CCTV creates short video clip of Isla Mababoy

China Central TV (CCTV) went to Isla Mababoy last June 2012 and will feature our story next month (August 2012) in China.

Here’s a short video they made to raise awareness for the kids who need to swim just to go to school in Isla Mababoy.


I wanted to share some pictures from my visit a few weeks ago in Isla Mababoy, Brgy. Guinhadap, Monreal, Masbate.  Its our second community in the Yellow Boat Project and one of the most challenging to go to.

To go there from Manila, you need to take a one-hour flight from Manila to Legaspi City or take the 12-hour train or bus ride (which is quite taxing).

From Legaspi City, you can take public transportation or a private van to the port of Pilar, Sorsogon which will take another hour.

From the port of Pilar, Sorsogon, you can take the public pumpboat or hire a private pumpboat (which is quite expensive) to take you from the port to the municipality of Monreal.  This will take 2 hours to 3 hours depending on the weather and waves that day.

From the port of Monreal, you need to hire a motorized boat which will take you to Isla Mababoy and that adds another hour to this adventure.  And remember this is just one way, you need to go the same way back home.

Here are some of the photo highlights when I was there last June 2012:

Sunrise from Isla Mababoy with a view of Mt. Mayon on the other side of the Philippine Sea

The community of Guindalupihan in Isla Mababoy

This is me on top of a cliff in Guindalupihan, Isla Mababoy.

It’s so easy to teach kids that’s why it’s important they get the education they deserve.

Rezza (the one who was featured in Maala-ala Mo Kaya last June 9, 2012) took this shot after I taught her how to operate my phone’s camera for 30 seconds.

The beautiful waters in Halea in Isla Mababoy

Sunset in Isla Mababoy

I am sharing this picture because I believe this wonderful sunset symbolizes that there’s always a tomorrow and that tomorrow is a new day, a new beginning, a new hope, for Isla Mababoy and for the country. Let’s make sure there indeed is HOPE for communities like them.

1st Anniversary of the Yellow Boat Project in Isla Mababoy

Yesterday, June 13, marked the first year anniversary of Masbate Funds for Little Kids – one of the organizations that constitute the Philippine Funds for Little Kids which is now renamed as the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, Inc., a SEC-registered non profit foundation.

Last year, GMA News TV led by Jessica Soho and JP Soriano shared the story of the kids in Isla Mababoy on their program Brigada during their Education Special on June 13.  You can still watch it here, Part 1 and Part 2.

That story was in turn shared to me by the President of Albay Medical Society and Pinoy Power Bicol Coalition, Dr. Ofelia Samar-Sy who heard the story of the children in Isla Mababoy from DepEd Masbate Area Supervisor (formerly) and now Principal (in Goa, Camarines Sur), Justino “Dong” Cabarles.  

When our little Yellow Boat Project started in Zamboanga in late 2010 together with Dr. Anton Lim and Tzu Chi Foundation, we also looked for other communities that might also need boats so that we can also help them and so we didn’t think twice when the Masbate story came up.

A researcher from GMA News TV, Genelie deGuzman Sta. Ana, called me around the first week of June 2011 and she inquired if we are helping other communities other than Zamboanga and so I suggested they go to Isla Mababoy.  And as they say, the rest is history.

That jumpstarted the fundraising campaign calling for donors so that our little group can help the community in Isla Mababoy and build them yellow school boats.  As of today, we have given 85 yellow school boats to the different families living in Isla Mababoy and in Barangay Guinhadap where Mababoy is located.  Later this month, we will turn over 5 more boats donated by the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP) and another one from Eton International School.

Over the last 12 months, together with a lot of generous friends and donors, we were able to build these boats, and a 4-classroom makeshift school.  There are now 178 students enrolled in Mababoy Elementary School.  We had to build the school to accommodate a substantial increase in the number of children who wanted to enroll after we started giving yellow boats that can no longer be accommodated by the school on the island of Guinhadap.

Media Coverage

In the same period, various organizations have begun helping Isla Mababoy and media organizations also went in to help.

