With its pristine beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters and amazing rock formations, Ticao Island in Masbate province, was quite a revelation. And even though we only had a limited amount of time to go around, we were still impressed with the beaches of bigger Masbate Island to the south. But exploring those locations was not the main reason we visited the province.
We haven’t shared much of what we do beyond our travels but besides helping with the Castillo family business we are also involved in reaching out to needy communities, focusing on their moral and spiritual development and helping in the education of their young people. For the past few years the focal point of our efforts have been in urban poor communities in Metro Manila where we live but beginning this year we tried expanding our efforts to regions outside the metropolis.
That was how we ended up with 4 other friends imbued with the same mission at the town of San Fernando in Ticao Island – and specifically at the barangays or barrios of Buenasuerte and Benitinan in the interior. Since there was no place to stay at Buenasuerte where we would spend the vast majority of our time, we opted for Coolis Beach Resort near the town proper of San Fernando.
Traveling to Buenasuerte everyday was by motorbike, with 2 passengers to a bike. No helmets. We hardly saw a rider on a bike with that headgear. That would be scary for many although we observed that motorbike drivers here don’t drive as fast and aren’t as reckless as their counterparts in the big cities.
Once, one of the bikes in our group blew out a tire on that part of the main road in the middle of a mostly forested area. Nina volunteered to be left behind with the bike while the rest looked for the nearest vulcanizing shop but the locals wouldn’t have it. Apparently, they didn’t want to take chances; leftist New People’s Army rebels used to be very active in these parts and some are still known to be on the island. However, we never encountered them at any time and our whole stay at Ticao was peaceful.
Our drive to Buenasuerte each day took us through tranquil rural countryside scenery – rice fields, groves of fruit trees, coconut palms and rolling hills where solitary goats and water buffalos grazed. It was obvious that the land was rich and could easily provide more than what the locals needed to survive. But sadly, poverty is the lot of most of the people in Buenasuerte, despite the potential of the land.
This became very apparent as we visited a few families. Most houses are small with bare earth that serves as their flooring. Most of the people are farmers; the lack of rain in recent months have prevented them from planting rice. When the rainy season comes, so do typhoons that could wreak havoc on their crops. We would be at Buenasuerte for less than a week so we took time to ask the folks about their situation and what they thought would help them improve their livelihood.
A major problem that emerged was getting a market for their products; the difficulties of transporting produce for their farms given Ticao’s relative inaccessibility was a major hurdle in this regard. The wives also expressed a desire to do some handicrafts work on the side or something related to supplement their husbands’ meager earnings but getting a market for these products was again the issue.
However, a promising development was the acknowledgement of many barrio folks about the value of educating their young. This was good news because we’ve heard that most kids here don’t even get to finish elementary school, are obviously not encouraged by their parents to do so and end up marrying in their teen years. Now, many of the young people that we encountered expressed their dreams to finish college and become professionals someday.
Partly towards this end we bought and distributed school supplies for 50 kids at Buenasuerte plus hygiene products for the moms. This seems just like a band aid solution for this community’s needs but we’ve decided to adopt the barangay for a longer-term commitment. Which means we could be returning to Ticao Island a few more times.
The Incredible Kids of Mababoy Island
The folks at Ticao might have a lot going against them but we’ve also learned how many are facing their challenges with hope and determination. A few years back we watched the story of kids from Mababoy Island who would swim to school at the main island of Ticao everyday. For many of the children it was their long-haul ticket out of poverty. Sometime after the airing of that documentary, people donated boats so that the children would not have to swim anymore and a government agency began to build classrooms right at Mababoy Island itself.
No doubt those who helped the folks at Mababoy were inspired by the determination of the children and their families to fight against the odds. By the grace of God we are hoping and praying that the people of Buenasuerte and the rest of San Fernando town would do likewise.