In Barangay Sabang Agdawan, La Paz, Agusan del Sur, the indigenous people of the Manobo tribe have been vulnerable to the drastic effects of climate change as they struggle with rising water levels, poor sanitation, and lack of access to clean water.

Augustus Nicko Bas, a young leader, and Civil Engineering graduate, witnessed this firsthand when he and his team had a gift-giving activity in the community in December 2022. They learned that during the rainy season, most of the houses in the community would submerge due to the heavy water flow from the Agdawan River. This would force the residents to travel by boat. They also didn’t have access to toilets and clean water.

“I was moved by the story of two Manobo women. Despite constantly experiencing environmental challenges, they wanted to keep their ancestral homes rather than relocate elsewhere,” said Nicko, adding, “So we thought of developing interventions that preserve the cultural and social fabric of the community while enabling them to remain in their homes safely and sustainably.”

Fueled by the hope of the residents amidst their daily struggles, Nicko was inspired to create a passion project that will change the tides leading toward sustainability for the community.

“I wanted to be a Civil Engineer because I want to build homes for the unfortunate,” he shared, adding “We did more research on how we can help them and coordinated with the community members, the provincial government, and our partners.”

This passion project is called Modern Balsa Initiative, which aims to promote sustainable development through housing innovation. Determined to bring it to life, Nicko and his team submitted their proposal to various local and international grant competitions multiple times including the Youth Solutions Micro-Grant during 2023 Asia-Pacific Housing Forum.

Out of 74 proposals submitted to the competition, the Modern Balsa Initiative was one of the top five that won a grant. Nicko’s team received seed funding of US$2,000 or over Php116,000 to kickstart the implementation of their project.

“We were so happy, and it felt amazing. Receiving this grant feels like the idea has already come into fruition,” said Nicko.

Elevating the concept of a “balsa” or floating house, the Modern Balsa Initiative seeks to modernize and improve existing housing structures by integrating technologies like the rainwater harvesting system, self-contained treatment systems, and modern floatation devices.

“We don't want to remove their identity and the culture of having a ‘balsa.’ We will help them continue living there by making their community more sustainable,” he noted, adding, “The people were so happy and excited about it.

Nicko leads his team in realizing the initiative. His team members include Adrian, who is in charge of the sanitation and environmental impact; Ian, who oversees the structures and civil works; Mackie, a registered social worker who ensures the preservation of the community’s culture; and Leah, who leads community engagement and collaborates with the local government.

The stories of the residents drive Nicko and his team to persevere toward their goals. “There was a student who wanted to become a nurse but could not go to college because of the challenges with transportation and clean water. She told me how our initiative inspires her to pursue her dreams,” he recalled.

To ensure the effective implementation of the project, the team needs stronger support from the local government and other key stakeholders. Through partnerships with organizations such as the Department of Trade and Industry and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the project also aims to train the residents in basic carpentry and masonry, enhancing their capacity to improve and repair their homes.

As the Modern Balsa Initiative team sails forward with its mission, Nicko reflects on why this project is close to his heart: “A home reminds us to hope, to dream, and to pursue our aspirations in life,” he said, adding to inspire the youth, “Lead to help yourself, your family, and eventually into doing good things for your community.”

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