Dubai-based architect Ryan Banks with students in Jolo, Sulu, Philippines.


Dubai expat heads to ‘most dangerous’ place in Philippines on beautiful mission


DUBAI – A Dubai-based Filipino architect went on “mission impossible” recently by heading to what media reports have described  as the most dangerous place in the Philippines: the terror-risk island of Jolo, Sulu.

His mission? To deliver and distribute school supplies donated by expatriates in the UAE for impoverished students in Jolo, a beautiful island on the south of the Philippines that has been considered a no-go zone for tourists due to sporadic bombings, kidnappings and clashes with militias.

Contrary to reports, there were no militias, bombings or violence when Ryan Banks arrived on the island paradise. He was greeted instead by “very friendly and respectful” locals.

“They made me feel at home the whole time I was there,” Banks told on his return to Dubai.

The architect and travel enthusiast said he was taken to Jolo’s best kept secrets. “I fell in love with the beauty of their nature. They have one of the most beautiful beaches and landscapes. There are less tourists so the place is pretty refreshing and laidback.” More on that on soon.

Smiles for children

Banks real mission on the island, he said, was more rewarding. He was delivering boxes of love for Jolo’s most determined students. The community initiative by Kiwanis Club benefitted 270 school children in Bus-bus Elementary School and Serantes Elementary School.

Banks said the children were given new school bags, umbrellas, raincoats, notebooks, pens, pencils, pencil cases and other school supplies given by Filipino expatriates and community leaders of Kiwanis Club, as well as supporters from Fitness First and Action Impact in Dubai.

“Kiwanis School-Supply-Drive is one of the organization’s initiatives to serve less-privileged children in remote areas. We aim to provide help to kids with their education by providing school supplies. We do this at the start of every school year,” Banks told

Banks said that he learned of the plight of the school children in Jolo’s remote areas through Fahad Schuck, a member of the Community Extension Service department of Notre Dame of Jolo College.

“He asked us to have an outreach program in their place, and I put it in our schedule right away,” Banks said. He added that the school supplies helped boost the morale of the children, who go to great lengths just to get the education they need. In Serantes Elementary School, majority of the school children are islanders who “travel by small fishing boats to and from school everyday.”

Dubai-based architect Ryan Banks of Kiwanis Club with students in Jolo, Sulu, Philippines.

In Bus-Bus, school children from the Badjau tribe share their small classrooms with students from all school levels. “Their school is in a pitiful state, with only three classrooms for all grades,” he said. In each class, up to 27 students are crammed inside, instead of 16, Banks added.

Dubai-based architect Ryan Banks of Kiwanis Club with students in Jolo, Sulu, Philippines.

The Filipino architect said he was grateful for the experience, which he said also exposed him to the less-discovered natural beauty of Jolo and the distinct culture, food and ethnicity in this part of the Philippines.

“It is so rich and different that I sometimes forget I am still in the Philippines. I have realised that Sulu is indeed one of the most diverse regions in the country in terms of inhabitants, there are the Tausugs, the Bajaus, the Zamboangeños, and there are also lots of descendants from different countries like Germany, Singapore, and America.

Banks said he also enjoyed interacting with the locals, but cautions that “not all are pleasing as you might be aware from what you hear on the news”.

“But I am glad to realise that it is totally different, in a good way, as to what most of us perceive the place to be,” he said. ICA/Expat Media


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