. For that, arigatou gozaimasu!
*Want to help? Stay at Villa Marmarine when you’re in Siquijor. A portion of their revenue goes to the NGO. You can also pass by and donate via their donation box.