Changing the world, one boat at a time

The Little Dream

We all dream of helping make a difference in people’s lives. In much the same way that a pebble creates ripples when thrown in water.

In 2006, I met one such ‘pebble’ who changed my perspective on life, his name was Alex Lacson.  In 2005, he wrote a wonderful book entitled the 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country.

It became a national best-seller and it allowed him to test his idea that every Filipino can become part of the solution to the problems that our country is facing.

Over the last 6 years, we have heard of wonderful stories inspired by the book. There was a high school class in Muntinlupa City that adopted a scholar, there were families who bought more local products and supported local industries, and there were organizations and companies that adopted their own 12 Little Things that their employees can do to help the country.

While I was growing up, I thought heroes were people who had to die for the country. But there is another aspect of heroism that we are failing to notice – the side of heroism that is in the everyday Filipino.

And this is what this little story of a yellow boat, built in the south, in Zamboanga City, is all about.

I remember vividly the story of the kid who picks up and throws every starfish on the beach back to the sea indifferent to the fact that there are miles and miles of beach with starfishes.

Asked that he couldn’t possibly think he could make a difference, he replied that to those starfishes that he threw back, he surely made a difference.

The “Little” Fund

Last October 30, 2010, I had the opportunity to discuss the role of New Media in Nation-Building to almost 100 bloggers from all over Mindanao for the 4th Mindanao Blogging Summit.  Little did I know then that I was about to become part of the solution to one problem in Zamboanga City.

During the sidelines of the summit, I met with some of our campaign volunteers in the city and one volunteer, Juljimar Gonzales, told me of a story that during the presidential campaign last 2010 their team came across a group of children who were swimming just to be able to go to school.

The story really moved me. I have heard of stories about elementary students having to walk 4, 5 or even 8 kilometers daily just to be able to go to school. But have never heard of children who have to swim or wade through the waters just to go to school.

I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day, I went back to Manila and I felt compelled to share the story on my Facebook status.

I know the story will move people but I didn’t realize it will open their pockets. My good friend, marketing guru, Josiah Go, saw my status update, and we were able to start an online fundraising campaign among his friends (and my friends).

I was surprised because friends and friends of friends excitedly re-posted our call for donations. In less than 7 days, the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids (as the fundraising campaign came to be known then) raised almost Php70,000.

During this period, I also asked Doc Anton Lim, another volunteer of the President in Zamboanga City, to check the story.

In the middle of November 2010, I called up Anton if we can already look for a boat. We had a hard time finding the right boat for the children so we decided to build it.  Anton Lim, in behalf of the Tzu Chi Foundation, agreed to accept the funds we have raised, and he also raised additional funds from local donors.

It was a difficult journey though. At first, we couldn’t find any boat-maker. We found one but he lived in a far-away community; until finally Doc Anton through Kagawad Jesse Jamolod found a boat-maker (Abraham Mawadi) who came from the village of Layag-Layag itself in Brgy. Talon-Talon in Zamboanga City where the children who swam to school lived. I thought the boat-building would start right away but again we hit another challenge – finding the log to be used.

Fortunately, DENR was listening and CENRO Region IX donated the logs to the project through Tito Gadon.  In January 2011, the boat-building started.

And last March 27, 2011, I joined Tzu Chi Zamboanga for the turn-over of the boat in Layag-Layag, Brgy. Talon-Talon, Zamboanga City.

It took us 5 months to finish the project but nothing can be compared to the joy you feel in your heart when you realize you’ve helped make a difference in people’s lives, no matter how small.

I slept well that night – it was as if I saw God smile back at me.

Nation-building is a difficult project. It requires the participation of each and every one among us. And for the country’s leadership, it is about telling stories that inspire our people to act on the problems they are facing themselves.

The boat we turned over was christened ‘Bagong Pag-asa’ (New Hope) – it is a symbol of change that finally a group is finally noticing this particular community’s problems and challenges.

But more importantly, it is also a symbol of people power in action. It is about ordinary Filipinos helping other ordinary Filipinos.

I believe it is time we extend the meaning of People Power, one that not only changes governments and leaders, but one that also truly empowers our people – a people power that calls on every Filipino to become an active nation-builder.

The Little Heroes

The real heroes in this story are those brave kids in the village of Layag-Layag who crossed the waters just to be able to go to school. Whether by boat or by swimming to school, they have conquered the challenges of water and distance.

The boat is a symbol that serves as a vehicle for knowledge and learning. We hear of stories about affluent kids in Manila who skip school to go swimming but these kids in Layag-Layag go swimming to go to school.

Changing the world is difficult but with the right attitude and with the community working together, we can make things happen, even with just one boat at a time.

I suggest we remember the story of how the barangay came about. During the pre-Spanish era in Philippine history, the term balangay referred to both the boat and the basic political unit in the country, the barangay.

This came about because the nature of building the balangay (boat) requires unity among members of the community. And that is how the barangay was born – members of the community working together to build something, whether it is a boat, a city or a nation.

I am sharing this story because it is my belief that each one of us can be part of the solution and you can start creating solutions to challenges in the communities where you live or work.

It is my fervent hope that this story has touched you in one way or another and that you won’t stop at just reading this – I hope you will you will start creating ripples of your own.

These little things create ripples across the country and sometimes with no end in sight. These small acts of heroism can deliver an impact bigger than originally intended.

To date, there are more than 150 yellow boats all over the Philippines and our group is now present in 8 communities.

Let us all become part of the solution!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *