x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Blogger's campaign means village children no longer swim to school

Facebook fundraising pays for boat to take pupils in Philippine mangrove village from home to school and back.

MANILA // Dozens of poor children in a Philippine mangrove village no longer have to swim to school.

A blogger who learnt how Layag-layag village children struggled to reach their place of learning decided to launch a Facebook campaign to provide boats to the village.

A motorboat funded by his campaign carried the Layag-layag children to their elementary school near bustling Zamboanga city yesterday when the country's more than 25 million students returned to their studies after a two-month break.

The new school year refocuses this poor nation's attention to the ills of its educational system - congested classrooms, dilapidated buildings and a huge number of dropouts due to poverty.

But school opened with a piece of good news for the village whose youngsters for years had to swim, walk and wade through about a mile of mostly chest-deep water and sandbars while straining to hold their books above the water to reach school.

Their teacher, Racquel Bangayan, said the children arrived in her class with their clothes dripping wet in the past when they could not hitch a ride on fishing boats. Many often came late but a few excelled in school.

More than 220 families fish and farm seaweed in Layag-layag, where they resettled starting in the 1980s because of fighting between government troops and Muslim separatist rebels in their towns on nearby Jolo island.

The government employee and blogger Jay Jaboneta said he learnt of the children's plight last October and helped start fund-raising through his Facebook account.

"Some of these children came from families which were too poor to buy even small boats so they have to swim their way to school," Mr Jaboneta said. "It's an inspiring story. They saw the school as the only way out of poverty."

Mr Jaboneta raised enough money for one motorboat, named New Hope, which was turned over to community leaders in March. Two more boats were being built with the donations, and the charity group overseeing the funds also provided school bags, slippers and blankets to the children.

"The children were jumping with joy holding their new bags and slippers," said the charity worker Anton Lim. "They did not appear as excited with the new boat. They've been so used to being in the water."