LGSP-LED PROJECT BENEFICIARY: Omar and the Gems of Donsol

Whale Sharks or butanding are filter-feeding sharks that can grow to more than 12 meters. Its sightings in Donsol, Sorsogon attracts a lot of tourists in the Albay-Sorsogon circuit. (Photo from Symbiosis Custom Travel at http://www.symbiosis-travel.com/blog/2014/04/09/69/.)

SORSOGON CITY, April 30 (PIA) - One sunny Saturday morning in the middle of March, four Canadian tourists landed on the shores of Donsol in the Province of Albay, Philippines. From the looks on their faces, one could guess that they just had an exciting interaction with the gentle whale sharks, a popular activity for visitors in the area. They were ecstatic and animatedly talked about their latest marine adventure.

Alighting from the white motorized boat too was Omar Nepomuceno, one of the very first marine tour guides in Donsol.

It was in 1998 when the bounty of marine resources of Donsol was unraveled. A sleeping town in the northwestern part in the province of Sorsogon, the municipality of Donsol was reported to be rebel-infested locality during the 70s, affecting economic growth in the area.

Little did the people of Donsol know that their waters were inhabited with giant mammoth fish or whale sharks (scientific name is Rhincodon Typus), locally known as butanding. They did not expect that these gentle giant sea creatures would eventually open up tourism and bring Donsol to the international scene, boost economy, and provide employment and livelihood to the people.

Seeing these opportunities, the Provincial Government of Sorsogon forged a tripartite agreement among the Municipal Government of Donsol, the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1999. DOT was to lead tourism promotion and marketing and training of marine eco tour guides. WWF would do research and monitoring. And, the Donsol municipal government was in charge of managing of tourism products and day-to-day operations.

Through this agreement, the tourism program of Donsol was conceptualized, planned, and implemented. Butanding Interaction Officers (BIOs) or marine tour guides in the area were also organized.

Omar, a marine guide and dive master, took to his advantage the rich marine resources in his hometown. Born in Donsol, he was among the pioneer BIOs. He knew that the Donsol’s natural resources would bring him personal and economic wealth.

As a BIO, Omar was able to build a house for his family. He sent his only child to a private Catholic secondary school in Legazpi City who is now on her third year in the University of the Philippines Baguio Campus. Simplicity, frugality, and proper financial management were his guiding principles. “Live within your means and always save from your earning,” Omar remarks.

Omar’s career as a BIO was further strengthened with the implementation of the joint Canadian and Philippine Governments’ Local Governance Support Program for Local Economic Development (LGSP LED) program. LGSP-LED sought to help local governments become more business-friendly and competitive to attract new investments that create more local jobs.

Through LGSP-LED, the Provincial Government of Sorsogon and local businesses came together and identified that Donsol needed refresher trainings to upgrade the skills of its local workforce in order to appeal to more tourists and businesses alike.

Training participants treading water during the Training on Marine Eco-Guiding and Enhanced Training for Butanding Interaction Officers (BIOs) held in Donsol, Sorsogon from November 26 to 28, 2014. The training was attended by forty two (42) participants, mostly men.

Omar attended various capacity building programs implemented through the LGSP-LED project in Albay-Sorsogon and gained new and enhanced skills on rescue, safety, foreign guest relations, and local history, among others. Since then Omar has been more confident doing tours. Once, he performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR to a foreign tourist during an actual butanding interaction. He also echoes new knowledge and skills to fellow BIOs who have yet to undergo formal marine guiding training. Omar believes that continuous training should be conducted for the forty one (41) registered BIOs during off-season. He expressed desire to learn more about care, preservation, and conservation of marine natural resources, tourism promotion, as well as the butanding that is providing livelihood to the local community. He is thankful to DILG that even after the closure of the LGSP-LED project, financial resources through the Training for Better Access to Jobs and Opportunities (TraBAJO) program are still on the pipeline for capacity building interventions for the marine tour guides of Donsol.
 Omar Nepomuceno, Donsol’s most sought after marine tour guide

“I no longer dream of anything for my future. I find fulfillment in my work as BIO. Seeing my customers happily swimming along with the butanding bring so much joy to me,” says Omar. He had turned down job opportunities as a dive master abroad before. For him, this is only because he finds fulfillment working in his hometown, but for Donsol, Sorsogon, and the Philippines as a whole, Omar’s story is so much more than Omar. It is about keeping jobs in local communities, attracting more business to go local because competent people like Omar are there and they attract more tourists.

Between 2013 and 2016, Albay-Sorsogon reported an increase of 200,000 in annual visitor arrivals. At the same time, businesses made new investments in tourism worth PHP 65 million. LGSP-LED estimates that about 1500 jobs were created through recent efforts of the government and the private sector in developing tourism. (BAR/PTO-PIA-5/Sorsogon)



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