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“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence”---- Helen Keller

Visiting Agutaya for the first time is an unforgettable experience for me and Phil. We had a long day travelling just to get to Agutaya mainland. To shorten our trip from Manila, we boarded a plane to Puerto Princesa City then another one,in a small 9-seater plane, to Cuyo Island. From Cuyo Island, we had to ride whatever boat we can get into to reach our beneficiary community. In a small bangka, we cramped 10 other passengers and some supplies from Cuyo Island to Agutaya mainland.

Only small boats ferry in and out of Agutaya, carrying goods and passengers, making this island one of the least accessible places in the Philippines

Unfortunately, typhoon Maliksi was entering the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) around the time of our travel dates. During our boat ride, we braved the storm with just an umbrella and waterproof jackets. Due to the typhoon as well, our trip in the island was also extended because it was not safe to travel back to  travel back to Cuyo Island.

One of the dilapidated Early Childhood Care and Development Centers in Agutaya that needs restoration

Initially, our task was to do field visits and inspect the child development centers (CDCs) where solar panels will be installed. Through the request of Agutaya local government unit (LGU), other early childhood care and development (ECCD) materials were already delivered. We were not able to visit all the CDCs but we made sure all the materials were delivered and tried to stop by some of the centers during our stay. We were able to visit 4 out of 10 CDCs and saw the status of their buildings. With very few or no ECCD items, sitting in a dilapidated building and very low honorarium, these teachers are still dedicated to serve the Agutaynen people. I felt so devastated seeing that the teachers were trying their best teaching the Agutaynen children.

Life in Agutaya was so simple. People knew each other and knows if someone from other places visits their island. Their electricity supply starts around 8:00 in the morning until 12:00 midnight. Students walk going to school and play outside  with their friends. I was so amazed to see children playing made-up games outside their houses after school because there were no gadgets to play with. People working for the LGU leave their stations to have lunch in their respective houses and return around 1 o’clock in the afternoon.

While having casual conversation with Ms. Cherry, the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer (MSWDO), I had the chance to know few facts about the LGU. From our research, Agutaya Island is very near the most expensive resort in the Philippines, Amanpulo. Security of Amanpulo was very high. I even asked if Amanpulo belongs to them but if forms part of Cuyo Island. Seeing the condition of Agutaya Island, I felt that how could Amanpulo can help them financially if it is within the jurisdiction of Agutaya. 

Simple life in Agutaya

Whenever I travel, I always make sure I have enough funds with me especially in cases of emergency. But since the island was so isolated and has very few available commercial establishments or sari-sari stores, at the very least, our handheld money was not accepted due to high value. One of the sellers told us that bank notes circulate really slow in the island. We had to work on and budget the loose money we have because we still need some basic needs like water.

Living in the island for 7 days made me feel more grounded and felt that I am so blessed because I can do what I want and can purchase what I need. This experience made me more contented and grateful with what I have. I left my heart in this Island and will definitely do everything to go back there and pay it forward to the Agutaynen community.

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Article and Photographs by Jilian Orila, Regional Project Coordinator, BUB – CaLaBaRZon and MiMaRoPa, United Nations Development Programme in the Philippines

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