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Hope floats, education sails: Foundation gives boats to children who swim to school

If you dread going back to class after not getting enough hours of sleep, or keep on constantly whining about finishing tons of errands for school, just think of these students’ cruel and arduous daily routine.

In a digital age where schoolers take the advance mass transit or are brought to school through family cars, it is perhaps hard to believe that there are students who still have to literally cross oceans just to hold a grasp of proper education.

But for some children living in coastal communities off Zamboanga City in the southern part of the Philippines, this is the unfortunate reality.

In deep waters

Clad in their school uniforms while carrying heavy books tied up on plastic bags over their heads, students have to wade through muddy mangrove swamps to get to class. Worst, if the tide was high, the wading becomes swimming through open ocean waters.

So when Jay Jaboneta, who is then speaking for the 4th Mindanao Bloggers Summit, learned about the dismal situation of these children and their struggles of fighting against the current and walking for half a mile, he believed he has to make an initiative.

“In late 2010, I was speaking in an event in Zamboanga City in Mindanao when someone shared with me that there are children in Sitio Layag-Layag in Brgy. Talon-Talon, Zamboanga City who swam during high tide when going to school. It really moved me,” Jaboneta told INQUIRER.net.

“Yes, it’s risky to swim or wade through waters just to go to school. For the students, sometimes they feel it’s a way of life. But it doesn’t mean we cannot help them to make the journey to school easier and faster,” he added.

Jaboneta, the current vice-president and Fire Starter and Chief Storyteller, co-founded with Anton Lim, now the president, the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, an organization which aims to make education more accessible to these children by providing their communities with boats.

Testing the waters

The charity, which initially began as an online campaign, kicked off when Jaboneta fired off a Facebook status, telling his friends about the children’s crucial condition. Afterwards, positive feedback came and people began pledging donations.

“Within one week, we were able to raise around P70,000. I called Doc Anton Lim and asked him to visit the community. He went there and verified the story and we sent him the money,” he shared.

“We also created a Facebook group to brainstorm how we should use the funds, and we ended up building them a school boat. Five months after, I went to Layag-Layag to turn over the very first yellow school boat,” he further quipped.

Kick-started as an idea sprang out of Facebook, the project was perceived not only as an image of volunteers convening for heroism or charitable efforts and to spawn change, but also shows the good side of social media and its impact on people’s lives.

“It made me realize that ‘a single Facebook status can make a difference.’ It can be any action we take online — tweet, blog post, photo, video — I realized with the project that it can help other people. So we can use our presence online to do something good. I’m not saying we don’t post other stuff but what I am saying is that we can also use it to make a difference in someone’s life,” Jaboneta explained.

Making waves

Founded in October 2010 as the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids, the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation has grown through the years and possesses dynamism all throughout the Philippine archipelago.

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At present, the growing organization has reached almost 18,000 learners and provided the 188 communities with yellow-painted boats that resemble the color of school buses in the country.

“It’s yellow because we patterned it after the popular yellow school bus color. Yellow is also the color of hope and all our boats carry the name ‘Bagong Pag-asa,’” Jaboneta said.

A self-paddled boat, which fits around four to five kids, costs around P10,000, he said. Noting that they customize boats depending on the community’s need, he added that the biggest boat which serves as a classroom on boats costs over P200,000.

“The first beneficiaries are the people in Sitio Layag-Layag, Brgy. Talon-Talon in Zamboanga City. After a year, we expanded to Sitio Mababoy, Brgy. Guindahap, Monreal, Masbate and we grew to our communities today from there,” he further noted.

Jaboneta proudly added that from the very first community in Zamboanga City, the organization has already produced a number of college graduates, with two of them now working abroad.

Riding the waves

As part of its expansion over the years, the foundation, from merely focusing on education, has widened its scope on other relevant social issues such as livelihood and sustainability.

Jaboneta said they started to build the Yellow Dorm of Hope, or dormitories directed for children who are forced to walk for hours to reach their school, in another remote community in Zamboanga Sibugay.

They also established the mobile classroom called the  “Bangkarunungan” in Caramoan Islands, Camarines Sur where Windel Alvarez, an alternative learning system (ALS) teacher, goes to island communities and brings with him the “classroom” in the boat to teach.

The charity also ventured on a project named Adopt-a-Fisherman where it funds the parents of the children with fishing boats for their livelihood. The Yellow Boat Adventures, the eco-tourism program, caps the ecological thrust of the organization.

Moreover, the Yellow School of Hope was set up to address the unanticipated rise of students in yellow boats. Lastly, the Yellow Bridge of Hope connects easily the students with their paths in reaching their dreams.

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“We are still very much focused on the access to schools challenge wherein we build boats, bridges, dormitories, and classrooms to help children access education or access their school. You could say that we are in the transportation business,” Jaboneta said. “Even as a leader or manager, my goal is to transport people from where they are to where they want to be or their dreams.”

Echoing on the fabled words on education of the renowned Nelson Mandela, Jaboneta urged students struggling with their studies not to give up on their dreams.

“Mandela once said, ‘education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,’ and I truly believe in this. I hope you don’t give up in pursuing your dreams… whether you graduate or not, there are now tools to achieve your goals in life,” Jaboneta said.

“Our vision is that one day every child who wants to go to school is in school and stays in school,” he concluded. “No child should be left behind.” JB

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