‘Volun-tourism’ — help rebuild Bantayan Island on your next vacation

A group paints boats while on vacation. (Courtesy Lee de Veyra)

When the first images of the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda were released last November, those sitting comfortably in their intact homes couldn’t feel more helpless. The need to reach and help out was as present as the gloom surrounding these islands; and beyond monetary donations, some people opt to give help by volunteering. Though some areas of the country were spared, the collective destruction Yolanda brought was overwhelmingly staggering. NGOs and aid organizations had to stretch every centavo of aid they had.

Some visionaries are taking effort to fully establish a second chance at life, and that’s what these survivors are getting from the volunteer-based missions of Bantayan Back to Sea Project.  Because of these organizations, survivors in Bantayan, Cebu are slowly regaining their lives. These projects are giving families a chance at getting back to their feet, all while offering volunteers a chance to help and perhaps the most fulfilling travel experience in their lives.

Giving back to the sea 

“We crawled to our neighbor’s house for safety, and when it calmed down, we saw our house roofless. We didn’t know what to do, where to go. Everything was washed out,” recalled Ester Aluyan, a single mother who survived Yolanda’s wrath in Bantayan, Cebu. Aluyan’s story is only one of the many heartbreaking accounts from the typhoon. As it happens, the Aluyans are one of the many families that are being helped by The Bantayan Back to Sea project.

What started as the corporate social responsibility project of a resort is now a vital NGO that is making a difference through volunteering and community empowerment. The aim of the mission is to rebuild as many boats as possible in the three towns of Bantayan.

According to Allan Monreal, head of the project, the damage done in the towns of Madrilejos, Santa Fe, and Bantayan exceeded what Tacloban sustained — 98, 95, and 93 percent damaged, respectively. Bantayan is described as a “fishing island group” due to the abundance of fish. Unfortunately, the sea did not bear fish immediately after the typhoon. The survivors recalled how the sea looked like a desert and was “too murky” for them to fish.

Those who depended on the sea for livelihood, which most of the people were, had no choice but to live on relief goods.


The fisherfolk and their new boats (Screen capture via YouTube)


Monreal’s idea came to him after talking to a fisherman on November 14, a week after the typhoon hit. While he was doing rounds distributing relief goods, the fisherman showed him his salvaged boat made from the planks of his destroyed home. He said that he’d rather have his livelihood back than line-up everyday for relief goods.

Now, Bantayan Back to Sea project has built over 600 boats, with plenty of implements and engines replaced. The project also teaches other means of livelihood in case the communities can’t go out fishing, as happens when typhoon season rolls around. These alternative livelihood programs include social entrepreneurship for fisherfolk who wish to establish businesses.

“The greatest achievement is the organization of the fisher folk in 22 barangays now. We now have 21 empowered communities with over 2,000 members, the biggest organized fisher folk group in Northern Cebu,” said Monreal.

“Voluntourism” and its perks for the soul

The country is known to have majestic beaches and breathtaking islands, and while some of them were swept over by the typhoon, they never lost their natural beauty. One example is how the beaches in Bantayan remained pristine after the disaster, still making it a highly-regarded tourist destination. Because of the current situation in Bantayan, tourists are drawn into making their lives better, thus, submitting themselves as volunteers.

“Voluntourism” is like a positive version of a double-edged magic wand. Lee De Veyra, a 27-year-old entrepreneur from Bukidnon, says he and his friends chose to spend a few hours painting boats for the Bantayan Back to Sea project because they knew they wanted to help out while enjoying their vacation in Cebu.


De Veyra’s group and the boat they painted (Courtesy Lee De Veyra)


“Memorable ‘yung conversations namin with the locals. Tuwang tuwa sila sa tulong na nakukuha nila mula sa iba’t ibang mga organizations,” said De Veyra. De Veyra mentioned that his group, consisting of visual artists, spent 3 hours painting a boat. He added that it meant more to him than just giving monetary donations because of the connection with those being helped.

“Nabibigyan sila ng pag-asa dahil may mga taong may paki-alam sa kanila.”


The beauty of Bantayan island (Courtesy Lee De Veyra)


Monreal, of the Bantayan project, wants to tap travel agents and the Department of Tourism to make “voluntourism” an easily available option for those traveling in the area. A boat-building package in their resort, Bantayan Island Nature Park, takes two to three days and more than five hours each day is spent with the local carpenter. Monreal added that there are many package options to choose from.

The Bantayan Back to Sea doesn’t only help out the fishermen have what they need for them to continue their livelihood, but it’s a good activity for groups heading to the Queen City.


To join the Bantayan Back to Sea Project, contact 0928 5064468, visit their website, or their Facebook page.

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