Finding a champion for eco-tourism

A GROUP of eco-warriors is turning Kinatarcan Island into an eco-tourism destination, another natural jewel waiting to be explored.

Geraldine Labradores, managing director at Southern Partners and Fair Trade Center (SPFTC), said they are opening the Kinatarcan Wellness Resort by May this year, although it already has two big bookings for this month.

“There’s so much progress in Kinatarcan now, from environmental conservation, ensuring food security, training of the people, sustainable livelihood to eco-tourism development,” said Labradores, one of the lead organizers.

Kinatarcan is one of three barangays of Guintacan Island located within the municipality of Sta. Fe, Bantayan. The other two barangays are Hagdan and Langub. The island is an hour away from Sta. Fe, Bantayan by pump boat.

Labradores shared they found out about Kinatarcan at the height of the rebuilding efforts after typhoon Yolanda battered some islands in the Visayas. Bantayan Island, a popular beach destination in Cebu, was damaged by the super typhoon.

“Kinatarcan is a beautiful island, yet the people are poor,” said Labradores.

According to SPFTC’s research in 2013 on the socio-economic profile of the island, people living there earned P2,000 to P3,000 a month. When the super typhoon hit the island, coconuts and other crops were devastated and the people resorted to cassava and corn to survive.

In September, Labradores communicated with former environment secretary Gina Lopez to seek help to rebuild, support, and develop the island, which has potential in the area of eco-tourism.

“My letter to Miss Gina was simple: Would you want to help an island that is beautiful but the people are poor? Then her team checked on Kinatarcan and they loved it,” said Labradores.

Since then, efforts to rebuild the island started. Lopez visited the island and met its community. Besides introducing them to the opportunities of eco-tourism, they trained and prepared the locals to become eco-warriors.

Labradores said SPFTC is implementing the Kinatarcan Sustainable Integrated Area Development Plan. They also helped organized the community and formed the Hagdan, Kinatarcan, Langub, People’s Organization (Hakilapo), whose registration is currently being processed at the Department of Labor and Employment.

“Our goal is to achieve a green economy for Kinatarcan and uplift the living conditions of the community there and also raise their income from P2,000 to P9,000. It’s a high target but it can be done through sustained efforts,” said Labradores.

Through the support of Lopez’s organization and network, they built earth domes made of soil and that are typhoon-resistant. Lopez said it is cool and calming, with no sharp corners, and is ideal for meditation retreat.

The island initially has two earth domes, with the second one still under construction. The community also started a garden.

Kinatarcan Wellness Resort is a 3,000-square-meter eco-tourism facility.

Lopez and her family spent the Holy Week on the island. Guests slept in tents facing the island’s white sand beach.

According to Lopez, there is much that can be done in the island as long as the community unites and shares the same goal in taking care of all its natural resources.

SPTFC is joined by other advocates like Hotels, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu, United Architects of the Philippines-Metro Cebu Chapter, and a Cebu-based landscape artist in developing Kinatarcan Island and lifting its people from poverty by giving them opportunities to turn their resources into sustainable income-generating streams.

The team intends to set up more activities in the island that is blessed with lagoons, rock cliffs, and beaches.

The Department of Tourism 7, according to Labradores, has also extended its tourism training to the people.

The Department of Science and Technology, on the other hand, has shared its knowledge to help the community turn cassava into flour, a product that they can sell to the guests and other markets. The Department of Trade and Industry is expected to intervene for the product development and marketing of Kinatarcan products.

Lopez said they intend to make Kinatarcan a model community of thriving village economies that are built on love.

Since leaving the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Lopez set up the iLove organization that aims to develop village economies.
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