A Nanaimo-based company that creates online presentations for yachts, business jets and luxury hotels has thrown its marketing savvy behind a foundation that raises money to build boats to help children in the Philippines get to school.
Vincent Finetti, chief executive officer of Prestige Vision, was on the final leg of a flight home in December, idly checking messages and surfing the net on his iPad, when he happened upon a video depicting children in the Philippines who faced an almost unbelievable daily challenge just to get to school and home again.
The video was shot in the mangrove village of Layag Layag, located on one of the more than 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines. Homes, families, life in general on many of the islands is surrounded by water and mangroves children have to wade and swim through, for as much as two hours each way, just to get to their schools. By the time they get to classes their books and school supplies are often soaked and water damaged.
Prestige Vision has offices in Manila and Finetti saw an opportunity to make a positive impact for impoverished children in a country in which the company operates.
“I started Prestige Vision a few years ago and it’s all about boats and yachts,” Finetti said. “We have a team that operates all around the world and we help yachting and boating companies sell their boats.”
The YouTube video Finetti happened upon was posted by the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, which is working with 13 communities across the Philippines to provide yellow school boats to get the kids to classes. The foundation now also gives support with school supplies, dental and medical missions, scholarships and programs that help people in the region create livelihoods for themselves. In the scheme of things, it just wouldn’t take a lot of money to vastly improve life for these people.
“I really got choked and I thought I need to do something about it because I know all those people in the boating industry and I love the Philippines, I love boats, I love swimming – I used to be a (competitive) swimmer – so all the ingredients were there for this story to really touch me,” Finetti said.
He contacted the foundation and discovered that a small boat could be provided for as little as $200. After helping to pay for two boats, Finetti decided he wanted to make a far greater impact and decided to solicit help from Prestige Vision’s clients around the world. But to get people behind the project he needed to deliver a good story and for that he decided needed to visit the remote mangrove village of Zamboanga where the foundation was started.
“I was about to go and everybody’s telling me, ‘Don’t go, Vincent,’ because there is an (advisory) from embassies warning visitors not to go in that area because it very dangerous and they kidnap tourists,” Finetti said.
Finetti is quick to point out that only a few remote areas of the Philippines are unsafe for travellers.
The Philippine military provided a volunteer armed escort to ensure Vinetti’s safety and he went into the area, met the people and saw first hand how they live.
Homes in the region are often little more than huts built on stilts over water. Everything is surrounded by water and mangroves. To get anywhere people have to swim, wade or travel by boat.
Yellow Boat of Hope boats are painted, appropriately, school bus yellow and come in various sizes, from small outrigger canoes that can carry a couple of children, to larger boats that carry up to 25 children.
Every boat benefits an entire community. After the children are taken to school their parents use the boats for fishing or working in seaweed farms near the villages until the children have to be picked up from their classes.
“It was very nice to see the good things that can be done with just $200,” Finetti said. “Sometimes we don’t realize what we can get for $200, but they can get a boat to use for six to eight years every day for school and every day for work and that’s huge.”
The boats are also built in the villages, which provides spinoff economic benefits for the whole community.
About 200 boats have been purchased for villages so far and Prestige Vision and its clients have helped sponsor 22 of those.
“I know many more will come,” Finetti said. “I know that for so many years all those kids and parents will use those boats. It makes us all really happy. We’re really proud of this.”
To raise cash so far, Finetti started what he calls the $1 campaign in which he mails a letter with one U.S. dollar stapled to it to clients around the world detailing his experiences in the Philippines and the benefits the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation provides to the people living in the mangrove villages.
Finetti’s letter campaign has generated interest and cash, but he wants to share this opportunity with Nanaimo’s boating community to drum up interest in sponsoring more yellow boats.
“You put out the money and you hope that more will come back,” Finetti said. “It’s like fishing with a lure.”
To learn more about the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, please visit www.yellowboat.org.