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GK Balangay: The Heart of Starting Over
[Date Created: February 19, 2014]
by Gia Leanne Luga
When a supertyphoon makes landfall on a small island, what happens?

Hours before Haiyan (Yolanda) hit Bantayan Island, Cebu on the morning of November 8, 2013, fisherman Louie Rebamonte made sure his fishing boats were tied securely in place. Familiar with the shifting moods of the wind and sea, Louie thought Yolanda would be just like any other typhoon they had survived in the past. The tide was low, but he recalls witnessing the sea rise menacingly, accompanied by the deafening wind. That's when he knew he was wrong.

As the wind became stronger, Louie, his wife, and their 6 year-old daughter Siena had to run to seek shelter in a bigger and more stable house. Along with a few neighbors, they had to cross the street amidst falling coconut trees, zero visibility, and flying debris. They held on to each other tightly, so that their combined weight would prevent the strong winds from blowing them away.

"Paghuman sa bagyo, wa na'y nabilin sa akong balay. Akong mga pump boat nga  gihaguan,

hurot kaguba tanan. Pero wa na mi nanghilak ug naguol. Nangatawa mi ug nagpasalamat
sa Ginoo kay buhi pa jud mi. Ang butang, pwede ra ta magsugod sa uno. Ang kinabuhi, dili mailisdan."

After the storm, there was nothing left. Our house was completely wiped out,

and the pump boats I worked so hard for were damaged.

But we didn't cry nor feel bad. I even remember laughing that morning,

because we were so grateful to the Lord that our lives were spared.

Even if it means we start from scratch, material things can be replaced.

But life is priceless.

- Louie Rebamonte, Typhoon Haiyan Survivor


Louie echoes the sentiments of the people of Bantayan Island, 80% of whom fish for a living. Of the three coastal barangays I got to visit, there was one thing that stood out: the shore looked like a parking lot of damaged fishing boats, littered with debris. Before Yolanda, that shoreline would've been clear because all those boats would've been out to sea.


GK Balangay
The broken boats belong to fisherfolk who face the harsh reality of life after Yolanda. Their homes are damaged if not completely gone, but worse, they have lost their only source of livelihood, and perhaps their biggest chance of recovery and starting over. Days after Yolanda, they were relying on relief packs for food because they couldn't even go out to sea and fish.
Through the 'GK Balangay' program, Gawad Kalinga, the local government unit (LGU), and other partners and volunteers joined hands with the fisherfolk in repairing hundreds of fishing boats in coastal barangays. But more importantly, through community organizing and values formation, the program will help fishing communities stand up on their feet again – together.

These fisherfolk who have known the sea all their lives have also known each other for quite some time. To complete the boats in the soonest possible time, they had to help each other out. This is something that's not new to them, because to survive the rough seas and unpredictable weather, they had to have each other's backs. At sea, when they pass by a boat that's in trouble, it is their sacred oath to never leave their neighbors behind. It is this spirit of teamwork that drives the GK Balangay program.
After all, 'Balangay' is where the word barangay comes from. Back in the early days, our ancestors migrated to the Philippines on board the Balangay – an impeccably made sailboat that could only have been completed with solidarity and cooperation. When they settled on shore, the families in each Balangay organized themselves into communities – what we now know as the barangay.

Starting Over
Last February 18, 2014, after 2 months of hard work and bayanihan, the fisherfolk from 4 coastal barangays (Sulangan, Sungko, Obo-ob, Guiwanon) in Bantayan finally brought their new boats to sea. This was made possible by the partnership of GK, the Bantayan Municipal LGU (under the leadership of Mayor Ian Christopher Escario), and other corporate and individual partners. This fleet of over 100 boats is just the first in the 'GK Balangay' program. In the next few weeks, more fishing boats will be completed in Cebu and Iloilo, and more fisherfolk can slowly rebuild their lives.

That day, gone was the debris that I saw when I visited Bantayan Island weeks after Yolanda. Gone was the parking lot of damaged fishing boats in the shoreline. Instead, bright orange boats dotted the glistening sea. And the smiles of the fisherfolk were as bright as the sun that was shining down on Bantayan.

Rolando Abello, one of the fisherfolk with a new boat that day, expressed his heartfelt gratitude:

"Nagpasalamat kaayo mi sa GK Balangay kay labaw sa gihatag nila nga materyales sa amoa,

mas nabati namo ang ilang pagsalig nga basta magtinabangay lang mi,

makatindog jud mi gikan sa among pagkatumba tungod sa Yolanda."

Beyond giving boats,

GK helped us realize that if we work together,

no storm can keep us down.

- Rolando Abello, GK Balangay Beneficiary


When a supertyphoon makes landfall on a small island, what’s left?

Yolanda stripped Bantayan bare, and it stripped the people of all the material possessions that they had. But what it couldn't take away is the very core of their being – their courage to start over. What's left? What's left are fisherfolk like Louie, Rolando, and many others like them who refuse to stay down and are now confronting Yolanda's aftermath with resiliency and hope. What's left are survivors who are sure that just as God's love has been with them through the storm and beyond, they too will be there to help each other recover.

Bantayan as an island has always been beautiful to me. But I know now that the real beauty of Bantayan, and of the Philippines for that matter, is in the resiliency of its people. It's not about the boats. In the same way that in GK communities all over the country, it was never just about the houses. It's about the people. And at the heart of it all is building a community that is stronger than any storm – a community of families who refuse to leave each other behind.

That, more than the boats, is what GK Balangay is about.
Bangon Pilipinas! Walang Iwanan!


Thank you to all the GK Balangay partners who have made this possible: Antonio and Diane Cacho, Ash Shaubaki & Cathy Obrian, B&M Global Services Manila, Benjie Escaler, Charmaine Kinney, CLC Hotels & Resorts, Coffey International Development, Democratic Action Party, Douglas Anderson, Dra. Rosita Conducta, Dreamscape Entertainment Television (ABS-CBN), Emelita Asuncion Dimapilis, Ernie Lopez, Evan Younger, Family of Benjamin F. Morales, Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce Inc., Filipino Danish Group, Flordelys Santiano, Fly Ace Corporation, Gerardo Hilario, Golden Donuts, Inc., Guillermo Luz, Hector de Leon, Honda Motorali Corporation, In-Depth Direct Marketing Consultants, Inc., Island Paints, Jeanette Lim, Jevon  Ong, Joey Mempin, John Nicholls, Jose Mari and Diane Cacho, Lelyn Gonzaga, Luis Miguel & Sandra Cacho, Ma. Cecilia Pal-laya, Manila Cordage, Mariano Cacho Jr., Maria Lourdes Cacho, Marirose Cacho, Marivic Bacaling, Marivic Mabilog, Nexus International School Singapore, Nidec Motor Phils. Corp., North Star Travel, Officers and Staff of SHALI Microlending Corporation, Paul Pery, Pison Family Foundation, Portia Alumnae Association, Inc., Reina Perpetua, Revolette Labitag, Rosa E. Cacho, SMEC International Pty. Ltd., South Perth Rotary Club, Susan J Kreidler, Tessa Acosta, Wasif Sayyed, and all the other individual contributors (via online and bank donations) who also generously shared various amounts for the GK Balangay program.

You too can be part of Operation Walang Iwanan and help GK in relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

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