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Yellow boats bring hope and education in the Philippines where the school run can be a swim

From Peter Shadbolt, for CNN
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 0742 GMT (1542 HKT)
The Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation was the idea of Jay Jaboneta, a socially-minded Filipino blogger. The Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation was the idea of Jay Jaboneta, a socially-minded Filipino blogger.
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Hope and education floats in the Philippines
Hope and education floats in the Philippines
Hope and education floats in the Philippines
Hope and education floats in the Philippines
Hope and education floats in the Philippines
Hope and education floats in the Philippines
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Children in remote villages in southern Philippines have to swim to school
  • Families can't afford second boat to ferry children to class
  • Foundation supported by social networks started called Yellow Boats of Hope
  • School boats and more social initiatives have transformed the prospects of whole villages

Editor's note: From the economy and infrastructure to entrepreneurship and development, CNN reports from across the Philippines and the World Economic Forum taking place in Manila May 21- 23. Watch the reports on CNN TV all this week and a special 30-minute show on May 23.

(CNN) -- In an age where many school children are ferried to school in their parents' SUV, the idea of having to swim to school over open ocean or wade through muddy mangrove swamps to get to class might seem part of a cruel and long-forgotten past.

But in some of the fishing communities near Zamboanga City in the Philippines, swimming half a mile of open water in school uniform while carrying school books tied up in plastic bags on their heads is still a daily reality.

"Their bags notebooks and papers always get soaked. If we forget to put their things in a plastic bag we have to hang their things out later to dry," said Ruhayna Mawadi, the mother of one of the pupils at Talon Talon Elementary School. "Many of the children don't graduate and that's very sad and hard for us -- we want them to graduate because it's for their future."

When Filipino blogger Jay Jaboneta, co-founder of Yellow Boat of Hope, learned about the situation on the sidelines of a conference in the southern Philippines province of Mindanao in 2010 he was shocked.

We often hear of kids that skip school to go swimming but here we've got kids swimming so that they can go to school.
Jay Jaboneta

"It really disturbed me when I heard about it," said Jaboneta. "Around Zamboanga they had to wade to school from their stilt houses where their parents are seaweed farmers. But when it was high tide, the water was six-feet high and they really had to swim."

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He said further investigations revealed even worse conditions than these.

Boats are painted the same color as school buses.
Philippines Economy - The Big Picture

"There's a community in Masbate that lives on a small island where the school is on a big island 300 meters away separated by water that is 30-feet deep. Seven kids had to swim this stretch of water twice a day."

Getting to school at another remote community near Zamboanga del Sur required a three-hour walk around the snake-infested shoreline of a lake, even though the school was just 15 minutes by boat.

Often a family's only boat would be out in open water fishing by 4am and still at sea at around 7am when the children began to go to school.

"We heard reports of some children in the past dying simply trying to get to school," Jaboneta said.

His foundation now provides boats -- painted yellow to mimic the color of Filipino school buses -- for some six communities where the children used to swim to school.

In total, the organization provides educational help to some 30 remote communities isolated by the geography of the Philippines; an archipelago of 7,107 islands.

The foundation is not only an example of a group of concerned citizens coming together to make a difference, but shows the power of social media to effect change.

Jaboneta said the project really sprang up out of one Facebook status he fired off after he heard about the situation at a bloggers' summit in Mindanao almost four years ago.

"I had one friend who contacted me who wanted to give money and it just started to grow from that," he said.

Now the group focuses on a range of issues, from education and medical support to local ecology and sustainability. It has even branched out into other projects such as Adopt a Fisherman -- a scheme to build up the fishing fleet destroyed by Typhoon Bopha, the super typhoon that devastated Mindanao in 2012.

Swimming, wading was the previous way to school for many.

The school boat program in Masbate, in particular, has been a stand out success for the foundation, where enrollments jumped from the seven exhausted swimmers that used to arrive each morning to 150 pupils that come by boat every day.

He said that that a lot of their funds are now earmarked for adding new classrooms onto the schools.

"This issue is really close to my heart because I wasn't born to a rich or even middle class family -- I struggled when I was growing up -- so it really touched me to see how much these kids really wanted to go to school."

The Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation will soon be able to count a handful of college graduates among the alumni of its school boats program, showing the difference the addition of a simple wooden boat can make to the future of a whole community.

"In Zamboanga, we've got eight students at the state university doing their best to finish college and they'll be the first in their community to ever do that."

He said the project has been an education for many of his friends and colleagues who were raised in cities and communities where getting to school each day was taken for granted.

"Even if it took several hours by bus or even walking it is not as tough as these kids have it," he said. "We often hear of kids that skip school to go swimming but here we've got kids swimming so that they can go to school."

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