It all started with a Facebook status...

A single status became “viral.” Thus begins the story of a successful campaign which made use of social media as a platform to bring about social change.

We often hear stories of children crossing mountains and rocky terrains just to get to school but a story about children crossing rivers and seas just so they could learn is quite peculiar even if we live in an archipelago.

Who would have thought that upon hearing this story, a man and several children’s lives would be changed—in more ways than one.

The Humble Beginnings

It was serendipitous. In October 2010, Jay Michael Jaboneta was speaking at a bloggers summit in Zamboanga City when he first found out that there were children who have to swim just to go to school.

I felt inspired by the story of the swimming but also at the same time I was disturbed. Flying back to Manila, I kept thinking about the kids and then later on that night I was staring at my laptop and saw my Facebook account and I just felt I needed to share the story.
— Jay Jaboneta
A child in Zamboanga wading through the water as he makes his way to school Source: Yellow Boat of Hope Facebook Page

A child in Zamboanga wading through the water as he makes his way to school
Source: Yellow Boat of Hope Facebook Page

The Facebook status garnered a lot of attention and soon people were asking how they can be of help. A friend pledged Php 5,000 and this jumpstarted a mini-fundraising campaign on Facebook which was then called the Zamboanga Funds for Little Kids. In a span of a week, they were able to raise Php 70,000.

Jay, who was from Mindanao, felt a connection with the kids of Zamboanga. However, Jay has never seen the community which he wanted to help. And so he called another friend, Dr. Anton Lim to check on it. 

We sent him the money and he raised additional funds from local donors and that started the first yellow boat project… we gave them a yellow (school) boat – it was like a yellow school bus on water which fetched the kids from their homes and brought them to school.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for them. For one, Jay and his friends needed to find a team to build the Yellow Boat. It took them five months to find a boat builder who could customize it according to the needs of the students. They eventually found a boat builder who happened to be one of the parents of the children in Layag-Layag, Zamboanga City. Even then, it took the builder two months to come up with the first Yellow (school) Boat. 

The yellow boat is aptly named “Aming Pag-asa” –an allude to the hope these boats bring to the children

The yellow boat is aptly named “Aming Pag-asa” –an allude to the hope these boats bring to the children

Fire Starter, Chief Storyteller

It takes a spark to ignite an idea. It takes a storyteller to put the message across—to build connections, to inspire people that ideas backed with actions—no matter how simple—can change the world. 

We can’t help but ask Jay, what’s in a name?

Fire Starter is an alternative name to Founder or Co-Founder since I sort of started this “fire” that became big. Later on I also added the title Chief Storyteller as I am primarily tasked with managing the Communications and Marketing activities of the organization and it was because of my Facebook status that initially jumpstarted the project.

The Struggles and the Learnings

Jay admits that running a huge campaign like Yellow Boat of Hope is quite challenging but the thought of quitting never got in the way of pursuing his vision. 

I can’t recall if there was ever a time that I doubted the idea. I think our struggle revolves around how we will sustain our efforts…Today, our greatest roadblock is building up our sustainability as an organization...and getting the right people on-board to implement our projects.

Running a foundation as influential as Yellow Boat of Hope is not an easy task. But struggles in pursuit of growth always give us significant lessons in life. 

Sustaining Efforts, Ensuring Progress

Behind every success story is a mission. Jay says: 

Our mission is to help make sure that every child (of school age) gets to go to school and stay in school. We believe in the idea of No Child Left Behind. It’s important that we get to educate the young for our country’s future. We hope that one day our efforts become obsolete because every child is in school and learning.

The Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation is a 100% volunteer-driven foundation and works closely with a lot of volunteers and community leaders. Banking on past volunteering experiences, Jay found like-minded people to partner with him on the Foundation’s various projects—most of them involved in community development or Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Their strategy to find more people to work with them is to tap local partners to implement these projects. The Foundation has over a hundred of volunteers nationwide and has strong partnerships with student organizations.

They consider communities and their leaders, donors and volunteers who make things happen as their key stakeholders.

To date, the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation is now present in over 70 communities around the Philippines. Primarily, their projects benefit grade school children. But since 2011, they also launched the Adopt-A-Fisherman project which provides boats to fishermen in aid of their livelihood, and has expanded extensively after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The Foundation has given close to 2,500 boats nationwide, both for education and livelihood.

The project was definitely fueled by social media. As to the effectivity of the medium as a way to put forward their causes and to ensure its transparency and sustainability, Jay has this to say: 

It is very effective. Up to this day, we still use Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Instagram as it allows us to continuously raise funds for our projects/programs and also stay connected with our donors/supporters where they money/funding went.

Finding Hope towards the Future

Work is far from over. Zamboanga is not an isolated case. Across the country, there are a lot of children who need our help. The Yellow Boat of Hope aims to sail through these far-flung areas to provide proper tools to make access to education easier for these kids.

What’s next for Jay and the Yellow Hope Foundation? 

We hope to keep on finding those communities where children swim or wade through the water just to get to school. The Department of Education (DepEd) estimated before that around 1,000 communities still need boats.

Our dream is to inspire others to do simple acts to make a difference. This is best illustrated by our Operating Philosophy: “The great thing a little lamp can do which the big sun cannot do is give light at night. It shows us that no one is superior by size but by purpose. If we cannot do great things, we can surely do small things in a great way. Because little things make a big difference to God.

In a country where poverty is widespread and education is seen more as a privilege than a right, it is important to give children the incentive to go to school and to equip them with the things they need. Every child deserves proper education to help him get out of the nasty cycle of poverty. And in the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Jay’s story is a living proof that all it takes is empathy; All it takes is a caring heart and a firm voice to make a difference. It’s about taking action and inspiring change.

Hope goes a long way.

Hope Sails. 

Jay Michael Jaboneta, Founder - Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation

Jay Michael Jaboneta, Founder - Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation

There are 3 main lessons for me in the last 6 years:

1) That we can use technology, we can harness technology to make a difference in the world, to bring about change.
2) That it is ultimately our humanity that sustains that change. Technology alone won’t bring about change. Humans must play their part. And
3) That HOPE is universal. The biggest gift we can give others is to give them HOPE – that there is always a better tomorrow. I have even given HOPE its operational meaning. H is about Harnessing your potential or its about finding your passion in life. O is about Opening your wallet. Usually when you want something done, you’ll have to spend some of your resources – funds, time, effort and network – to make it happen. O is also about Opening your heart and your mind to the possibilities. P is about Perspiring or taking action – you cannot bring about change or bring your idea to life without getting your hands dirty. One must go out there and make it happen. And lastly E is about Empowering others. For us to ensure that the young will become good stewards of the future, we must empower them with the knowledge and tools to make the world better.

Want to know more about Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation and how you can help?
Visit them at
Facebook: Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation
Address: Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, Inc., Unit 4, Dian Hap Building, F. Nunez Street, Zamboanga City;
Splice Hub, The Linear Makati Tower 2, Suite 2515 Mayapis St., cor Yakal and Malugay Sts., 1607 Makati, Philippines