Heartbreaking scene after Yolanda (Haiyan, international code) devastated the fishing villages of Gigantes Island and Estancia in the province of Iloilo: houses were broken down, coconut and trees were uprooted from mother earth, fresh seaweeds, empty shells, remnants of banca and fishing gadgets, even an ocean vessel, marked the sprawling white beaches: some dead bodies and fishes were floating in the sea, along with the debris and waste of the blown-up homes and buildings; and along the beach, the distraught people viewed at the vast panorama of desolation, their hardworks turned into rubbles, into nothingness of their livelihood; most of them , their bodies and souls were affected by the unbearable and unacceptable fate due to the havoc lashed by mother nature! This beautiful,paradise-like village, suddenly, turned into a no man’s land!
Before the super typhoon, people of Gigantes Island and Estancia, as in most places in Central Visayas, enjoyed the bucolic life: an idyllic rural life, with warm bodies and souls, with resourcefulness and industriousness which had become the engine of their dream weaving life; the day in and day out of earning a living by sharing the bounty of the sea, for their daily sustenance and for their children’s future.
And then, suddenly, mother nature lashed with a vengeance. For few hours, properties worth billion of pesos were destroyed; and sadly, thousands of lives perished. As one of the woman villagers tearfully said:”Hindi ako makapaniwala sa nangyaring ito, saglit lang, namatayan kami, nawala pa ang aming kabuhayan, paano na kami ngayon?” (I can’t believe what happened, so sudden, death in my family, and now our livelihood is gone, what can we do now?”) International humanitarian gestures poured in and the words were turned into action! Humanitarianism,so bold, so raw, so immediate took actions!
Then, the University of Santo Tomas HIgh School Batch 1969, through the UST’s ..”unending grace” and the embedded Thomasian Spirit, the former graduates joined their hands and hearts to celebrate their Sapphire (45th year) Anniversary with the people of Gigantes Island and Estancia were in their minds. Then BANCA PROJECT: 2014! was born.
The UST HS Batch 1969, Led by Ted Ebarvia with members, Ton Bautista, Sammy Co, and Jojo Deles,started working on the plan. At first, they developed a banca design with parts that can be knocked down, Forty-five knocked-down parts were prepared in Manila and packed as “banca kits”. The kits including the motor engines were then shipped to Estancia and Gigangtes Island. Under the supervision of a small expert team of the 69ners, the fishfolk beneficiaries with the help of other family members, neighbors and friends assembled and painted their bancas and installed the outriggers and motors.
What a collaborative effort had become when the UST High School Batchmate 1969 joined forces with the people of Gigantes Island and Estancia! Bravo! Forty-five (45) fishing boats (banca) were finished and given to the beneficiaries to start living again with their lives through fishing. What an accomplishments gained by the commitments and dedications of the UST HS 69ners who have had so much in life to share with less fortunate kababayans. The 69ners who were present during the turnover of the bancas at Estancia and Gigantes Island include Ted Ebarvia, Ton Bautista, Sammy Co, Jojo Deles, Nadette Reyes, Malu Cataldi, Irma de Castro, and Balikbayan 69ners, Dr. Peter and Angie Bueno, Sonny and Mona Paras, Mannie Inducil, Dr. Rod Cruz, Gil Remigio, Harpal Singh and Benjie Geronimo.
As Mahloi del Rosario, one of the active graduates in the UST HS Batch 1969, says: “It has been a very fulfilling experience for all of us,. Although we were able to help these typhoon victims, in return, they gave us so much more nourishings of our hearts and souls! The bonding and oneness in spirit of the 69ners in getting the project through in 2 months, was just simply amazing! A very meaningful way to celebrate our Sapphire Anniversary.”
Now, with those fishing boats are changing the lives of the people of Gigantes Island and Estancia, please view the current scene vicariously: Father and son, with wife, push the banca into the sea, with all smiles, and full of hopes. The father starts the motor, the son waves his hand, the wife whispers a prayer; and as they look at, the fishing boat speed farther into the open sea,while the sun shines above the sea: this day is the beginning and the catch of the day starts a new challenging life in the fishing village: yes, life goes on!
The UST High School Batch 1969 is extending their heartfelt thanks to the donors and volunteers who opened their hearts for others to live with more hope, and with a stronger faith to their fellowmen.
And kudos to the UST High School Batch 1969, you have made a big difference on other lives!
With…”unending grace” indeed!