Last March 2012, Radio-TV Malacañang (RTVM) aka Presidential Broadcast Staff also came in to create a documentary on the project that was aired on PTV4’s Pulsong Pinoy program.

Just this month, 2 shows on ABS-CBN featured the community: Pinoy Big Brother held a concert to benefit the children of Isla Mababoy then Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK) also featured the story of Rizza last June 9, 2012.

Right now, Sagip Kapamilya together with Dr. Ofelia Samar-Sy of the Yellow Boat Project will convene a meeting that will invite other organizations (private and gov’t) to help us build a permanent school in Isla Mababoy complete with all the classrooms needed for Kinders 1 and 2, and Grades 1-6.

And so the Yellow Boat journey in Masbate continues…

Hannah Reyes visits Isla Mababoy

Last June 9, I traveled to Isla Mababoy with Hannah Reyes of and her friend, Pets Garcia.  They wanted to see how they can help and also enjoy this island paradise.

It was quite a memorable trip as Hannah came up with a new sport and a new term: “katig-surfing,” which she and Pets both tried.

You can check out the pictures she took from her latest blog post entitled The One with the Infinite Boat Rides.

I hope Hannah soon renames her blog as the Yellow Boat Adventures. :)

 China Central TV (CCTV)

The Manila-based correspondent of  China Central TV (CCTV) already asked me if they can visit our project when the Starweek magazine write up on our story was published in The Philippine Star last March.  Unfortunately, the tensions in the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) increased during early April and so we had to postpone the trip.

I guess with the opening of the classes this June in the country, the correspondent felt it was the right time to go to Isla Mababoy and feature our story.  And so they came last Monday, June 11.

I sincerely hope that our story can contribute, however small, to better understanding and the easing of tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

Our two countries share a common history and we were trading with each other even long before the Spaniards came to the Philippine shores.  We equally face the same daunting challenges in education, infrastructure and in protecting our cultural heritage and the environment.

Lego and Project Pearls

Lastly, on the last day of my 5-day trip to Isla Mababoy, we distributed the Lego toys that Project Pearls led by the energetic Melissa Villa, one of our strongest supporters in the US, gave for the children of the community.  Thank you Project Pearls and Lego!

As I was leaving, I saw a beautiful sunset from Isla Mababoy and it made me hope that even though we have been helping for 12 months already, the sunset means that more help is coming to them because it symbolizes that there is a new day waiting tomorrow, a source of new hope for the community.

The Heroes of Philippine Funds for Little Kids (Masbate)

Yesterday, I discussed about the heroes of the Zamboanga chapter of the Philippine Funds for Little Kids here. Today, I would like to name my heroes in what became known as the Masbate Funds for Little Kids.

(I have a disclaimer though, because of the high level of volunteerism that we’ve really seen in these two community development projects, I wouldn’t be able to name everyone. Rest assured that your deeds no matter how small has made a difference.)

Our story started with another conversation between me and Dr. Ofelia Samar Sy of Legaspi City, Albay.

Over the past few months while our project in Layag-Layag, Zamboanga City was on-going, Dr. Sy kept forwarding to me concerns from the Bicol region. Many of which I felt powerless to act on until finally she shared to me a story about kids who also swim to school in Sitio Mababoy, Brgy. Guinhadap, Monreal, Masbate. And then I thought to myself, this one I had experience with.

This was late May 2011, around the time when I just came back from my US trip where Facebook invited me to visit their headquarters to be part of a panel discussion on using Facebook Groups.

After a few days, a researcher from GMA News TV’s Brigada show, Genelie Sta. Ana, called me and asked me if there were still areas aside from Zamboanga City where kids swim to school. I immediately shared the story of the kids in Isla Mababoy which was shared to me by Dr. Ofelia Sy, which was in turn shared to her by DepEd staff Mr. Justino “Dong” Cabarles. My first thank you goes to Dr. Ofelia Sy and “Uncle” Dong Cabarles.

After 2 days, a GMA News TV crew headed by reporter JP Soriano went to Isla Mababoy and covered the story of the swimming kids in Masbate.

