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BORACAY Island – The powdery white sand on the 3-km beachfront of this resort island does not only bring in tourists, but also used to provide a source of income for locals.

But now that kind of livelihood out of the golden sandcastles were all gone and their talented makers nowhere to be found on the shores.

Gezer Gado, (then 14, now 20) was among the hardworking residents of this island who viewed Boracay sand as gold and made sand castles to earn. Gezer started with the simple “Lantern in the Sand” till he finished off with complex castles out of sand.

Tourists who wanted to have their photos taken beside the sandcastles simply have to drop any amount, including US dollars, into a small can that the maker positioned beside his masterpiece.

“It was selling and I was happy that I had a source of money. I could earn as much as (US$30) PhP1,500 a day or (US$10) PhP500 at the least,” Gezer said as he crafted a sandcastle under the scorching heat of the sun.

Gezer said he had been getting his school allowance from his earnings. As the eldest of four children, he had also helped put his siblings in school.

During summer, Gezer looked forward to earning money that he could use for the next school year.

“I usually constructed the sandcastle when and where there are many tourists around. It was all about imagination when you are constructing one. The designs differed,” he said.

It took him about five hours to build a castle, which he displayed usually from 12NN to 10PM daily.

Bobby Canino, (then 23, now 30), relocated from Cabuyao, Laguna on the insistence of his wife, who hailed from Boracay.

Like Gezer, he didn’t mind toiling under the sun to make castles out of sand. He earned between P800 and P1,500 a day.

During Lent, he earned as much as P2,500 a day. Bobby worked from 6AM to 5PM. A lot of tourists wanted their photos taken with the sandcastles at sunset.”I devoted all my time to sandcastle making. If I worked as construction worker, I would be earning less,” Bobby said.

He said he got US dollars from the tourists. Is it worth the painful sunburn? Yes, Bobby quickly replied.”I have managed to set aside money for my savings and I could support my siblings out of my income. It was rewarding when you saw a lot of people wanting to have their pictures next to the sandcastle. Sometimes, I felt it was a waste to destroy the castle at the end of the day. But that was how it worked. We built and destroyed and then, started all over again,” he said in Filipino.

Elvi Fernandez from Mangaldan, Pangasinan said she had been “living in the sand” for more than a decade. She earned P500 to P2,000 a day.”If we didn’t make sandcastles, we won’t have anything to eat. It was our way of living. We just went to the shoreline and imagined the design,” she said.

(This story first appeared in BusinessWorld April 2006)