One hundred forty Bajao families will finally live in decent dwellings after years of living in card boards and tents in sitio Puntod in barangay Alaska Mambaling Cebu City.
During the turn-over ceremony of houses last Thursday, an atmosphere of joy was felt among the beneficiaries.
One of the beneficiaries, Alfida Chavez, 27, said “Maayo nabutang na mi balai…nindot karon kay bugnaw ug lig-on (It’s good that we can now live in the house…it’s good because it’s cool),” while carrying her 1-year-old child.
Chavez told Cebu Daily News that they were living in a shanty made of card boards before.
Bajao, an indigenous ethnic group from Sulu islands in Mindanao continue to live a seaborne lifestyle, making use of small wooden sailing vessels.
The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. initiated the Bajao Integrated Area Development Project (BIAD-P) which seeks to empower the group in pursuing its own developmental agenda and participating in local governance processes.
“The Bajau community must be prepared to be immersed in the Cebuano community,” said Dominica Chua, RAFI chief operating officer.
“They cannot assimilate the social culture of the Cebuano so we prepared them through education,” Chua said.
More than 200 Bajao children were given access to free education in a Montessori School owned by the Presentation Sisters of Ireland. The Presentation Sisters is also one of the partners of RAFI.
The Montessori School built a few meters away from the newly built houses, was established in the late 1990s and offered free kindergarten education only for the Bajaos.
The Memorandum of Agreement (Moa) between Rafi and the Cebu City government was signed last year.
The 5,000 sq. meter lot is owned by the city government but is given to beneficiaries under a usufruct agreement.
It would allow the beneficiary households to stay for 25-years, renewable for another 25 years.
The houses are designed by the students of the College of Architecture and Fine Arts of the University of San Carlos.
The USC department of Anthropology, Sociology and History also contributed in the research of the culture and tradition of the sea gypsies.
Among RAFI’s partners is the Haarlemmermeer City of The Netherlands.
“These are people that we cannot reject. They come from Sulu, and in Mindanao and they’ve been here already and they should be part of the Cebuano community,” said Chua. /Tweeny M. Malinao, Correspondent