The rugged and battle-tested pumpboat smoothly navigated through the surprisingly calm waters of the Philippine Sea. For three hours that lulled me into sleep. But a very familiar feeling wrestled with me and took over my attention. The fear of the unknowns suddenly engulfed my being.
In going to Babuyan Claro Island, there were lots of uncertainties and questions flowing through my mind. Due to its geographical location, the island is isolated and often times it is challenging to reach and leave.
The island’s skyline is dominated by five Pleistocene-to-Holocene volcanic cones (Smith Volcano or Mount Babuyan, Mount Pangasun, Mount Naydi, Mount Dionisio, and Mount Cayonan). Mount Pangasun is the largest and is located at the center of the island while the picturesque Smith Volcano is the youngest and is in the northwest side. According to the Global Volcanism Program of the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, the last reported eruption was in 1924.
With these topographic features, little is left for flat area. Residences are built on rolling hills and on patches of plains. There are no natural harbors around the island as its coastline is littered and protected by boulders constantly kissed by the waters of the Philippine Sea. Naturally, this poses great challenge for easy and safe mooring. In fact it took us an hour to safely dock and unload as the crew struggled with the southerly wind.
The heart-shaped Babuyan Claro Island is populated by Ivatans whose traditions and customs are set and regulated by its tribal council. For the last three years, the sale of cigarette and liquor has been banned by the council. Legal disputes are heard, tried, and settled by them. And in exploring the island, their permission is sought.
The island has no electricity except for several houses installed with solar panels. Communication is also a huge problem in Babuyan Claro. To connect with the outside world, one has to use the costly satellite phone to call (P50 per minute) or send a text message (P20 per SMS).
As soon as I stepped on the shore, I asked a local to help me connect with the school principal and the barangay captain. I resolved to turn the donations over quickly and leave Babuyan Claro on the first boat the next day. Maria gladly assisted me and convinced me to stay for another day in the island. And she let me stay in their house for two nights. How is that for a free accommodation?
Located along the concreted main road, the Babuyan Claro Integrated School has over 300 learners enrolled for the school year 2017-18. Mount Pangasun provides a natural backdrop which should create a conducive atmosphere for learning. However, the children face learning challenges with severe lack of books, mainly references, technologies like computers and Internet connection, and other facilities. They just make what is available to them.
In a ceremonial turnover at the BCIS, I handed to Mr. Ruben T. Dican and Mrs. Miriam V. Dican, Head Teacher I and Grade 6-A teacher/Teacher-in-Charge, respectively, two sacks of slippers, writing pads, notebooks, sharpeners, pencils, crayons, and backpacks. It was estimated that at least 100 learners were the beneficiaries of this outreach project.
The extra day gave me more opportunities and avenues to know more about the Ivatans, at least through the eyes and words of the people I came across with in my short stay. This made me to reconsider of holding another outreach project next year.
The original plan of the Babuyan Islands Outreach included Calayan, Fuga, and Dalupiri Islands. However, the project was hampered by reschedule and delays which were nothing new when visiting these islands. So, I rode another boat to go back to Camiguin Norte Island. After freshening up and a brief rest, I went to Cadadalman Elementary School in Naguilian and handed over the school supplies to the principal. There were about 135 kinder, Grade 1 and Grade 2 learners of Cadadalman and Pagitpit Primary School who were recipients of the project. Meanwhile, around 90 Grades 1 and 2 pupils of Balatubat Elementary School were benefited.
Given that the June edition of the Babuyan Islands Outreach did not reach the three western islands of the Babuyan Group, there will be another activity to finally reach them and will be held in July. Of course, weather permitting.
My social network is small, my reach and influence is unimpressive, and my online presence is obscure and negligible. Those are not stumbling blocks however in my altruistic pursuits. My limitations are superseded by what is in my DNA and value system: being useful and contributory in the nation building. It ignites my spirit of nationalism and sense of community.
With the big and bright ideas that I nurture, it is greatly gratifying and inspiring that there are people willing to share the vision and the burden. They keep the wheels rolling. To inspire and encourage children from far flung places and isolated islands to go to school, to learn and be educated keeps the desire burning. This quashes all the fears of the unknown and makes it indeed worthwhile.
For this particular outreach project, I would like to thank and honor those who gave their financial support: Carmina Reyes, Ronald Macapili, Archie Cresido, Azenette Yulo, Michael Rodriguez, Rosselle Cruz, Levancliff Valenton, Mags Chua, Eva Plasencia, Gay Lopez, Richard Buletche, Doc Belinda Aducal, Doc Sherl Ubay-Ubay, and Docs Bobot and Fe Sanchez. May the Almighty God bless you and your family!