The journey of a Facebook post

Since that Facebook post challenging people to help students who swim to school in Zamboanga went viral in October 2010, so much has happened to the children, their families, the communities, and even to that “chief storyteller” who started it all.

The poor students who risked their lives every day just to be able to study didn’t only get bright yellow boats to ferry them to and from the island where their school is located; their parents also got the chance to augment their livelihood through other means.

SAILING TO BIGGER SEAS – From giving boats, the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation is now building schools, and empowering communities. Clockwise from top shows Jay Jaboneta with the kids of Layag-Layag, Zamboanga City on the first yellow boat; the Yellow School of Hope in Dipolog; with Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg; and resting on a rickshaw during a field visit in Pakistan. (Photos courtesy of Jay Jaboneta)

From boats that addressed the difficulty of going to school in many areas of the country, the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation grew in its mission, volunteers, partners, and areas of service ? building schools together with their partner donors, empowering communities through livelihood, and uplifting lives.

More than three years after the first boat was turned over to the community in Zamboanga, the Foundation has given close to 1,200 boats nationwide. In their second community in Masbate where children dangerously jump off a cliff and dive to be able to go to school, 82 boats were given for use of the students and their families for livelihood. More than that, a four-classroom makeshift school named the Yellow School of Hope was built in Masbate. Later, the children’s story was featured in the drama series “Maalala mo Kaya,” which eventually paved the way for the construction of a concrete school by ABS-CBN.

Today, the Foundation has three Yellow Schools of Hope in Masbate, Dipolog, and Cotabato City, while a damaged school will soon be rebuilt in Marabut, Samar together with Hebreo Foundation.


“We’re now in 45 communities across the Philippines, with local chapters and partners, and we have provided close to 1,200 boats nationwide. The biggest number of boats was provided to fishermen in Davao Oriental and Visayas who lost their boats due to Typhoon Pablo (Davao in 2012) and Typhoon Yolanda (Visayas in 2013). As of today, almost 800 boats went to Yolanda-affected areas in northern Cebu, Leyte, and Samar. We are also looking at Iloilo, Panay and Palawan,” relates Jay Jaboneta, the co-founder and chief storyteller of the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation.

He says their mission now focuses on education and livelihood which are the basic needs of the communities they serve. For education, they’re building structures ? boats, bridges, dormitories, classrooms, schools. For livelihood, the Foundation created the Adopt-a-Fisherman program to provide boats to fisherfolk who were affected by Typhoon Pablo and Yolanda. Jaboneta says this was developed in January 2013 in consultation with local fishermen in Davao Oriental who were worried of not being able to send their children to school if they didn’t regain their livelihood which was damaged by Typoon Pablo.

The Foundation is also working with 10 corporate partners.

While the basic needs of the children and their families are now being addressed, the Foundation is still faced with the challenge of sustainability.

“I believe our current big challenge is how to build sustainability into our operations, how to generate enough funding so we can continue to do our work and scale it. We’re not backed by any big company or rich family so we always struggled in paying for our logistics and administration costs. Sustainability is the real challenge for most organizations especially among NGOs and social enterprises,” Jaboneta explains.


While the initial success in helping the beneficiaries was fulfilling, it further drove Jaboneta to find ways of strengthening the organization and making it sustainable.

Because his background is in accounting, sales and marketing, he sought to equip himself with skills in nonprofit and social enterprise management. He saw the opportunity to earn these skills in the Acumen Fund’s Global Fellows program which exposes emerging leaders in the social sector to new concepts and immerses them in field assignments in one of their investments in Africa, India, or Pakistan.

Jaboneta was fortunate enough to be accepted in the ninth batch of Fellows and was the first Filipino to have undergone the program. For him, the 13-month program which included classroom-based training in New York, and an assignment in Pakistan for nine months, proved to be a great learning experience.

“I worked with Pharmagen Water, a local social enterprise providing clean water to the poor in Lahore, Pakistan. I helped build their marketing team and strategies. It was a great learning experience because I also learned so much from the culture there which was very different from the Philippines. But one thing I learned that truly left an impact to me was the concept of the balcony and dance floor in leadership. What it means is that as a leader, you must learn to dance with your people or team – to really work with them and not just give instructions. At the same time, you must also go up the balcony and observe who is dancing, who is not dancing, and if the room can still fit your team – things like that,” shares Jaboneta who also heads the Corporate Affairs Department of the Philippine Business for Social Progress.

For him, any leader can accomplish what developed countries are doing, it’s all just a matter of systems design thinking, building capacities, and working together on a shared vision and mission.

“I feel that more than doing great work or achieving milestones, leaders must build capacity and see how they can design the organization to build sustainability into it. We need to develop business models that will fund organizations with good social causes because we want them to achieve their purposes or missions. But doing it in such a way that it also empowers more people and organizations. That’s because we cannot do it alone. We need a critical base of change makers to be able to make a big difference,” he relates.

Armed with renewed vigor and an enhanced set of skills, Jaboneta and his team from the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation is even more confident of achieving their purpose of ensuring that no child is left behind in education.

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