The Singapore connection with TIP

Before Typhoon Yolanda struck the island of Kinatarcan and wrought its damage, Father Tito had already visited the idea of improving the lives of its people who constitute one of the Basilica de Santo Nino’s many cherished, albeit impoverished, parishes.

SNAF had in fact explored the possibility of commissioning a feasibility study to explore introducing alternative livelihoods back in 2011 not just for Kinatarcan but for other thousand island communities in the Philippine archipelago, hence the TIP name. Funds were needed to make TIP a reality.

It was an idea he shared during his visit in Singapore in December of that year, hosted by Gerard Gonzales, a communion minister at St Teresa Church. The visit was made possible thanks to a personal request to fellow church member, Gerry de Souza, a veteran champion of charity causes in his personal capacity and later linked to organisations such as the Singapore Powerboat Association (SPBA) and AHPADA (Asean Handicraft Promotion and Development Association), via retired lawyer Derek Wicks of Manila to render as much help as possible to Father Tito.

It was in late 2013 when SPBA was able to lend its official support to TIP when it changed its constitution to empower it to support worthy acts of charity within the region, first in Singapore, then Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It was a move made when Gerry, then SPBA president, realised that many of the 35-year-old association’s influential members would have the means and capability to help and try to alleviate island poverty in the region.

As events would have it, this coincided with the time when Typhoon Yolanda wreaked havoc in the southern islands of the Philippines, including Kinatarcan, on November 8, 2013.

There was then an urgent need to render immediate help to the islanders. This was when Gerry enlisted the help of Archie Ong, another charity champion linked with the National University of Singapore Society, an alumni body. The duo launched an appeal for humanitarian relief for the islanders.

In a week, six containers of clothes, foodstuff and other supplies left Singapore to be distributed to the islanders.

In the meantime, the two charity veterans decided it was imperative to put together a team that could help in the long-term rehabilitation of the island, working in tandem with SNAF.

Thus was born the Singapore volunteer chapter of the Thousand Island Project, comprising a group of professionals who could help in the island’s recovery.  Among them is Tay Kheng Soon, a renowned Singapore architect and adjunct professor at National University of Singapore’s school of architecture, an eco-champion and a proponent of ruburbanisation which advocates the thinking of the city and the countryside as one space, and not two.

The others include builder and quantity surveyor, Michael Nalpon, his filmmaker son, Jordan, tasked to document on film the story of Kinatarcan and its rebound for the National Geographic Channel and me, as publicist.

Then there is Irwin Rio, a Cebuano living and working in Singapore as an engineer who through his family was able to bring the work of TIP to the attention of Cebu City’s Mayor Michael Rama.

Completing the group is Harmit Singh, a corporate retiree and an important benefactor who stepped in, without hesitation, to provide initial funding to help TIP get off the ground.