Philanthropy

This Foundation Provides Boats for Kids Who Swim to School

With no bridges and no transportation, children in a seaside community were forced to swim to school. The solution? The Yellow Boat of Hope.
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It all began with a story. As Yellow Boat of Hope founder Anton Mari H. Lim recalls, “Juljimar Gonzales told my co-founder Jay Jaboneta about having seen kids in a mangrove community in Zamboanga swimming to school, with one hand holding a plastic bag containing their school uniform and school supplies and the other hand used to swim and stay afloat.” It troubled Lim so deeply that he decided to spend the following weeks in search of the community. Jaboneta was equally disturbed and took to Facebook, posting, “Heard about kids swimming to go to school in Zamboanga City.” The post caught the attention of marketing guru Josiah Go, who shared the post with his followers, kicking off an accidental fundraising effort. In only one week, Jaboneta and Go raised over P70,000.

Ideas were passed around online, with suggestions that included relocating the children and the entire school, constructing a bridge, an elevated walkway, and even providing the community with a speedboat. Locating the community of Layag-Layag, however, proved difficult because of its remote location by the sea, a few kilometers from Zamboanga City. “It took me over a month to finally find the community,” Lim recalls. “It is hidden from public view because of its thick surrounding mangrove forest. On my first visit onboard a small banca, I finally came face to face with poverty in the community,” says Lim.

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The community’s informal settlers, mostly Tausug seaweed farmers and fishermen, come from the war-ravaged province of Sulu, where brutality and conflict remain in full swing between the Abu Sayyaf and the Philippine army. Among the Muslim Maranao there is also the concept of rido, or clan feuds, which often result in casualties and destruction of property. In Layag-Layag, families live in houses on stilts by the sea, five to 10 kilometers from dry land. “They settled in Layag-Layag to escape the violence on land because it was no way to raise a family, they say,” explains Lim, who witnessed the children swimming to school firsthand on his visit. “According to them, while life is very difficult, at least they can sleep soundly at night knowing their children are safe.”

Beneficiaries of the Yellow Boat of Hope with their new boats.

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Lim consulted the townsfolk’s elders and leaders, and, after a long discussion and assessment, came to a creative conclusion. “It was decided that the fastest and most cost-effective solution was to build them a boat big enough to transport 35 to 50 kids. It was envisioned to be a school bus on water. We decided to paint it yellow with black markings to look like a school bus,” Lim says. With the help of the Tzu Chi Foundation in Zamboanga, which is currently Yellow Boat of Hope’s local partner and lead implementation office, the organization acquired a large motorized boat costing P150,000. Thus, the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids, the forerunner of Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, was born.

Lim is very happy with the outcome so far. From providing one boat for one community, the organization has built almost 4,000 boats to serve more than 85 communities around the Philippines. “Sometimes the most complex of problems can be solved with a very simple solution,” Lim says.

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For more information on how you can help, log on to yellowboat.org

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Maria Milagros G. Augustines
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