And so last June 13, 2011, we saw a special documentary on Brigada hosted by Jessica Soho the story of “Batang Lukso,” where the kids of Isla Mababoy jump off a rock cliff first before swimming to school. And so my second thank you goes to the GMA News TV team led by Jessica Soho and JP Soriano for helping us bring out the story of these swimming kids in Masbate even before we started to ‘dive’ into the ground.

Immediately right after the show, donations for the Bagong Pag-asa yellow boats started to pour in. My third thank you goes to all the initial donors that made the Masbate Funds for Little Kids possible: Jacqueline Marzan-Tolentino of Eton International School, Noel & Mariel Tolentino, Presidential Sisters Ballsy Aquino-Cruz and Pinky Aquino-Abellada, Lisa Cheng, Josiah Go, Anton Lim, Gel Caguioa, Bonifacio Gillego family, Atty. Vito & Dr. Mayette Bose, ACER Philippines, Dr. Jullie Sy, and others who wanted to remain anonymous.

This allowed us to build 25 Bagong Pag-asa boats in one month with one boat that is bigger and motorized to serve as an ‘ambulance.’  My fourth thank you goes to Manuel Wong for making this ‘ambu-boat,’ short for ambulance boat possible.

My fifth and very warm thank you (with lots of hugs) goes to donor Mariel Tolentino for donating and helping raise funds that made the makeshift school in Isla Mababoy possible. With the emergence of so many boats, enrollment shot up to 150 children. My sixth thank you goes to the 4 teachers that took the challenge of teaching in the makeshift school (my memory fails me for the moment but I will get the names, help Mr. Dong Cabarles).

My seventh thank you goes to all the other donors that made the materials needed for the makeshift school possible i.e. the chairs, tables, others: Alex Lacson, Wilma Zapata and many others. 

My eight thank you goes to all the volunteers of Pinoy Power Bicol Coalition Inc. (some of them are Eppie Daep, George Labalan, Efren Monsalve, Beth Plaza, Mrs Sampaga, many others), Albay Medical Society and other volunteer groups who paved the way for the successful establishment of the Mababoy Elementary School Extension, the 600 meter water pipe system, and other mini-projects in the island.

Almost the same with the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids, there are so many unsung heroes in this story: there is Dir. Opay Tuy of DepEd Region V for allowing Mr. Dong Cabarles to assist us in coordinating our work in Isla Mababoy, there is Schools Division Superintendent Gilbert Sadsad who gave the first P5,000 to start the building of the makeshift school, there is school principal Letty Cervantes who coordinated many of the efforts done in Isla Mababoy as well, and Kagawad Glenda of Monreal who helped arrange the blessing and inauguration ceremony last July 2011.

As it was in my experience with the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids project, after my visit last July for the blessing and inauguration of the Bagong Pag-asa Boats and the makeshift school, we felt that our work in Isla Mababoy has just began…

The pages of my blog are surely not enough to name all the people, some are faceless and anonymous, who have allowed us to touch many lives in both the village of Layag-Layag and Isla Mababoy, but know that you have become part of the solution.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this journey, building a nation is a lot like building a boat. It takes one community, one village to do it.  

There is wisdom in the ways of our ancestors.  That’s why they called the smallest political unit in the country, the barangay.  It came from the word ‘balangay,’ which refers to the boat.  Because what they realize is that you really need the whole community united and in ‘kabayanihan’ to build a boat, to build anything. This experience has made me stronger and wiser because I gained confidence when I realized that we were always a smart race. I can only pray that the hope that the yellow boat virus has unleashed is just the beginning of this re-discovery.

(This is the second in my series on the little heroes write up… more to come…)

The Little Fund That Could

Beautiful Layag-Layag

Last April 1, 2011, I wrote about concept of the Little Fund.  It was a simple concept.  I wanted to share the story of the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids, a little project that started on Facebook among my friends.  It was a story about kids who swim to school.  And with the encouragement of Josiah Go and other friends, we launched a mini-fundraising campaign to buy them a boat – it later on turned out that we needed to build them a boat because it needed to be customized to the mangrove area.  (You can read the whole story here).

