I was one of the 2 Filipino participants of the International Visitors Program of the US State Department in 2003. The other one was Elin Anisha Capal Guro, a professor at the Mindanao State University in Marawi and who is currently pursuing her doctorate degree at the University of Melbourne. We have considered each other as sisters for more than 11 years now and counting. She recently called my attention to the plight of young athletes in Marawi who are about to compete in a dragon boat race. We hope to raise awareness and much needed support for these dragon boat racers. Here is their story written by Anisha:
Instead of being at a university taking up courses that would determine their fruitful future careers, they are mostly living their lives on the boat. They start their day at 6 pm rowing the vast expanse of Lake Lanao—from Caloocan to Ramain—until 4 am to fish for a living. Sometimes the catch of a combination of udang, tilapia and aruan is plenty enough to ensure more than a day’s expenses, but most of the times, their catch is not enough. “But, what else can we do? We have not gone to school and there is nothing else out there for us,” Basher Macunti, one of these young fishermen said.
When they first heard of the Dragon Boat Race, they thought it was the same as the Dragon Ball they see on TV. When they realized that there is a competition where their skills in rowing could be used, they were very amused and excited. “We never thought that there is any other use for us, except to be fishermen,” Abdullah Borasi, said. Soon, Team Naga was born. Team Naga is a member of the Lanao Sarimanok Paddlers Association (LSPA) in Lanao del Sur. With another young Meranao, a Lake Lanao activist, and OIC of LSPA, Nords Maguindanao as their coach, the Team ventured to be the lone representative of Lanao del Sur to join the First Davao City Dragon Boat Festival 2014 in Baywalk-Queensland Ecoland, Davao on May 1-4, 2014.
Meet the Team Naga members. They are: 1. Sihab Mustapha, 2. AbulKhair Mosib, 3. Tomawis H. Amer, 4. Ansano Baraocor, 5. Mamad Baraocor, 6. Abdullah Borasi, 7. Anodin Molia, 8. Manganding Sultan, 9. Saadodin Ungca, 10. Paodac Mohamad Ali, 11. Ashrin Dadayaan, 12. Iman Omar, 13. Rajeb Omar, 14. Moad Mohamad Ali, 15. Basher Macunti, 16. NasipBarasi, 17. Mohamad Barasi, 18 Mohalodin Rasol, 19.Arsad Lumna, 20. Jalal Jalil, 21. Jamalodin Antipolo, 22. Ashbie Badron, 23. Salamat Mama, 24.Ashgar Decampong, 24. Mohaymin Ungca, 25. Util Datu Moloc. These young Meranaos are eager to make good use of their acquired skill to earn for them recognition as athletes for their province, Lanao del Sur.
They are from Caloocan, Marawi City, and are mostly just over twenty years old who have spent most of their entire lives fishing. Some of them managed to finish elementary while others went to the madrasah. All of them had to stop their studies because the need to earn and survive for their respective families is greater. Fishing became the only alternative for them that did not require much capital, except to get an awang. Farming was a more difficult alternative because of the challenge of having an arable land or being a tenant to a landowner. Lake Lanao became their only refuge as they paddle every late afternoon to early dawn hoping for a good haul. Their world was confined in the routine activity of sleeping in the morning and fishing the whole night.
Ever since the Team was formed, they have trained regularly for endurance, speed and teamwork with their coach at the Mindanao State University Sports Complex. During lucky days, Prof. Henry C. Daut, former dean of MSU’s College of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (CSPEAR) offers his coaching skills to the Team. Most of the times, they go to the campus straight from fishing and withstand the lack of sleep. But more difficult for them than the absence of sleep, is sustaining their training. They usually contribute their day’s earning for their food, transportation to and from the venue and other expenses. When the catch is not good, they are forced to be very frugal. This did not deter them however as they are still very determined to compete despite the lack of financial support. They still do not have their uniforms yet and use the same paddles for fishing for their training but for them, they will think of those concerns when the time is near. For now, it is more crucial to focus on their training.
“I was supposed to give them inspiration, but they inspire me every day instead. I see their determination and enthusiasm to put their skills as fishermen to bring honor to Lanao del Sur and the Meranaos,” said coach Maguindanao. He admits that his team had experienced and is still going through a lot of challenges as it is only supported by random individuals. The team has yet to gain an institutional or commercial support that other teams already have. No big or small companies as sponsors, only several Meranaos, non-Meranaos and MSUans who believe that these budding athletes should be given a chance. Through social networking and aggressive campaign, Meranaos in the Philippines and abroad manifest their support through their purchase of Team Naga souvenir items. “It is hardly enough, but seeing my team’s high spirit in doing something worthwhile for Lanao erases all my doubts, fears and difficulties.”
Dragon Boat Race is new in Lanao. It was introduced only a few years ago in Ganassi, Lanao del Sur last July 2012 by its Mayor Al-Rashid B. Macapodi. The Philippine Dragon Boat Federation Champion Team did the first ever Dragon Boat Clinic and a mini Race in the said municipality during that time and subsequently the whole of Mindanao. This is the first time however that a team from Lanao del Sur will compete outside of the province. “One time I showed them photos of other Dragon Boat racers sporting their athletic bodies to let them know what they are up against,” Maguindanao said. “But, what they replied was something that I did not expect.Abdullah Borasi said, ‘Paddling is not only determined through a big body. These people row for fun, we do it for a living. We have more motivation than they do.’”
Despite the hardship, Nords, as the Team Naga calls their coach, sticks it out hoping that through the competition his Team will eventually achieve their dreams. He recalled when he first approached them to comprise the Team Naga, they told him of their dream to go back to school if only they couldhave the chance. “I can only hope that this competition will open other doors for them. Who knows what their sacrificesmight lead to?”
Meanwhile, as his paddlers train hard every day rain or shine, Nords drums up support for his team players. He talks to students, women, local officials, artists and athletes explaining that giving the players a chance to represent Lanao del Sur is already a victory by itself. It has never been done before. In less than two months, the grit of these hopeful young Meranaos from Lake Lanao will be tested in perhaps, less dangerous terrain that they are used to. But, the “catch” they could bring home could make all the difference in their lives.