Six Weeks After the Storm (Part 1): Rebuilding for Empowerment in Full Swing
It's the Solstice season and the spirit of the Bantayan Back To Sea (BTS) team is bouyant. They have just formed a fishing association in a seventh ward, with residents of Barangay Okoy in Santa Fe electing their officers. The project team helped establish a boat repair station and a schedule of master-builders to assist the locals in getting the vessels back to the sea. In an impressive show of resilience and grit, Bantayonans are rebuilding their lives and in the process empowering their community.
In another sign of renewal, fisherfolk in Barangay Guiwanon launched 20 repaired boats on Christmas Day. Families proudly stand by their newly-painted vessels during the joyous occasion. "Never felt more alive than now with the sense of fulfilment and the satisfaction that we are making a difference in the lives of people and their communities,” shares Allan Monreal of BTS in his Facebook post. “This is the best Christmas gift given to me." Allan is also the president of the Bantayan Island Association of Resorts, Hotels, Bar and Restaurants. Even before the storm, he was already seeking ways to integrate the locals into a communal, local development strategy. He wants everyone in the island to benefit from the economic activities that tourism brings—from employment opportunities, to reinvestment from resorts to local development priorities. After the storm, in a conversation with Tourism Officers of the Island , Allan said "We could only say that tourism in Bantayan has fully recovered when all communities in it has recovered as well."
Last December 21, TIGRA initiated a fundraising event in Berkeley, California to support the project. The event highlight was a Skype conversation with the BTS team, accompanied by the elected president of the newly-formed Guiwanon Fishermen's Association, and one of its members Jimmy Fernandez and his family. After Jimmy’s boat was repaired, he named it "Concepcion" as a request of one of the donors in Oakland. (Fittingly, Concepcion was a migrant farmworker in the United States who knew about poverty and hardship. She passed away last year, and her daughters thought their mom would be proud to lend her name to the plight of fisherfolk.) BTS calls this the "Love Boat Project" when donors can adopt a boat and name it in honor of someone they love. The event proved successful, encouraging more people to donate. Most notably, a representative from the Service Employees International Union pitched the project to fellow members after the event and got a commitment to adopt 20 boats in the name of the Health Workers Organizing for the Philippines Effort (HOPE). There will be purple and yellow boats (SEIU’s colors) plying the waters of Bantayan for years to come—a show of solidarity across the seas.