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How one man used Facebook to help so many underprivileged children

When Jay Jaboneta spoke at a bloggers' summit in October 2010 and encouraged participants to use social media to improve people's lives, little did the Manila based communication manager know what would follow.

While still in Zamboanga City, Philippines, where the summit was held, Jaboneta heard about a nearby village where children had to wade two kilometers (sometimes even swim part of the way during high tide) to get to school. During his flight home, Jaboneta thought about how he could help. "I has so much admiration for these children," he says. "I felt they deserved to be rewarded and helped for all their efforts."

Back in Manila he discovered that the children came from the village of Layag-Layag, a cluster of more than 1500 families living in shanties built on stilts over the sea. The villagers survived on seaweed farming and fishing but could not afford a boat to ferry their children to school.

In November, Jaboneta posted a story about the children's plight on his Facebook account. He thought that was enough, but his friend Josiah Go encouraged him to do more. With Go's help, Jaboneta created Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids, which sought donations through his Facebook account to build a boat for the Layag-Layag children.

"It was not a formal organization but there was an enthusiastic show of support, and we managed to raise US $1600 in a week."

Looking for help on the ground in Zamboanga City, Jaboneta contacted Dr Anton Lim, a local liaison officer with the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist humanitarian organization. Lim, who admits he had never heard about the plight of the children of Layag-Layag, travelled there. "I saw first hand how the children struggled to wade across the murky water, holding their bags on their heads with one hand while they paddled with the other," he recalls. "I was alarmed that they received no assistance to make their situation safer."

"The children come to school dry and fresh looking. They have new eagerness to learn"

Lim also approached Zamboanga City's Department of Environment and natural resources, which agreed to donate logs confiscated from illegal logging activities.

Next, Abraham Mawadi,, a boat maker living in Layag-Layag, was contracted to build the boat. "I have seven children and each of them had to swim to school because I didn't have money to buy wood to build a bigger boat," says Mawadi. "I was excited when I learnt this boat was for the children. I volunteered to take care of it."

On 27 March 2011, Jaboneta, Lim and 16 volunteers formally turned the boat over to the Layag-Layag community. Christened Bagong Pad Asa [New Hope], it began ferrying children, 20 at a time, on 6th June, the first day of the new school year. While the children are in school, the boat is used to transport goods to the market. The benefits of the new boat were felt immediately. " There was a sudden increase in the number of students this year, especially in the pre school, " says Nuljambri Jayari, principal of Talon Elementary School, which the children of Layag-Layag attend.

The children are also showing a new sense of confidence. "They used to come to school with their heads bowed and looking tired," says Clarissa Cruz, a sixth grade teacher at the school. "They were ashamed because they were poorer than the other students. They were dressed in wrinkled and often damp clothes.

"Now they come to school dry and fresh looking. The children have new eagerness to learn and a visible sense of pride."

The boat has also lifted an enormous burden from the shoulders of the parents. "I didn't go to school but O knew how important it was," says Nur Ma Hamsain, a mother of two toddlers and five stepchildren. "I used to stand watching them go away with younger ones clinging to the shoulders of their bigger siblings even when the waves were high. When they had to stay in school later than usual, I worried about them wading in the dark."

Nur-Ma's 20 year old stepson Abdulbasik Salim is one of the first in the community to go to college, thanks to Jaboneta and the Tzu Chi Foundation, which assisted him in securing a scholarship to study marine technology at the Zamboanga State College of Marine Science and Technology. "After I graduate I will help the community in Layag-Layag set up new livelihood projects," he declares.

As word spread through Facebook and traditional media, additional help poured in for the people of Layag-Layag. Tzu Chi Foundation used the donations to give the village clothes, school supplies and boat-repair kits.

"I envisioned the boat would improve the lives of the children but I didn't imagine how it would open a whole new world of opportunities for the entire community so quickly," admits Jaboneta, who has contracted Abrahan Mawadi to build more boats for the community.

In May 2011, Jaboneta travelled to the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, to share his story with other social media experts. The following month he accompanied a crew from Facebook to Layag-Layag to film a documentary. He has also been named one of seven Modern Filipino Heroes by Yahoo! Philippines. Jaboneta's good work continues to grow in unexpected ways. Like many others, Dr Ofelia Samar-Sy, a cardiologist and a volunteer for a charity, was touched by the story of the children of Layag-Layag. After learning about children on a remote islet in another province, who get to school by either getting into a tiny boat or swimming to the next island, she called Jaboneta to see what could be done for them.

How one man used Facebook to help so many underprivileged children

He quickly arranged for a television crew to visit the island. After the story aired, donations of books, clothes, school supplies and cash to build boats poured in.

"They now have 25 boats and pledges to build more. The boats will also be used to fetch drinking water since the island has no electricity or fresh water," Dr Sy says. The local Department of Education has also set up a make shift school on the island, and more than 130 children have enrolled.

Jaboneta, Dr Sy and Anton Lim along with other partners have now setup the yellow boat of hope Foundation (YBHF) to help needy school children across the Philippines. "Jay reminded us that as citizens of this country, we can empower ourselves by helping each other," Dr Sy says.

In the end, Jaboneta argues, the children of Layag-Layag are the real heroes. "They inspired us to develop a sustainable operation in their community. My vision is to be able to move more individuals and organizations to take up the challenges of education. I would like to get more children to school so one say, no child will be left behind.

Since Jaboneta started in Layag-Layag, the YBHF has built 160 boats, besides classrooms and a day care center for a handful of communities. They have also raised $33,750, mainly through Facebook. For more information, check out or