When Jay Jaboneta spoke at a bloggers’ summit in October 2010 and encouraged participants to use social media to improve people’s lives, little did the Manila-based communications manager know what would follow.
While still in Zamboanga City, Philippines, where the summit was held, Jaboneta heard about a nearby village where children had to wade two kilometres (sometimes even swim part of the way during high tide) to get to school. During his flight home, Jaboneta thought about how he could help. “I had so much admiration for these children,” he says. “I felt they deserved to be rewarded and helped for all their efforts.”
Back in Manila he discovered that the children came from the village of Layag-Layag, a cluster of more than 1500 families living in shanties built on stilts over the sea. The villagers survived on seaweed farming and fishing but could not afford a boat to ferry their children to school.
In November, Jaboneta posted a story about the children’s plight on his Facebook account. He thought that was enough, but his friend Josiah Go encouraged him to do more. With Go’s help, Jaboneta created Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids, which sought donations through his Facebook account to build a boat for the Layag-Layag children.
“It was not a formal organization but there was an enthusiastic show of support, and we managed to raise US$1600 in a week.”
Looking for help on the ground in Zamboanga City, Jaboneta contacted Dr Anton Lim, a local liaison officer with the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist humanitarian organization. Lim, who admits he had never heard about the plight of the children of Layag-Layag, travelled there. “I saw first-hand how the children struggled to wade across the murky water, holding their bags on their heads with one hand while they paddled with the other,” he recalls. “I was alarmed that they received no assistance to make their situation safer.”
Lim also approached Zamboanga City’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which agreed to donate logs confiscated from illegal logging activities.
Next, Abraham Mawadi, a boat maker living in Layag-Layag, was contracted to build the boat. “I have seven children and each of them had to swim to school because I didn’t have money to buy wood to build a bigger boat,” says Mawadi. “I was excited when I learnt this boat was for the children. I volunteered to take care of it.”
On 27 March 2011, Jaboneta, Lim and 16 volunteers formally turned the boat over to the Layag-Layag community. Christened Bagong Pag-Asa [New Hope], it began ferrying children, 20 at a time, on 6th June, the first day of the new school year. While the children are in school, the boat is used to transport goods to the market. The benefits of the new boat were felt immediately. “There was a sudden increase in the number of students this year, especially in the preschool,” says Nuljambri Jayari, principal of Talon Talon Elementary School, which the children of Layag-Layag attend.
The children are also showing a new sense of confidence. “They used to come to school with their heads bowed and looking tired,” says Clarissa Cruz, a sixth grade teacher at the school. “They were ashamed because they were poorer than the other students. They were dressed in wrinkled and often damp clothes.
“Now they come to school dry and fresh-looking. The children have a new eagerness to learn and a visible sense of pride.”
The boat has also lifted an enormous burden from the shoulders of the parents. “I didn’t go to school but I knew how important it was,” says Nur-Ma Hamsain, a mother of two toddlers and
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