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Saturday, October 26, 2013

#Project Jomalig Island


Jomalig Island with all its natural gifts, is often overlooked and, for most people remains unknown. Perhaps this is because of its strategic location dwarfed by the bigger Polilio group of islands and the feeling of isolation it presents as it faces the vast Pacific Ocean. Travelers who are prepared to brave a six hour boat journey from Real, Quezon are rewarded with a pristine island, visually untouched by outsiders. It is a fact which is both a boon and bane of the island.

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We left just before sunrise in Manila and arriving at Real, Quezon before 9:00 am. Docking at the small port of Jomalig at around 3:00pm and immediately went straight to the small health center located near the municipal hall. Passing by a small grassy airstrip surprised me considering the bareness of the island. After a few minutes we arrived at the house of Jomalig Mayor Rodelo Tena who hosted us. Our group was not there exclusively as travelers but part of #ProjectJomalig, an outreach program organized by fellow travel bloggers and travelers. Project Jomalig was an ongoing project which lasted for six-months. Every month a group visits the island to hand out multi-vitamins to barangay Apad located on the eastern side of Jomalig.

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Barangay Apad, according to the latest DSWD study, tops the list of the ‘Most Malnourished Towns” in the Philippines. Because it is among the hardest places to access, the basic services offered by the National Government seldom reach the barangay.  The project’s coordinator in the island, Ate Gemma, a barangay health worker gave us a list of 88 kids out of 200 children, ages 12 and below, who were severely underweight.

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I joined #ProjectJomalig’s third trip last May and it provided me with a unique experience unlike any. Here is an island beaming with wonderful scenery; the landscape as seen from my camera lens provides instant postcard-material. The blessing of this place lies in the fact that it has gone for so long without being touched and abused by outsiders.

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The natural landscape of the towering Agoho pine trees at Salibungot beach makes you just want to pitch a tent and camp there for a week, a month or for good. The various sand bars, Manlanat Islet and the Kanaway Island which surrounds the island provides an afternoon of beach bumming and island hopping under the blue skies. I found it hard to fathom that in a place that rivals the nearest paradise on Earth; young children can barely eat properly. It’s the opposite of the urban jungle of the big city where consumerism is practiced like there’s no tomorrow. Here at Jomalig everything is laid back, sometimes too laid-back the health of the residents is neglected.

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One of the main organizers of Project Jomalig, James Betia goes around with a t-shirt which says “Travelers Will Change the World”. We’ve heard a lot about how traveling changes a traveler, countless non-fiction travel books have introduced us to the romanticize transformation of a person after coming back from a long journey. Jomalig Island, with its underweight kids, who are happy just to see us arriving on a boat, has taught me that we should be the ones making changes through small things.

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Oftentimes when we visit a place, despite inconveniences, we make the most of our stay. My hardships as a traveler such as riding a crowded bus, sleeping on hard floors and carrying a heavy rucksack cannot compare to what most locals have to go through everyday. The moment we leave is always the end of it. Jomalig and its people, unlike my previous travels, made a lasting impression. The group returned to the island numerous and brought additional travelers with sacks of food supplements and ideas for better practices shared to the locals.

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The project ended on September with enough supplies of food supplement for the undernourished kids enough to last for another six months. To each of us who went there, the memory of the island stayed with us. We went back to our own lives promoting the beauty of the island; a photograph of Salibungot beach posted on my Facebook wall garnered a hundred likes. It’s very easy to promote a place especially if it’s already beautiful in the first place; but spreading the message of mixing traveling and helping a community is little bit harder.

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I hope writing this piece doesn’t just comes off as one of those travel articles which inspires people to pack their backpacks and head out on the road. Rather, let this article open the eyes of travelers, especially those coming from far better place, to see a place with a new perspective and with the intent to make a change, even if it starts with small things.


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This article came out on the Oct 20 issue of Expat Newspaper


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