Swimming With The Fishes

Mary Ann lives on Manlot Island in the Philippines, a county still reeling from the effects of Typhoon Haiyan. When Mary Ann was young, her mother taught her how to be a dressmaker. Uniforms, emergency repairs, she could even whip you up a nice pair of curtains. Her family have been in the fabric game for generations. It's her birthright.

Except Mary Ann married a fisherman, moved far from the mountains where she grew up and now finds herself one of the few female fisherfolk on the island. And she can't swim. Did I mention that? If she falls in, she is going to sink.

Fishing isn't exactly an easy life choice anyway. The pugada (localised storm surges and squalls) can transform the tranquil seas into a seething, dangerous mess.

"We can’t do anything, we just have to be still whilst the waves ravage our boats and wait for the rain to stop. We put the anchor in for stability. I get scared. My thinking is if it’s my time to die then it’s my time."

Mary Ann takes these ridiculous risks because the water, for all its unpredictability, is her pay cheque. It provides income for her entire family. But making money on the ocean waves isn't exactly plain sailing - Haiyan and climate change have decimated the predictability of the currents; temperature rises have driven fish into deeper, cooler waters and the typhoon's devastation has intensified competition.

"Many people are doing fishing activities. Sometimes our equipment gets stolen by other fisherfolk or destroyed completely."

The upside of all this is that prices for fish are at an all-time high (especially for squid which is seen as a bit of a luxury). There aren't as many fish to sell, but what there is fetches a good price. And that's why Mary Ann and her husband continue their high risk aqua-dance of death with mother nature - the rewards are just too good to ignore.

Cast your net wide and try not to think about the fact you could sink like a stone.

"I’ve been squid fishing for 20 years. I had to learn what my husband was doing. It’s unusual for women to join their husbands to fish. I wanted to test that I could do it too. He complains I am noisy! We divide the tasks between us but sometimes I move the boat before he has finished bringing up the anchor, so then we’ll argue. He wouldn’t be sad if I didn’t join him but it’s always nice to have a buddy. I am very happy and I’m proud I’m one of the few women to be fishing here. I really can't swim though, I've tried to learn but I can't."

Despite the danger and the uncertainty, I love the fact that Mary Ann and her husband, Junior, seem like a real team - working together, bickering and joking with each other, getting the job done. And Christian Aid are doing our bit to help by providing their family with solar lamps and batteries. These technological marvels help the fisherfolk to attract more squid to the surface, drawn by the warm glow of the lanterns. They can fix their damaged nets after dark too.

And it's in the home that the solar technology really comes into its own.

"You can work in the evening, whatever you want to finish inside the home. You can watch TV, play radio and music for entertainment. The children can study well because of the light. The solar light is providing security and safety as the pathways are lit now. We used to use gasoline which can poison the fish whereas solar is clean and doesn’t catch fire."

And the best news of all? Mary Ann has started using her evenings to do what she does best. She can start making clothes again. The dressmaker is back in business - providing another source of income for her family and connected her back to her birthright and the skills she learned from her mum.

And, not for nothing, you don't have to put your life in danger to darn a pair of socks.

Not that it'll stop her helping Junior out - crouching on the edge of the boat, the lamp light reflected in the dark water inches from her face. Waiting.

Waiting for a time where poverty no longer forces her to make a choice between risking her life and feeding her family.