Video Update!

We've got a lot of great updates to share with you here! Thank you everyone who has sponsored a child, gifted a computer, donated money for our property, building or community toilets. Your help has changed the lives of hundreds of Badjao sea-dwelling children!

Here's a quick update on everything we're doing. 

A Sense of Urgency

With heavy hearts we report that another tragedy struck the community this month. Jovert, three years old, passed away due to complications after contracting a virus that swept through the tribe.

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At one point, more than 40 children were hospitalized at the overrun government hospital, all suffering from gastroenteritis and most of them were severely dehydrated. Our staff and volunteers quickly mobilized to purchase the prescribed medicine, which is not provided by the hospital. As of today, there are just a handful of children still admitted and they are all expected to be discharged soon.  

Sadly, deaths among children we work with have become common enough that we've added a line item in our annual budget to help pay for funerals. If there is anything good to come out of tragic situations like this, we find it can serve as a renewed sense of urgency to help this  community find a way out of the mire of poverty they endure each day.

Most kids we work with are malnourished, which weakens their immune system and leads to situations like the one this month. We've been providing school lunches for years now, but soon will start a breakfast program using fortified meal packs from Kids Against Hunger.

A special thanks to Auburn Presbyterian Church for sponsoring 24 new children and a special donation for our septic tank project!

Hear Some Good News

Coming alongside our Badjao friends these past seven years, we've had more than a few setbacks. Children have died, parents have been killed, young teens in our program decided to leave school and get married.  But the last few months have been different. A steady stream of good news!

  • Lorna and Madonna, the first ever in the community to attend college, were helped with a college scholarship the last 5 years and graduated in October! With a Criminology degree, they'll enter the police academy next year.
  • Our short-term team of health professionals successfully taught more than a 100 kids health and hygiene basics (a big deal with communicable diseases that have been fatal with kids). 
  • With a lot of community support, we are now helping 140 kids get to school everyday. To help oversee this expansion, we've hired a part-time interim Executive Director, Mr. Ronnie Saguit. He has both the heart and organizational skills to help us expand even further.
  • We are finally moving forward on our Lighthouse Project - with a serendipitous change of plans! 

We ambitiously planned a three-story preschool, office, livelihood training center and storm shelter during typhoons. To no avail, we have spent two years trying to resolve a thorny road access issue which prevented us from starting construction. Our latest plan is to scale down our Lighthouse Center to a size that can be constructed without a road for construction equipment. This one-story building, with the option for a second story later, will break by April 2017!

Because this building will not cost as much as we planned, we were able to purchase a second property for another Badjao community that desperately needed land to build their huts. The 3.2 acre ocean front property can accommodate more than 120 families. In the Lighthouse spirit of providing a refuge for sea-dwellers, this expansion to the second location was fortuitous - we're now helping two communities instead of just one!

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Shown above are some of the families visiting the property we purchased in November. After we build enough toilets, (with their sweat equity) they will be able to move! 

Shown here below is an aerial shot of the property.  After years of renting beach space from land owners, they will finally be able to settle on their own property.

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The Gift of Learning

Are you able to read this post? No doubt, your immediate answer is, “Yes, of course!”  What a gift literacy is! Though it impacts our lives daily, we take the skill as a given. Yet, in communities such as the Badjaos in the Philippines, this is not a skill taken for granted, nor a skill that historically has existed in the community. Without this skill, it severely limits one's life's choices. That’s why Badjao Bridge stresses its importance and is at work in advocating literacy along with the Good News.

“Education is very important because most of the children are not literate and mostly the parents can’t help them read and write,” says Paz Oroyan, our teacher in the Alternative Learning Program.

Since their parents are also illiterate, most of the children need learning assistance, coaching, or tutoring outside their homes if they are to be educated. They need to be literate if there is any hope for them to assimilate with peers outside of their tribe and for them to have any vocational choices in adulthood.

Sharing our vision to spread literacy, Paz came to work with Badjao Bridge last September, bringing positive energy and a creative bent in her lesson plans as an experienced teacher. A native of the Visayan community next door, she has been familiar with the lifestyle and needs of the Badjaos all her life. Yet, as she works with unschooled children, she finds this the most challenging teaching position she has held.

“These children’s needs are different,” she says, “so I adapt various teaching methods to their particular learning styles.” These are kids who don’t have a basic elementary education but who enjoy coming every afternoon to the Alternative Learning Program where they have a chance to grasp basic concepts in reading and writing. Paz’s desire to see the kids excel is rewarded with the kids’ enthusiasm and progress. One such middle-school aged boy, Brian, makes it a priority to come even with his active work schedule.

