LAGUNA, PHILIPPINES – To say that 2020 was a tough year is the biggest understatement anyone can make. After all, everyone’s lost something last year. Whether it was jobs, social freedoms, or just the ability to be close with loved ones, everyone felt that loss in some way.
However, some people lost more than others. If you’re reading this through a digital screen, and you have no worries about where you’ll get your next meal, then consider yourself lucky: you still have it good.
The sobering reality is that many of in the Philippines have it a lot harder. Late last year, a series of super typhoons battered Southern Luzon, leaving many Bicolanos reeling in the aftermath. Those who were hit the hardest lost their homes, their possessions, their crops, and their ability to make a living.
For the folks at Que Rica, this was unacceptable. As a proudly Bicolano brand that works directly with local food producers, they knew they had to do something to help the people who work the hardest at providing our food. And so, they had a new goal: to help build Bicol back.
To do that, Que Rica had to go beyond the usual donations–they sought a permanent solution. After all, it’s easy to give a man a fish to eat for a day. It’s much harder to give back the capacity to fish for a lifetime.
“At the very start, we knew that relief wasn’t enough. Our end goal is livelihood recovery; to ensure these coastal communities can go back to what they’ve been doing all their lives.” said Que Rica founder Rica Buenaflor.
However, timelines for recovery are different for everyone. Abaca farmers need a year to re-grow their crops, while coconut growers need at least two. Thankfully, the local fishermen only need their boats back to recover their lost income.
And so, they decided to re-establish the Fleet of Hope program. It was first launched in 2006 after a major typhoon, and was able to give away 30 bancas to affected fisherfolk. In 2020, it’s returned as Que Rica’s livelihood rehabilitation and recovery program that aims to provide motorized boats to affected Bicolano fishermen.
“We chose to focus on fishermen because they only need a boat to get back on their feet. Once they receive it, they can immediately start feeding their families again. Plus, a single motorized boat can be shared between 2-3 families, so the sense of rebuilding becomes a more cooperative, community-based effort.” she added.
To raise funds to buy these motorized boats, Fleet of Hope partnered with BIGGS and local on-ground organizations like A-PAD Philippines and Hayag PH. Through their help, they were also able to distribute aid to over 1,000 families in the Bicol region.
Fleet of Hope has also encouraged other organizations to join them in their efforts to rebuild Bicol one boat at a time. By reaching out to their business connections and soliciting donations, they convinced corporations to sponsor entire boats. Some of them include big names like UniOil, the BPI Foundation, Wilcon Depot and GCash.
These sponsorships were a huge help, as a single motorboat costs around P50,000. Thankfully, the response has been great so far. Fleet of Hope has now raised over 6 million pesos, and has donated 125 boats–and counting.
Rica’s husband Carlo Buenaflor, the CEO of BIGGS, (another proudly Bicolano brand) was on-ground for much of Fleet of Hope’s turnover and relief operations. He’s seen firsthand the incredible effect it’s had on a community eager to regain their lives.
According to him: “I can never fully explain the joy I feel whenever we turnover boats. The genuine smiles and endless words of gratitude inspire me to keep on going. It gives me an incredible sense of Bayanihan, which I believe is in our nation’s spirit. And as a Bicol-based business owner, it’s only right that I do what I can to help out my fellow Bicolanos.”
And they are not stopping anytime soon. More than just your standard social responsibility initiative, Fleet of Hope is a cause that’s very close to Carlo and Rica Buenaflor’s heart.
According to Rica: “There is no good reason why those who feed us can’t feed themselves. As businesses, it is our social responsibility to give back to our community, as we all benefit from their hard work. How can we ever hope to champion Bicolano food, if we can’t even help the Bicolanos who provide the raw materials we need to make it?”
Today, there are still many Bicolano fishermen seeking to recover their livelihood. If you would like to learn more about this project and how you can donate, please contact Fleet of Hope on Facebook and Instagram.
Fleet of Hope hopes to give away 200 boats by the end of this year. They believe they can hit that as they are already at 134–and it’s only March. With your help, they can go beyond that, and ensure that those who need help the most will receive it.