School bus takes new form in ZamboBy Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
When the new school year opens in June, these unique yellow “school buses” will again shorten the gap between students and their desire to learn.
The Philippine Funds for Little Kids, better known as the Yellow Boat Project, will ferry more students from home to school in far-flung communities in Luzon and Mindanao, keeping them dry while crossing rivers that they used to swim daily to make it to class.
The brainchild of former Malacañang communications officer Jay Jaboneta, the ferry initiative has grown to serve three communities—quite a long way since it began as a call for action through the social networking site Facebook.
“Because of the success of the Yellow Boat Project, I came to realize that social media tools can be used for social change. A single Facebook status made a difference. It is very important, though, to make sure that you are clear about what you want to do,” Jaboneta told the Inquirer.
Jaboneta, a native of Cotabato City, was inspired to spur change in October, 2010, when he heard about students who swam across a river just to get to school in the mangrove village of Layag-layag in Zamboanga City.
He posted this status update on his Facebook page on Oct. 30 of the same year: “I just came back from Zamboanga City and I heard about an amazing story where children swim to school. Hope we can help them.”
“After I heard the story … I couldn’t really shake it off. I wanted to help and so I shared it as a Facebook status, hoping that someone will see it and help them,” he said.
As he frequently travels around the country and overseas to talk about the Yellow Boat, Jaboneta responded to this interview via e-mail.
“I didn’t realize then that it would come back to me and immerse me in a project that’s now helping three communities around the Philippines where children struggle to go to school primarily because of a body of water,” he shared.
That one sentence he shared on social media has turned into a full-fledged community empowerment project, serving more than 500 students and their families.
From just one motorized banca turned over to Layag-layag in March 2011, yellow boats now regularly ply the route to school in Lakewood town in Zamboanga del Sur and Isla Mababoy in Masbate.
Jaboneta said three big motorboats and 20 smaller boats in Layag-layag were servicing roughly 300 students. In Lakewood, Jaboneta’s group gave
40 small boats that could hold six children at a time.
In Isla Mababoy, the project awarded one boat to each of the 80 households, serving both as school ferries and fishing boats for the community.
Propelled by the viral power of social media, the program continues to draw philanthropy from students, parents, schools and government offices.
Jaboneta said most donors were “usually generous friends and friends of friends” and students of schools like National University, Eton International School (Manila) and De La Salle College of St. Benilde.
“The funds were collected by students from their fellow students, teachers and administrators and even parents. It showed me that together, we can really solve a lot of the challenges that our country is facing,” Jaboneta said.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Zamboanga donated logs to build the first batch of yellow boats. The program also prodded the Department of Social Welfare and Development to check on the situation of families in the yellow boat communities and see if they were eligible to become beneficiaries of the government’s conditional cash transfer program.
“It also made me realize that our country does not lack the heroes it needs—they are everywhere, if only we take the time to search for them,” Jaboneta said.
Community and environment organizations have also been helping out. These include the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation, I CAN make a difference, Tzu Chi Foundation, Rotary Club of Zamboanga, Pinoy Power Bicol Coalition and Albay Medical Society.
The project has evolved into an all-community program, which ensures that continuous education for children means giving their parents a source of income.
“Our goal now is to be able to empower these communities so that they can have alternative sources of income, be it in seaweed farming, fishing or other livelihood opportunities,” Jaboneta said.
“What I realized was the fact that most of the children don’t even have ‘baon’ when they go to school. There’s a need to help them, support them but also empower them—that’s why we are shifting into becoming a social enterprise now with projects on seaweed farming and mangrove nursery,” he said.