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Brian senses responsibility to help provide for his family. So, like other boys in the community, he works in the evening preparing their boat for night sea fishing. Then, about midnight, he sails out with his dad in hopes of a good catch he can sell in town the next day. After fishing through the night, about 7:00 a.m. he finally falls into bed for five or six hours’ sleep. It’s then time at 1:00 p.m. to join other kids in the Alternative Learning Program for a couple of hours of focused literacy training. Learning to read is the highlight of Brian’s day. If he oversleeps and the group starts a session without him, this mild-mannered kid gets upset.

So, along with all her other challenging responsibilities, his teacher, Paz, makes sure someone stops by Brian’s stilt dwelling in the sea to wake him before they begin the afternoon’s learning exercises and activities.

Brian’s teacher says, “The children are eager to learn. They enjoy being within their own community and have great love for their unique culture. My hope, though, is that slowly, through education, the children will mingle with other children outside the Badjao community and will find acceptance, realizing that in commonality, they all are Filipino, and the communities will merge.”

Badjao Bridge provides four streams of education for the children of sea gypsies:

  • Preschool for youngsters to prepare them to enter public elementary school
  • Assistance for children to attend elementary and secondary public education by providing mandatory uniforms, school supplies, homework coaching, and lunch
  • Alternative education for the unschooled older children so that they can master educational basics such as literacy while sustained by a chili-spiced, protein-fortified lunch
  • A children’s Bible program and teenage discipleship training in partnership with the Badjao church on weekends

Occasionally, Badjao Bridge also provides a scholarship beyond high school for worthy students who dare to reach beyond what the community ever thought possible.

Another Goodbye

Wished the story we are about to share now is a happy and encouraging one. But sadly, no. A tragedy just hit our community again. About once a year now, we have to share a sad news that one of the children in our programs has died.

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This time around, it’s Louella - a super sweet and fun-loving girl who wanted to be a teacher someday. Her father died tragically two years ago in a fishing accident. Having lost their father was hard enough, but it also meant the family lost all sources of income as well.  Louella persevered and with her mom's blessing, we found her a way to attend school. She contracted meningitis and with no adequate medical care, she died suddenly in a government hospital. Because her family is so poor, they could not afford to transport her body back home, let alone pay for a proper burial.

With great love for the family, our Program Director Weng put Louella in her car to bring the body back home. We paid for the burial expenses and will do our best to support Louella's only surviving sibling, a boy with partial paralysis, to attend school.   

Despite health and hygiene training, and the free medicine we provide each child, the reality is we are reaching out to one of the world’s poorest communities. Wish we could say that Louella will be the last one we would bury, but most likely she won't be. 

We urgently need to empower sea-dwelling communities to break the cycle of poverty through access to quality education and sustainable source of income. That way, they will have better chances of having better quality of life, and that no child or no one dies anymore simply because of lack of money and access to medication.

A small team makes a big difference! Trip Report - By Kim Huggett

 
While the hand built motorized outrigger churned toward our small group standing on the coral north shore, we could just make out a smiling Joshua, top spear fisherman of the Badjao tribe, standing in the bow holding out to us something long and silvery.


As the boat drew closer through the slightly choppy blue-green water of the Cebu Strait it became apparent that he was holding our lunch, a huge barracuda he had just caught.
As the group of four Badjao fishermen piled out of the boat it was obvious they were as excited about sharing their prize with us as they were about catching it. A fish that could have brought 600 pesos at the market –a good price for an entire day’s work – was their gift to their American guests visiting as part of a mission trip from Badjao Bridge and the First Presbyterian Church of Hayward (CA).


As the fish was chopped up and put in a pot of boiling water for us to share with rice and vegetables, we realized this just another example of how some of the world’s most desperately poor are among the most unreservedly generous.


The impromptu lunch was followed by a voyage on two outriggers into the channel between Panglao and Cebu islands, where we visited a desert island before enjoying spectacular snorkeling in the waters above the reef. Off to the west we could see darkly looming from the southern tip of the island of Negros Oriental the 6,200 foot high Mount Talinis, considered by seismologists a “potentially active” volcano.


The afternoon was more than ecotourism, it was an opportunity to see how these sea gypsies practice their traditional livelihood. At the same time, the heads of Badjao households wrestle with the opposition of governments to their fishing methods and some recognize their impoverished tribe may be faced with developing a lifestyle more dependent on the land, including jewelry making with pearls. That means the children of these nomads who largely live on houses on stilts above the ocean will be dependent on the one thing most other cultures take for granted: an education.


That’s the mission of Badjao Bridge, the nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the Badjao up from poverty by sponsoring children to attend school and other classes, providing nourishment with free lunches, and giving educational experiences in hygiene, gardening, and the arts.


A recent week-long visit to a Badjao tribe allowed seven of us from the Hayward and Castro Valley communities to see how the Badjao live. Working mainly with children, we treated their hair for lice, gave out toothbrushes and showed how to use them, and gave lessons in how to wash their hands. The children were delighted to plant tomatoes that will grow in special upside down planters. Children who live over the sea or on a coral shore can be unfamiliar with basic gardening.


