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[#TatagPinoy] Ripples of Progress in a Sea of Dreams

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Written by: Mariah JC

It would be an understatement to say that the Caramoan Peninsula in Camarines Sur is the very definition of paradise for tourists with its crystal-clear waters, lovely beaches, secret coves, enchanting caves, and a vibrant ecosystem. Frequently compared with the famous El Nido, Palawan due to its scenic beauty, Caramoan's solace and tranquility due to its seclusion is the ace up its sleeve that has earned it a great deal of appreciation from its visitors. The world took notice of this gem as it has been the setting for a number of episodes of the hit reality show Survivor, including seasons from the US and Israel.

But, off the tourist trail of Caramoan paints a not so picturesque side of the peninsula. The isolation that made the place an awe-inspiring natural wonder also made it endure a painful pause in the march of progress. Several years ago, Sitio Lipata was what most would call a “left behind” town with no electricity and lack of access to potable water. Fishing is the main source of living and most residents have accepted their fate – that men should go to the sea to earn a living for their family, while women are designated to be homemakers. One would expect that basic education was elusive for locals who wish to study and improve their quality of life.

The islands are susceptible to typhoons as the peninsula faces the Pacific Ocean. Another struggle is the mode of transportation -- one must tread through rough roads and harsh seas just to reach the islands, and it is very expensive since there are no regular trips to and from the place. Woefully, this also meant that students of all ages from Sitio Lipata had to walk through the steep and muddy hills for almost an hour to get to the nearest elementary school in Gogon.

Things took a turn when a small group of teachers started to look for possibilities on how they can change the lives of the residents of Sitio Lipata. One of them was ALS Mobile Teacher Windel Alvarez who persistently messaged the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation's (YBH) official Facebook page to seek assistance in the sitio’s predicaments and share their unique story.

Through YBH, Sitio Lipata adapted Teacher Windel's ALS Bangkarunungan Program, a 10-meter long boat with 22 horsepower engine. It is a floating community learning center, loaded with all the instructional materials needed in conducting learning sessions, including pop-up tents, a foldable table, native mats, white board with stand, modules and textbooks placed in plastic boxes, and other school supplies. Life jackets and floaters are also available for safety. This paved the way for the accessibility of implementing Alternative Learning System (ALS) programs and projects and encouraged the youth and adult community members to enroll and participate in ALS, an alternative or substitute for those who do not have access to formal education in schools. YBH also conducted livelihood skills training not just for ALS learners but for all the members of the community.

YBH also gifted them 3 ALS Bangkarunungan boats in 2017, with the support of numerous donors. The following year, more help poured into the community and the construction of the Yellow School of Hope began, a two-classroom typhoon-resistant structure which sparked the locals’ interest in education.

Through a turnover ceremony presided by former Vice President Leni Robredo, Lipata Elementary School was established in December 2018. In 2019, Smart Communications donated 5 School-In-A-Bag (SIAB) packages, complementing the ALS Bangkarunungan Program. Aside from training and full program support, each SIAB is a digital learning kit containing a teacher's laptop, 5 student tablets, a television, a solar panel, and educational apps to enhance the quality of education among the young and adult ALS students. Additionally, Cebuana Lhuillier distributed Christmas presents to the families and Lock and Lock Philippines gave out lunch boxes to the children.

YBH lighted up the islands in Caramoan literally and figuratively by introducing solar power and supplying power lamps to the neighborhood with the help of One Renewable Energy Enterprises and BEAGIVER, which also donated water tanks to the remote area. Satellite service from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) came after.

“The Sitio Lipata Yellow Boat Community story is truly an inspiration and a testament of what an empowered community can do with the Bayanihan spirit – how one person who cared became the beginning of a beautiful story,” Yellow Boat of Hope co-founder Doc Anton Lim shared his joy in being a part of transforming an excluded town into a place beaming with hope and potential.

More projects from YBH and partner organizations graced Sitio Lipata in the following years. Before, Grade 3 was the highest educational attainment for aspiring learners. Now, there are high school graduates from the ALS program and students don’t have to travel savage trails for hours just to learn the lessons for the day on the main island. To date, there are 5 ALS Bangkarunungan boats serving the different districts of Caramoan. Along with 4 Adopt-a-Fisherman boats from YBH, a new toy library from the Philippine Toy Library, playground equipment from the Miriam College Child Study Center and Seeds of Hope, and 6 new classrooms from the Department of Education (DepEd), soon the peninsula will also be able to offer the K-12 curriculum for junior high school to its residents.

"Before it became the home of Survivor to the world, Caramoanons, in their [own] sense, are genuine survivors," Teacher Windel remarked, looking back on all the progress Sitio Lipata has made which all started from a chat.

Maybe it is time to stop referring to places such as Sitio Lipata as a “left behind” town, as if surrendering that places being left behind are a neutral natural occurrence. Everyone can play a role in leveling up excluded places and uplifting lives. The Sitio Lipata Yellow Boat Community proved that they are not just mere survivors, they can thrive when provided with opportunities for fostering longer-term social mobility.

Know how you can do your part. Visit now.

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