And as I shared then, what started as a simple Facebook post (click to learn more about the Facebook story) and a campaign to build them a boat turned out to become a little movement in Zamboanga to help the entire village of Layag-Layag.  Over the last four months, I have travelled to Zamboanga, to the village of Layag-Layag at least 4 times.  The first time was last March 27 when we turned over the first ever Bagong Pag-asa (New Hope) yellow boat.  It was a symbol of how social media tools can be harnessed for social good.

The second time was when I accompanied my good friend and soon-to-be popular film-maker, Luke Perez together with Tempest Films’ Zap Berenguer and Lester Castor, to shoot a video about our story.  (See their photos here).

The third time was when I accompanied a team from Facebook, who also shot a video about the story of the Layag-Layag kids who swim to school.

The fourth time was to accompany a writer and photographer of a popular magazine who also wanted to feature our story.

Over these last 4 months, almost all the major news organizations have visited Zamboanga City particularly our little village of Layag-Layag namely: SkyCable Zamboanga, ABS-CBN, Al-Jazeera, and a host of other individuals and organizations.  And with that we are truly grateful, it has allowed our group, the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids, to continue helping the people of Layag-Layag.

It has allowed us together with Tzu Chi Foundation – Zamboanga, Rotary Club of Zamboanga, the city government of Zamboanga City and a host of other organizations to provide school supplies, plastic bottle bulbs, medical assistance, and scholarships to the students and people of Layag-Layag.  We have also began to engage with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to evaluate whether they can help the seaweed farmers of Layag-Layag in improving their operations.

As of today, August 4, 2011, 12 scholars from Layag-Layag are enrolled in the Zamboanga City State College of Marine Science and Technology.  Our story has brought confidence to the students of Layag-Layag.  They are now in a better position to pursue their dreams for their families and they have gotten the attention they rightly deserve.

It is my belief our country does not lack the heroes it needs.  We only need to empower them.  There is Abs Mawadi, the boat-maker who waived his labor fees for the succeeding boats that we are building.  There is Anton Lim, the veterinary doctor, who has fallen in love with Layag-Layag and continues to mobilize funds and people to help the community. There is Luke Perez, a good friend, who volunteered to create a short film out of our story.  There is Winston Almendras who raised funds for his birthday so that we can buy the kids of Layag-Layag some school supplies.  There are so many of them, it might fill this page, and lastly, our donors who continue to support us in our efforts.

The US trip

Last April 28, I flew to the US to share the story of the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids to around 300 Filipino-Americans (you can watch my speech here), who were attending the first WeAreOneFilipino (WAOF) Summit in Las Vegas.  It was a wonderful opportunity to bring our story to the US and share how Filipinos in the US can help communities back home.

On May 16, I also participated in a panel discussion about Facebook Groups in Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California (see the discussion here).  It was another wonderful opportunity to share our story of Bayanihan in the age of Social Media.

How Zamboanga gave birth to Masbate

Upon my return from the US, another friend, Dr. Ofelia Sy from Legaspi City, Albay, shared to me another story, also about kids who swim to school in Monreal, Masbate.  An employee of the regional office of the Department of Education shared to her about the plight of the kids in Sitio Mababoy, Brgy. Guinhadap, Monreal, Masbate and asked her if we could also do something about it like how we helped the community of Layag-Layag in Zamboanga City.

I thought about it for a few days because we are still helping Layag-Layag and I feared we might not be able to help the kids in Mababoy Island.  Fortunately, a researcher from the show Brigada on GMA News TV called me and asked if we had another story of kids swimming to school.  I shared with her the story about the kids in Mababoy.  Within 2 days, they dispatched a team to Masbate and on June 13, 2011, we watched the kids of Mababoy on Brigada, who came to be called “Batang Lukso,” a documentary by JP Soriano.

After the show, so many well-meaning people including presidential sisters Bally Aquino-Cruz and Pinky Aquino-Abellada donated funds so that we can build the kids of Mababoy some little yellow boats. And again, as the case in Layag-Layag, the help and support poured in.  People were donating time, resources and efforts to help the kids of Mababoy.