There was singing and dancing, and a group of young professionals from the nearby island of Cebu dropped by to talk about different careers that can be open to children who take advantage of going to school.


More than 100 Badjao children are able to go to school thanks to sponsorships that allow them to have uniforms and shoes. Another 50 children, who are not allowed to attend public school because they don’t have birth certificates, attend classes in a Badjao Bridge classroom in the village.


A bittersweet highlight of our visit came on our last day, when we distributed 200 pairs of shoes donated by members of the First Presbyterian Church of Hayward. The need was so great that we could have used 50 more pairs.


The work of Badjao Bridge continues because of the generosity of donors in the USA and the Philippines. Anyone interested in visiting the Badjao can do so during guided trips hosted by our director here and staff on site in the Philippines.

Grieving

By Ronnie Mosley, Humanitarian Photographer

A few weeks before I was to accompany Dan Johanson (Badjao Bridge Director) and the Badjao Bridge team to the Philippines, I received an email from Dan containing a heartbreaking story. Little Pina, a five year old Badjao girl, had slipped and fallen into the water during the night after leaving her father’s side where she slept. Little Pina always slept with her head on her father Abel’s chest. Abel felt responsible for her death as he failed to wake up when she lifted her head.

Dan informed me that Abel and his wife Paysa (mother of Pina) were in shock over the loss of Pina and needed someone to talk to who could better relate to the loss of a child. I wept as I read the email and saw the photo of little Pina. Not only did she have a beautiful smile but she was such a promising student in the Badjoa Bridge school. So much loss, so painful to think about, having for my own frame of reference our families indescribable loss only a year ago.

As I sat before Abel, Paysa and Abel Jr., in their little house on stilts over the water on  Panglau island in the Philippines, I wept with them as they told me of their loss. They described feelings that I could certainly relate to, and they asked me several questions. One of their questions was; will the pain go away, the pain that caused poor Paysa to climb to her roof and contemplate taking her own life, the pain that keeps Abel from going back to work. I told them that I wish I could tell them that the pain goes away, that time heals all things but that is simply not true. Instead I shared that in my experience,  and from the experience of those whom I have talked with at length, the pain does not stop. You learn to live with it. I call it starting a new life. 

 You learn to live this new life and you learn to accept this pain that cannot be “fixed” or made better. I let them know that they hurt so much because they loved little Pina so much, I encouraged them to work on associating the pain with love. You can’t have one without the other. To work towards letting that pain remind them of the intensity of the love they have for their precious daughter. The importance of realizing that it’s ok to hurt, it’s ok to feel really really bad. The pain is bad enough without the added anxiety of thinking you should work at fixing the pain. To shut out the pain is to also end the relationship with the one that you lost here on earth.Most importantly, I had the privilege to just listen to their stories about their little girl that they loved and continue to love so very much. To assure them that they are not alone in their pain, that I share their loss and their grief and that we walk this path together. In the early stages of grief, that is about all that one can process. It does not remove the pain but it makes it a little more manageable, sharing the load with another.I was blessed to offer them hope, to encourage them to focus on the things that little Pina loved and was passionate about; that by doing this, the relationship continues and her story lives on.

 To read Ronnie’s complete story of this trip, head over to his blog: Coastal Traveler.   

 

Partner Visit - Day 1

By Ronnie Mosley, Humanitarian Photographer

There is no preparation or reading, no stories that can prepare you for what you see here with the Badjao Sea Tribe.


The Badjao people have been occupying areas here in the Southeast Asia since 500AD, yet they are the most discriminated against, least protected of any people group here. They live in intricate networks of little shanties made from boards and rotting lumber with tin roofs, propped above the water on stilts and connected by a intricate maze of tattered boards. Walking is dangerous as many of the boards are rotting and have broken through. I made sure that each step I took involved my foot encompassing at least two boards since a single board could brake through easily, resulting in falling into a stench of trash filled water. Only last week a precious little 5 year old girl, Pina got up during the night, presumably to make her way to the bathroom and lost her footing and fell. The father pulled her lifeless body from the water the next morning. Life here is hard, unfair and very difficult here, yet there is an interesting beauty on there faces that tells a story that goes far beyond poverty.

Traveling with Badjao Bridge today, our team dentist, Suzanne, along with other team member Coleen. We partnered with a Badjao church, the Sama Bajao Christian Fellowship and Pastor Bogel  to perform much needed dentistry to many Badjao children. We were able to provide cleanings and molar sealants to several children before Suzanne's dental machine broke down. While it was disappointing that we could not help more children, we certainly made a good connection with this particular tribe before we hopped on a boat to travel to another tribe just 80 miles to the south. 

 

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