In an area comprised of four coastal regions and 7,107 islands, water channels assume the function of streets for many villages in the Philippines, like the Layag-Layag village of Zamboanga City.
It’s where Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation Inc. founders Anton Lim and Jay Jaboneta visited and left, bothered by what they saw.
“The common stories we hear are them walking across mountains, sometimes they have to cross rivers, and waking up very early in the morning just to be able to attend school,” Lim said of the students. “Just because it’s OK for them to swim and go to school does not make it right.”
During high tide the elementary school students of this fishing village swim to class, or during low tide they trudge through the muddy banks across sharp rocks or corals that cut their feet, and their bags, notebooks, papers and supplies get soaked if not sealed beforehand in plastic bags.
“When we go to school we always get wet because we have to swim daily,” one of the students said in a Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation “current projects” video viewed by Brooksville Elementary students. “We don’t have a boat to bring. Our father uses it for fishing livelihood.”
If their fathers can’t take the boat to sea to fish then there is nothing to eat, another student added — boats not only serve the same necessity as cars do for work transportation in the U.S., but are often the common mode of travel for all things medical, dental, and educational — and the discrepancy was not lost to Brooksville Elementary students, who are still able to attend school despite transportation issues.
“This more than anything we ever did really struck a nerve, and really fired them up,” Principal Mary LeDoux said. “When I ask kids why it’s called the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, the littlest kid can tell you it’s a floating school bus.”
Thanks to Brooksville Elementary’s multicultural program, which is integrated throughout its K-5 curriculum, 30-35 students in the Philippines will receive a $1,700 “yellow boat” to transport them to and from school in a country where, according to a Republic of the Philippines Department of Public Works and Highways report, 77 percent of total roads are not paved.
Brooksville Elementary Global Education teacher Kathy Gates chose the Yellow Boat Foundation project this year, she said, to use as a framework in teaching cultural awareness, customs, geography and ecology, but also with a humanitarian effort that transcends the classroom. It’s become something of a tradition at the school, she said.
“Kids learn the things they have in the United States that they may take for granted; there’s poor, and then there’s real, deep poverty,” Gates said. “In 20 years from now they’re not going to remember their FCAT scores. They’re going to remember things like this.”
During last year’s multicultural program, the students funded a freshwater well for 1,000 village people in the African country of Tanzania, Gates said. After the project was complete, the villagers sent a picture of the well, and the old swamp where they used to collect water.
“I think what really got their interest was this was kids helping kids, so I’m going to continue that theme,” Gates said. “When this (photo) came in I went, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and it just took their breath away to see an actual picture from Tanzania of them thanking us. They can see on the other side of the world — we helped.”
Brooksville Elementary is a Title I school, LeDoux said, which means the school is eligible for federal funding for high quality supplemental instruction and support services for educationally disadvantaged children. It was a driving sense of empathy that lead students to raise $1,700 for the foundation for the purchase of a large yellow boat to transport 30-35 students to school in the Philippines.
The boat was funded at the school’s “Quarters for Hope Global Celebration” on May 3, which marked the end of this year’s global studies, where students arrived to school with bags of quarters and participated in a culturally themed carnival involving face painting, a market place, games and food.
“I’m proud of our students; I’m very proud of the empathy,” LeDoux said. “They knew what these kids were going through. When a little kid hands you a quarter and says, ‘I don’t want kids swimming to school,’ you know you’ve accomplished what you set out to.”