Sitio Lipata, A Little Town with a Big Heart
There is nothing more beautiful than a child grinning from ear to ear with heartfelt joyful simplicity. All my jet-lag tiredness just melted away when were greeted by the beautiful brown-skinned people of Sitio Lipata with their bright genuine smiles, waving cheerful yellow flags in welcome. The whole village were waiting all day for us to get there.
Sitio Lipata is a little village in the Philippine islands that you won’t even find on google maps. We arrived in Sitio Lipata after 3 days of travel, and we were dead on our feet. Fifteen hours straight to Manila from Los Angeles, another 15 combined hours layover/flight/car ride to Naga City where we slept a few hours before rising again at dawn on Day 3 of travel for a 3 1/2 hour car ride to Caramoan, another 2 hour boat ride followed by a 45 minute hike into Sitio Lipata. My group, consisting of myself and my two Literally Literacy volunteers, and the Yellow Boat of Hope crew did not have time to even wonder if we were jet-lagged.
When I first heard about children in remote islands of the Philippines having to swim for miles just to get to school, I was moved. I couldn’t fathom how that was even possible. I felt compelled to help in any way I can. Through my non-profit organization, Literally Literacy Foundation, I raised funds to donate to Yellow Boat of Hope who brought boats to these little villages so the children can get to school without having to swim there. However, a place like Sitio Lipata, where it took a 2 hour boat ride just to get to the town of Caramoan where there is a school, it was not very practical. Some of the kids would hide in the school at Caramoan, being too tired at the end of the day to do the trek and turning around in the morning to do it over again. Fortunately, a program that Yellow Boat of Hope had started called Alternative Learning System (ALS), brought volunteer teachers to places like Sitio Lipata. The teacher would come for 2-3 days, usually on a weekend, and teach the children and any of the adults who wanted to learn. The adult learners try to get their grade school equivalency certificate that would allow them to enroll in a high school program or get an entry level job in the city.
It takes dedication to be an ALS teacher. Sometimes during typhoon season, the teacher would be stranded in the village. They would then stay in the grass hut that they had built as their classroom. The funds that Literally Literacy had donated will be going towards building a concrete school at Sitio Lipata, which will also serve as an emergency evacuation site.
Sitio Lipata is a tiny fishing village. The people there were warm and generous. They lived simply, not having electricity nor plumbed facilities, no cell towers or wi-fi (I had to point that out for the millenials reading this) and naturally, no Starbucks either. But despite all that, they prepared a feast for us with grilled fresh catch that would have been quite pricey back home. That night we slept in the grass hut classroom on a bamboo bed and sleeping bags. It was probably as hard as the ground but I didn’t notice as I simply nodded off in exhaustion. To think this is how they lived, without complaints, I was humbled to say the least.
With my Literacy platform, I often do read to groups of children as part of my advocacy. It is always a joy to share my love of reading with little kids looking up at me with shining eyes as they are transported by the stories. At Sitio Lipata, the experience was a thousand times more incredible. The whole village, young and old, stayed enraptured as I read books to them. It made me want to cry.
All in all, it was a very rewarding experience. I was happy to see the people who would benefit from the funds we raised. The $10,000 that we donated is only half of what it would cost to build the school. There is more work to be done. We are continuing to collect donations at www.literallyliteracy.org. Sitio Lipata is but one of many little towns around the world that have no access to education. It is our privilege to bring literacy to them.
One book, one child can change the world.