Bedans reach out to the children of Zamboanga

The children of Layag-Layag used to cross the river to get to school…

By Cristina DC Pastor

In a remote village in Zamboanga City, public school children thought nothing of wading waist-deep into the muddy river just so they could go to school. Wearing street clothes and rubber shoes, they would cross the shallow waters for about two kilometers to get to Talon-Talon Elementary School, their white uniforms safely tucked in their backpacks which they carried over their heads. It was all water-play and fun for the kids, but for the teachers a sense of helplessness that nothing was being done to make education accessible — if not safe – for the children.

Thousands of miles away, the Benedictine Abbey School Class of ‘85 thought of the children of Layag-Layag at their reunion in Las Vegas. Amid the never-ending reminiscences, the parlor games and the warmhearted fellowship, the alumni decided to pass the hat. They were able to collect $800 for the Yellow Boat of Hope project.

“I was watching CNN and came across the Yellow Boat of Hope,” Marie Pangilinan Reyes, a travel agency entrepreneur from Holmdel, New Jersey, told The FilAm. “It’s about the children of Zamboanga who have to swim so they could go to school. Naiyak ako, sobrang naawa ako. I thought, we need to help and send money to these kids.”

At their May 25 reunion, the Class of ’85 was able to raise funds from the alumni and their families. They solicited cash from companies they worked in or owned and raffled off prizes, such as Apple iPods and MLB jerseys. Bedan batchmates in the Philippines did their share of fundraising. The combined cash was turned over to the Yellow Boat project.

The project was started by blogger Jay Michael Jaboneta, a Zamboanga native, who was moved by the children’s plight. He began to raise awareness about the pitiful and incomprehensible way the children got to their classrooms — by swimming a possibly crocodile-infested river. The project, which has caught the attention of CNN, has raised enough funds to build 150 motorized bancas which they painted yellow and called “Ang Bagong Pag-asa” (The new hope). Today, the children no longer arrive in their classrooms dripping wet and late.

The Yellow Boat of Hope project has made education accessible and going to school smart.

“It’s our small way of giving back to our motherland,” said Maia Neri, a co-organizer of the reunion and fundraiser.

The Class of ’85 of Benedictine Abbey is a close-knit bunch of people, about 240 of them distributed into six sections when they were in school. They’ve remained tight long after they’ve graduated and led their own independent lives. The batch mates look out for each other, said Marie, and it’s common to tap into their big hearts when former classmates need help, as in medical or financial. (Benedictine Abbey – now known as San Beda College Alabang – is a private Catholic school located in the middle-class enclave of Alabang where many Philippine government officials and celebrities live.)

“We’re very close, we grew up together since grade school,” she said. “This reunion brought unity, camaraderie, love and support for one another.”

The Class of ’85 at the Spring Mountain Ranch Lake in Las Vegas.

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