A Boat That Makes Learning Possible
Attendance has vastly improved now that students can make their way to school safely.
A Boat That Makes Learning Possible
Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Crossing crocodile-infested waters in small wooden boats used to be a way of life for the people of Bgy. Darul-Akram in Languyan, Tawi-Tawi. Tawi-Tawi is the country’s southernmost province, between the Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea. The province is part of the Sulu archipelago and consists of the main island of Tawi-Tawi and over 100 surrounding islands and islets, one of which is Turtle Island, a turtle sanctuary and protected area.

Having had the problem for so long, the people had somehow come to accept the situation as normal, until a group of Bangsamoro young leaders came along with a dream and a plan for changing their condition.

“This is our group mind set: ‘Don’t tell people your dreams. Show them’,” says 23-year-old Vincent Durie, leader of Taus-Spartan LeadCom (Tausog-Spartan Leadership Communities), whose members are young community leaders from Tawi-Tawi.

As the young leaders knew all too well themselves, one of the major sectors affected by the perilous water crossing were students.

Having to ride a bangka to cross 60 to 100 meters of a crocodile-infested river just to get to school, it is understandable that classroom attendance in Darul-Akram was as dismal as it can get.

To make the situation worse, with bangkas that are too small and fragile to withstand raging waters, accidents involving school children have often occurred during bad weather.

The Bangka Karunungan can ferry 30 people safely across crocodile-infested waters.

“We talked to teachers, parents, barangay leaders and other members of the community and found out that this was one of their biggest concerns. Traversing the river to get to school was an everyday risk the children had to take. And the presence of saltwater crocodiles made it even worse,” says Vincent.

Generally, teachers point to the lack of safe transportation as the main cause of absences, especially during the rainy season. Dropping out of school in the middle of the school year was common for the young of this place. Consequently, many of them are unable to complete basic education.

Vincent was a fellow of the Bangsamoro Young Leaders Program-Leadership Communities (BYLP-LeadCom), a program developed by Ayala Foundation, in partnership with the ARMM regional government and the Eisenhower Fellows Association of the Philippines.

Together with other stakeholders, the LeadCom group was able to secure a grant for a two-engine boat from the local Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

They named the boat Bangka ng Karunungan (Boat of Knowledge), fulfilling a two-pronged objective of helping both high school students and grade school pupils go to school safely, while providing the fishing community an alternative means of livelihood during off-school days and during hours when the children are in class. 

With capacity to ferry at least 30 people in one trip, it plies the route from the island barangay to the nearest sitio where the school is located at least thrice a day, thus enabling children to reach school safely and on time.

Vincent Durie (left, in green shirt) takes a ride on the bangka.

“The aim of the program is to help the pupils to have safe and easy access to quality education. We also gave school supplies and reminded the Badjao pupils of the importance of education.”

Today, 99 percent of the children from Darul-Akram are logging in regular classroom hours. The school and the barangay have also agreed to collaborate on maintenance and repairs of the Bangka ng Karunungan. 

Earlier this year, Taus-Spartan was recognized as a national finalist by TAYO (Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations) Awards Foundation.

Vince says, “This recognition encourages us to continue creating impact in the communities, especially the Badjao pupils. We should show them the importance of education to their daily life.”

In the meantime, Vincent and his LeadCom cohorts are looking for other ways to expand the project in the area of livelihood, together with their partners.

“We are looking for another because we saw this problem not only in Darul-Akram, Languyan, Tawi-Tawi but also to the whole province of Tawi-Tawi,” says Vincent.

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