When children can't go to school, we must bring school to them. This is the case for kids living in hard-to-reach rural towns and villages, young refugees fleeing from war-torn countries, and young people persevering through natural disasters and emergency crises.
In my native country of the Philippines, which sees annual storms, fisherfolk are still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Slowly, but surely, they are rebuilding through their innate resilience and with the help of international supporters.
I caught up with my friend Evelin Weber, a fellow Filipino-American and former colleague at and founder of The Philippines Foundation, who's led an initiative to bring place-based education to kids in Leyte by using banca's or boats as learning tools and focal points for family livelihood generation and community development.
What was the impetus and/or inspiration for Learning Boats of Leyte?
The idea of the Learning Boats program in Leyte grew from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in late 2013. Not only was it the deadliest typhoon in Philippines history, but it's aftermath also had an enormous impact on the livelihoods of the already marginalized people of Leyte. Nearly 19,000 fishing boats were swept away and 90% of schools destroyed. As children and education has always been a focus of our Foundation, we felt the need to not only restore the lost boats of the fishermen of Leyte, but to turn the entire project into a learning experiment.
How did the idea of boats as learning centers come about?
Noticing that out-of-school kids spent their times watching fishing-boats dock in the morning whilst playing, the idea then dawned on us. We wanted to find a way to bring classrooms to these children, instead of the children having to go to classrooms. The current availability of schools in Leyte provides a number of barriers, ranging from long commute times and two-peso banca rides - which many can't afford. We decided to change that by creating an outdoor classroom in their villages. Fishermen park their boats on shore after a day's work and the children will then have a lesson that varies from boat to boat.
Who are your partners for this program?
We have recently partnered with Philippine Airlines and the advertising agency Ogilvy Philippines to help promote the Learning Boat program. Soon, we will be working with TV 5 to create a children's television show based on the lessons we provide through the Learning Boats. The TV program will have a similar feel to Sesame Street and will further our effort of bringing the classroom to even more children.
What are your future plans for this program?
For the Learning Boats program, we will not be finished until we reach our initial goal of providing 1,000 boats, 1,000 restored livelihoods, 5,000 mouths fed, and 100% kids back in school. We've also been partnering with other non-profit organizations to further our efforts of providing financial education to the parents. We are launching our first financial literacy series with ThinKids, an organisation based out of Spain, in August 2016. We're also working with Kaya Co. With them, we will be creating research opportunities for Filipinos with the hopes that they identify with being Filipino and eventually stay in the Philippines to further our cause.
As world leaders and global youth ambassadors raise awareness about and mobilize long-term investments in education, initiatives such as these bring hope to children and young people - especially the impoverished and marginalized - young members of our human family who have so much potential to do good in this world.