To city dwellers, these bring to mind quaint remembrances of vacations spent by the sea. To fisherfolk in the many islands of the archipelago, these make a vital difference between a decent living and penury.
In November 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) touched down in the Visayas and in one brief sweep of violence destroyed homes and livelihood.
To help fellowmen in Iloilo rebuild their lives, nongovernment organization Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran developed the Bangkabuhayan project with the primary mission to donate boats complete with fishing gear to affected fishermen. The project hopes to help these fishermen recover their livelihood and resume normal lives.
Bangkabuhayan reminded me of the famous Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Kaisa gave this a new twist: “Give a man a boat and you feed a community.”
On April 25, Kaisa’s Bangkabuhayan project turned over the second batch of 50 motorized fiberglass boats to fishermen of Ajuy, Iloilo. The festive day also saw each beneficiary receive a 25-kg sack of rice, fishing nets and paraphernalia.
Bangkabuhayan’s “pay forward scheme” requires beneficiaries to pay forward the bounty they received by helping the community in turn. This scheme encouraged fisherfolk-beneficiaries to organize themselves into a cooperative. This ensures members will look out for each other and stand strong together for their own benefit and their community’s.
What struck me most during the turnover, while talking to some of the fisherfolk, was that they appreciated the big picture of this whole project. They were aware that they needed to look long-term and restore and improve their livelihood for a lifetime.
With new boats and gear in tow, they are confident that even a year from today, the boats will continue to benefit their families and the greater community.
Beyond this, they also have plans to give back to Mother Nature by restoring mangroves and sea grass destroyed during the typhoon. This will help ensure the abundance of fish, a reward that will help them for a lifetime.
The boats are just the beginning for them. They are willing to learn, move forward and start rebuilding from the tattered remains left in Yolanda’s wake. Their dedication and enthusiasm for the task at hand – to build a better life for their community – is admirable. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 27, nos. 1-2 (June 17-July 7, 2014): 12.