TREK Casiguran II: The Song of the Dumagats

January 30, 2012 Voluntourism

"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"

During our latest visit to the students of Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta, we were greeted not by the familiar, heartwarming melody of "Welcome to the Family" but by a more somber tune that carried the weight of their struggles. The students sang a poignant song expressing the hardships they face as Dumagat people, particularly addressing the challenges brought by newcomers attempting to claim their ancestral lands.

This song, composed by an unnamed student from Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta at Barangay Cozo in Casiguran, Aurora, highlighted the ongoing struggle of indigenous communities against displacement and the threat to their ancestral lands.

Our group, TRails to Empower Kids (TREK), returned to the schools we had visited before to offer additional help if needed. Our initial visit to Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta was in May 2007, marking our second project. 

The activity was originally scheduled for December 11, 2011. We had to reschedule the trip due to bad weather, ultimately celebrating TREK's 4th Anniversary and my birthday at Noel's home. Mark Fer Castillo, a dedicated volunteer, played a crucial role in organizing the December outreach.

Before heading to Barangay Cozo, the location of the school, we stopped by Sitio Niyog, a Dumagat settlement, in Brgy. Ildefonso, Casiguran, Aurora. We wanted to check on the progress of the classroom we were helping them build.

The journey to Sitio Niyog involved a challenging one-hour boat ride from Dinalungan, Aurora. A problem with one of the boats further delayed us by 30 minutes, prompting a return to Dinalungan to change boats. Despite the obstacles, the determination to reach Sitio Niyog prevailed, reflecting our commitment to supporting these communities in need.

Bangka ride to the site

Our destination

From the boat, a captivating sight unfolded before us – a small house seemingly carved into the hills. Behind it, the mountain ascended, while in front, gray sands stretched down to meet the sea.

Upon landing on shore, the initial team had already arranged the donation boxes, allowing us to promptly commence the program. Fortunately, I managed to catch some sleep during the challenging ten-hour journey from Manila to Dinalungan, even as we traversed rough roads.

In that serene moment by the sea, a wise African proverb echoed in my mind: "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 in May 1998 and our upcoming destination, was present with us, embodying the transformative power of education in building resilient communities.

The students 

Our feast

The program unfolded in front of the tribal hall, currently serving as a makeshift classroom. Armed with a modest supply of notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, and other school essentials donated by our friends and volunteers, we also brought along two kilos of rice and some canned goods.

As the children gathered in front of the tribal hall, parents observed from the sides, forming a supportive audience for the program.

Noel took the lead in introducing the group and articulating our mission. Following this, Teacher Analyn extended a warm welcome and introduced the students. These students, in turn, shared a heartfelt song that underscored the profound importance of education for our indigenous brothers and sisters.

The donations and the students

Construction materials for the school

The students' song resonated with the deep connection they felt to their heritage and the land, highlighting the ongoing struggle against claims to the birthplace of their forefathers. Sitio Niyog, nestled in the San Ildefonso Peninsula, cradled by the Sierra Madre Mountain and nurtured by the bay of Casiguran, holds rich cultural significance for the Dumagat community.

Listening to the Dumagats, my heart went out to them, and I thought about their struggles. After hearing the heartfelt song, I felt more determined to support the education of our little brothers and sisters from cultural communities. Education helps them defend themselves and fight for their rights.

During our program, we asked about the oldest Dumagat present, but they couldn't provide an answer. Their sense of time is rooted in memories rather than fixed dates, and they have lived in these lands for as long as they can remember—lands passed down through generations.

After the song and the distribution of donations, Teacher Liza accompanied me to the area where construction materials, donated by our group, were stored. The day concluded with a stunning sunset, followed by a feast of freshwater shrimps, lapulapu, and root crops prepared by the school. We then pitched our tents and headed to the river for a refreshing bath, captivated by the stars that adorned the night sky and the trees illuminated by fireflies. It was a fulfilling day, prompting plans to return during Holy Week with more construction materials for the school and additional volunteers.

Beautiful sunset

The next day, with plans to depart from San Ildefonso when the sea was calmer, we awoke to a nippy morning, eager to begin our journey back. After an early breakfast, we aimed to leave before 9:00 AM, allowing sufficient time to travel to Dinalungan and then on to Casiguran. The estimated travel time, including a banca ride to Brgy. Cozo, was around two hours.

Unexpectedly, despite the calm sea, an accident occurred that morning. One of the bancas capsized, leaving us in a state of shock. 

Joseph Cruz, one of our volunteers who was supposed to be on that banca, had fortunately moved to the backside of our boat. The overturned boat carried volunteers Ailene Mae and Frankie, sisters May and Ponga Jadulco, and Ramon James Dizon. 

We observed them from our boat, and our boatman cautioned against making any movements. Only Noel was allowed to swim and help the group. We could only sit there, praying for their safety.

Thankfully, everyone emerged unharmed, and all possessions were rescued, albeit some damaged phones. Despite the inherent risks in our chosen passion, we find solace in the power of goodness and the grace of God as our ultimate protection.

Given the incident, we decided to turn over the goods intended for Cozo and additional funds for the school's construction to the teachers. This allowed our participants to rest and provided a valuable lesson in the unpredictable nature of the environment we navigate during our outreach efforts.

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