In just over a month’s time, we were able to build them around 20 little yellow boats (the boats were a lot smaller than the ones we built in Zamboanga), again nicknamed Bagong Pag-asa, and a makeshift school with 4 classrooms for multi-grade learning.  The kids were all coming from different parts of the islands in the area that’s why we needed to build a lot of boats.


Masbate Funds for Little Kids

Because of this, the Masbate Funds for Little Kids, was born.

Last July 27, 2011, I went to Legaspi City, Albay despite typhoon “Juaning” so that we can formally inaugurate and have the blessing of the boats and the makeshift school which was scheduled on July 28.

Upon arriving in Legaspi City, Dr. Ofel and her team from Pinoy Power Coalition Inc. – Bicol started to prepare the donated goods which were drinking water, blankets, clothes, school supplies and raincoats for the people of Mababoy.

It was another hour of land trip to Pilar, Sorsogon where we rode a pump-boat to Mababoy. I didn’t imagine that I would be experiencing roller-coaster waves that day.  It was a moment of intense prayer.  What was usually a one and a half hour boat trip became 3 hours. But we arrived safely in Mababoy.

Beautiful Mababoy Island

The island (or Sitio) of Mababoy is located in Brgy. Guinhadap in the Municipality of Monreal in Masbate. Upon arriving in the area, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the beauty of Mababoy island. Legend has it that there are so many wild pigs in the island when the first settlers came (baboy is Tagalog for pig).

We arrived pretty late, around 6:00PM already. We off-loaded our cargo (donated goods, others) to the island and I went to see some of the kids who used to swim to school.  I saw 6 of them, mostly in elementary school. I could see the island where they need to swim to from afar. It didn’t seem that far but I think it was at least 500 meters. I wondered how they could swim that distance, little as they are.

After maybe an hour in the island, we transferred to a smaller boat and proceeded to another island where we were going to sleep the night.

The morning after was even better, when I woke up around 5:30AM, I immediately jumped out of bed and proceeded to the beach. It was a breath-taking view, with the sunrise on my left, I could see so many islands that dot the sea. And to my surprise, I could see baby sharks roaming around free near the bay. It was truly a wonderful island.

After swimming for 2 hours, we got ready to go to the island of Mababoy for the formal inauguration of the extension school.

We arrived shortly 30 minutes after and began the preparations. I got the chance to roam around as people were busy cooking and making some last minute improvements to the school area. This is when I got a sneak peek to what they were cooking for us that day, the last ‘baboy’ (pig) of Mababoy!

People from all over Masbate and Albay were starting to arrive – the priest who was to bless the school and boats, the schools division superintendent of Masbate Mr. Gilbert Sadsad, the schools area supervisor, representatives of the mayor of Monreal, other people from the local office of the Department of Education, and volunteers of Pinoy Power Coalition – Bicol.

Around 10:00AM, my good friend Anton Lim (who came all the way from Zamboanga City), Dr. Jullie Sy (the husband of Masbate Funds for Little Kids prime-mover Dr. Ofelia Sy), and members of the Albay Medical Society arrived. We started the program shortly after and the priest blessed the school and the boats. It was truly a momentous ocassion for the village of Mababoy. I could see the excitement of the parents.

It was truly an inspiring day. After the inauguration in Mababoy, we went to Guinhadap Elementary School, which was were the kids of Mababoy used to go to school to, before their extension school was built. Dr. Jullie Sy also works with AGAPP Foundation wherein they build pre-schools. So he decided to check up on possible sites for pre-schools as well. After that, we went for another possible site in Togoron, Monreal, an hour away from Guinhadap.

The sea was calm on our way back to Pilar, Sorsogon that day. We arrived at the port safely around 7PM.

Ripple Effect

And so what started as a single Facebook post on October 30, 2010 became a force for social good in the country.

There are now two movements (Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids and Masbate Funds for Little Kids) born out of this simple idea, two little funds that could. And I hear of two more areas joining soon!

Talaga ngang may Bagong Pag-asa na!