I first met Roger Rochar in 2011 on a ferry boat in Manila bay and I instantly liked the guy. He told me he had volunteered to become the principal at a school on a remote fishing island to help kids get a better education so they could get off the island some day. Roger had a plan and a vision but he lacked the funding and support to make that vision a reality.
I followed him on Facebook and watched his progress with his initiatives and it became clear he really did need help, and so I reached out. Roger has a Master’s in economic development and the two of us hold the same belief about teaching a person to fish versus giving him a fish. We believe in teamwork and brainstormed ways of getting the community involved.
As Roger went over some of his plans with me for improving the lives of these children, I was struck by how concerned he was that many of the kids didn’t go to school because they were too hungry to study. Many also couldn’t go to school because they needed to help feed their families instead. At the time, a lot of families on the island could barely eat 3 meals a day, and you’d see these kids, some of them very young, out trying to catch shell fish or looking for cans. Some of the kids were even sent to the mainland to find food and work.
There was one young girl, Christina, who made a big impression on me. At only 13 years of age, she and her younger siblings had to work finding shell food to eat because their father, who had a mental illness, could no longer work to feed the family. Christina’s mother had to clean other people’s laundry to have enough money to buy her family a small amount of rice.
Band of Brothers teamed up with Roger and started a food program that helped 90 of the very poorest kids on the island finally have at least one full meal a day. You can’t learn when you’re hungry. Next, we created small dikes and footbridges at the school which stopped flooding at high tide in some areas of the school grounds. The bridges also allowed kids to get across the water between the individual classrooms in areas of the school grounds that did still get flooded. We also committed to starting a scholarship fund for those hard-working students who would qualify.
With Roger’s commitment to improving the school for the children and Bobf commitment to support Roger, life on this tiny tropical island was changing significantly. Children could stop searching for food and start coming to a clean school which was a nurturing environment where they felt safe and were regarded with care by their friendly teachers and school principal. Some students were even getting off of the island to go to university. Roger would send me photos of the kids and I loved seeing the big smiles on their faces. They were happy because they finally had hope for a better future.
And then the island was hit by the strongest typhoon in history.