TREK Casiguran II: The Song of the Dumagats

November 08, 2012 Voluntourism

The last time we visited the students of Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta, we were enthralled by their welcome song "Welcome to the Family."

I was expecting to hear another heartwarming melody when we visited them again, but what they sang to us was more heartbreaking.

"Dumagat man kami sa baybay dagat
Kami'y nagtatanim at di nangungulimbat
Ngunit ng dumating itong dayuhan
Kami ay pinapaalis sa lupan tinubuan
Para maangkin lamang ang ninunong lupain"

This song was written by another student from Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta at Barangay Cozo in Casiguran, Aurora. I asked Teachers Analyn and Liza, who accompanied us to this small sitio called Niyog but they do not remember the name of the student.

The Outreach

Our group, TRails to Empower Kids or TREK was there for the students of Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta. We have decided that we would go back to the schools we visited before and give additional help if needed. Our first visit to Sentrong Paaralang ng mga Agta was May of 2007. It was our second project.

We originally scheduled the trip last December 11, 2011, but the bad weather prevented us. This was supposed to be our first project where we invited a volunteer to be our Team Leader.  Mark Fer Castillo organized the December outreach with the support of Noel. 

Mark was with us in several TREK projects.  He was also very active in soliciting help from his friends and officemates.

Too bad, we had to reschedule for the safety of our participants so we ended up just partying and celebrating TREK's 4th Anniversary plus my birthday in Noel's home.  We are glad the Dulay family welcomed us.

Brgy. San Ildefonso

Before visiting Barangay Cozo where the school is located, we dropped by first Sitio Niyog, Brgy. Ildefonso, also in Casiguran, Aurora to share some gifts and to check on the progress of the classroom we are helping them build.

The sitio is a Dumagat settlement.  Dumagats are mostly nomads but they have already learned to live in permanent settlements or communities.

The clothes I was wearing just dried up before the program. It was a rough one-hour boat ride from Dinalungan, Aurora to the sitio. A problem in one of the boats we hired delayed it by another 30 minutes. We had to go back to Dinalungan to change boats.  After the look of consternation on our boatman's face, I am just glad we made it to the Sitio.

Bangka ride to the site

Our destination

From the boat, we could see what looked like a little house carved on the hills.  At its back, the mountain rises and in front, the gray sand leads down to the sea. 

When we landed on shore, the first team had already fixed the donation boxes, so we immediately started with the program. Good thing I was able to sleep during the ten-hour travel from Manila to Dinalungan (even on rough roads).

I remembered an African proverb that says, “Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community."  Mary Rose, a student from Cozo, the school we visited last May 1998 and our next destination, was there with us.

The students 

Our feast

We conducted the program in front of the tribal hall, which is currently being used as a classroom.  We brought with us a few notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, and other school supplies, which were donated by our friends and volunteers. We also packed two kilos of rice and some canned goods.

The children assembled in front of the tribal hall and the parents were watching us from the sides.

We started the program with an introduction of the group and our mission. Noel led the program. Teacher Analyn then welcomed the group and introduced the students, who rendered to us the song that affirmed how important education is for our indigenous brothers and sisters.

The donations and the students

Construction materials for the school

The students sang of their heritage, their land and other people's claim to the birthplace of their forefathers. Sitio Niyog is located at the San Ildefonso, Peninsula, cradled by the Sierra Madre Mountain and nourished by the bay of Casiguran.

My heart went out to the Dumagats.

I was asked several times if we consider the impact we have on the community we visit.  As tourists, we want places preserved and we are wary of indigenous people leaving their ancestral land.  But what if there were no more ancestral land to speak of because educated men decide to claim them?  It is a long debate but after the song, I strongly felt we should strive more in helping educate our little brothers and sisters from cultural communities.  They should be able, at the least, to defend themselves and fight for their rights.

During our program, we asked who is the oldest Dumagat present.  They couldn't say.  They do not know how they were and the dates they were born.  All they knew is that they have lived there for as long as they remember and these are the lands passed on to them.

After the song and the distribution of donations, Teacher Liza accompanied me to the area where they kept the construction materials we donated.

We had a beautiful and beguiling sunset to cap that glorious day. After feasting on some freshwater shrimps, lapulapu and some root crops prepared for us by the school, we started pitching our tents and then headed to the river to get our much-awaited freshening up.

We couldn't help but admire the stars that carpeted the skies that night and the trees filled with fireflies. It was a good day and we agreed to go back this holy week to deliver, hopefully, with more construction materials for the school and more volunteers.

Beautiful sunset

Change of Plans

We decided to leave San Ildefonso the following day when the sea is calmer.  That night was nippy and we woke up early for breakfast.

We were prepared to leave before 9:00 AM, just enough time for us to travel to Dinalungan, then to Casiguran.  We estimated travel time to be around two hours, including another banca ride to Brgy. Cozo. 

The sea was calm that morning so we didn't expect an accident to happen.  One of the bancas capsized.  I remember Joseph Cruz, one of our volunteers, mumbling and when we looked, the boat was already overturned.  Joseph was supposed to be on that banca and he couldn't swim.  He was noticeably agitated when he transferred to the backside of the boat.

The boat was carrying volunteers Ailene Mae and Frankie, sisters May and Ponga Jadulco, and Ramon James Dizon.  We were helpless. We couldn't do anything. Our boatman warned us against any movement.  Except for Noel who was allowed to swim to help the group, we just sat there watching and praying.

Good thing they were all safe.  All things were rescued, except for a few damaged phones. 

We all know the risks involved in our chosen passion, but we know the power of goodness and the grace of God are all the protection we need.

We just decided then to just turn over the goods meant for Cozo and additional money for the construction of the school to the teachers so that our participants can already rest. 

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