TREK Itogon: The Journey Begins

December 30, 2007 Voluntourism

Knowing there is something we can do to help, we decided to act on our hopes for better lives for members of these communities who have always been kind to us and lent new meanings to our ascents to the summit.


It was not difficult finding other people with the same love for nature and compassion for the kids living in these mountains. In December 2007, we hiked on our new trail. We called our group TREK, or TRails to Empower Kids. 


From an initial group of seven, a few more friends joined us in organizing the outreach and delivering the donations. We also realized then that there is no dearth of individuals, even organizations, who are willing to help but find it difficult to go out there themselves. So, we do it for them.  


High-spirited and lighthearted, we left Manila on the evening of December 7, 2007, at 10:00 p.m., on board a Victory Liner Bus. There were 12 of us in the group, including TREK founders JP and Rex and our friends Frankie, Toby, Doc, Dennis, Kim, Boy, Jherwin, and me. TREK founders Mimay and Noel, together with Ipe of the Maria Aurora Outdoors Club (MAOC), joined us in Baguio. 


Itogon is located approximately ten kilometers from Baguio City. It is well-known for its gold, rich lands, and mountains. Among them is Mt. Ugo, a favorite for its beautiful trails, stately pine tree forest, and cool weather. Mt. Ugo is also the site of three aircraft crashes. Its other popular destinations include the Balatoc Mines and Binga Dam, which were included in the first group's itinerary.


It was a nauseating ride for me to the jump-off point, but our cheery welcome from the Barangay officials got me excited, and it sustained me throughout the trek to Sitio Saybuan.


We skirted hillsides with flowers blossoming on the trail; hanging bridges that are not for the faint-hearted, the longest of which is about 90 meters long, with spectacular views of the Agno River, the fifth largest river system in the country; and small rice paddies. 

The long trek to Saybuan

We pitched our tents in front of the school's lone classroom, which serves students in grades one through four, and in the early morning, we had little guests peeking, staring at their very first visitors.


The kids, excited and eager to welcome us

Preparing for our feast with the members of the community

Preparing the meals with some community members

Sitio Saybuan is home to members of the Ibaloi, Iwak, and Kalanguya cultural groups. The residents here farm and occasionally pan for gold.


Members of the community came to help us prepare our small feast. There was a lot of laughter, despite the language barrier.


The kids were very shy. When one of our volunteers, Toby, asked for a kid’s name, he cried. However, that vanished during playtime. The universal joy of games and laughter know no barrier, and right then, we could already feel the children warming up to us, holding our hands, and even giggling with us. 


We also noticed how different life is over there. We played popular tunes, but they only responded to country music. We also served typical party fare, but it flopped. Those were such eye-openers.


When we started distributing the donations to the children, we saw their little faces glow. It was so heartwarming. It was like how stories describe Christmas mornings, when kids find toys inside their socks hanging on the chimney. 

The kids showing their new educational materials from Diwa Learning Systems

Our beneficiaries

We said our goodbyes after, some of us almost teary-eyed, especially after hearing words of gratitude from the members of the community. We spent such a short time there, in the village, yet we felt so sad leaving.


One of the village elders conveyed so much gratitude. In all her years, that was the first time their village was visited. She also made a plea for us to help, if we could, in the construction of the drainage near the school building.


The village elders

We took a different route back to the Barangay Hall. It was a shorter but steeper route. We didn't mind, with lighter hearts, tons of happy memories, and lots of laughter.  


We had time to reflect on all our joys by the time we reached the top of an unnamed peak near the Barangay Hall of Itogon. From there, we could see most of Itogon's natural wonders — its peaks, the river down below forming a U-shape, and the Barangay Hall that brought us back to our own realities. 


The TREK team

That peak was a witness of the fond memories we shared, of the moments that rendered all our life concerns petty, of the times that brought us to realize the real important things in life, of the newfound depth in the relationship we now share, and of the recognized willingness to pursue this trail.

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