TREK Itogon 2: Returning to our Roots

December 30, 2010 Voluntourism

One of TRails to Empower Kids' co-founders, Rexandre, always insists that we go back to our mission sites.  


So, with him leading us, we retraced our steps to Saybuan, which started our TREKs.


Another one of TREK’s co-founders, Mimay, joined us. We also had our fellow volunteers, Akoy Abad and Lawrence Dy, with us. It was their first time in Saybuan.


For us, it was a journey back to a place familiar. We rented an FX from Baguio, which took us to Binga Dam, the very spot where our group took its first steps, which led to a series of wonderful events in our lives.


We walked through those familiar hanging bridges, tried to re-create co-founder JP's photo of the group's reflection on the Agno River while crossing one of the hanging bridges, and were again awed by the vast landscapes of the Cordilleras.

The last few steps to the community were just like coming home. 


We checked how the community was doing. We saw the books we had donated. They were neatly piled on a new bookshelf. The inside of the classroom was still as colorful as it used to be. Maybe it was the imprint of beautiful memories that made us see the classroom with a different eye.


There were fewer students now. The grade four students had since been sent to the nearby Binga Elementary School and Tinongdan Elementary School. There is still no drainage system, which the school requested help with three years ago. The toilet seat is now damaged.

Our favorite spot, passed by on our way back to the barangay hall

Councilor Pacio was happy we decided to come back, and once again helped us organize the project. He also arranged a visit for us to two other schools in the area, including Petican Elementary School. We also visited both of them.  


We discussed with them the project and the possible help we could provide them. There were no promises, just the assurance we would do our best to get approval for the project from the other TREK founders and exert our best effort to encourage our friends, volunteers, and other supporters to send help for them.  


TREKking Again in Itogon


As promised, we returned on our anniversary month. Our second Itogon outreach was just as rewarding and fulfilling as the first one.  


We packed backpacks filled with notebooks, papers, pencils, pencil cases, erasers, and sharpeners. We also brought toys. We toted new textbooks and storybooks, and arranged for 76 bags of cement to be delivered to fix the drainage system that had been threatening the foundation of the classroom. It was a request made by the village elders three years ago.


Mamang Pulis helped us

One of the many hanging bridges. Totally breathtaking.

The first school we visited was Saybuan Primary School. We started walking around 9 a.m. The children were already in the classroom for the school day when we got there. It was around 11 a.m. 


We usually conduct our outreach programs on weekends for our volunteers who work Mondays to Fridays. But this time, we had to ask them to go on a one-day leave.


There are less than 20 students now, but I still can't imagine how the teacher is able to divide her time among all the students from grades one through four. I wonder if the teacher still gets the same problem of parents interrupting classroom hours because they need their children to run errands for them. I also noticed that the students are smaller or younger.

The students of Saybuan Primary School

Saybuan Primary School students

The parents, who were notified of our arrival, prepared a sticky rice cake with sweet brown sauce for us. We feasted on these and coffee while preparing for our program and lunch with the community. 


We played games. It was so fun seeing the kids run and giggle again. During lunchtime, we ate together. After that, we turned over our gifts. The new school teacher and PTA president accepted the donations. They also expressed their appreciation to the group.


Petican Elementary School and Tinongdan Elementary School


The following day, we woke up early, freshened up, and immediately left for Petican Elementary School.


The students were already there when we arrived. After a 30-minute walk in the sun, we were delighted to see refreshments waiting for us. We only rested for a few minutes. Then, we started unpacking and preparing the gifts for the children.


Pet bridge

Participants trekking

2nd school

We usually spend time bonding with the kids and members of the community, but since we were on a tight schedule, we skipped the games and just held the formal turnover ceremonies. 


Seeing the children smile while opening their backpacks gave us all so much joy. Organizing TREK takes so much time and effort, but these rewards make it all worth it.


With still a long walk ahead of us under the heat of the sun, we decided to leave Petican Elementary School immediately after the gift-giving and headed to Tinongdan Elementary School. The walk was less than an hour. We arrived at our destination before noon.


There were already a hundred students gathered on the school grounds.


I thought it would go well, but we learned that the school had 150 students, who would be arriving soon. The school administrators had asked the students to come to the school after lunch.


That was a problem. We only had a hundred backpacks allocated and didn't want to disappoint any kid. It was the Christmas season. We thought of just giving to the students in grades one through five because the sixth-grade students would be graduating in three months. 


Another difficulty was that the preschool students were also there, as well as some guests.

3rd school

So, we just decided to leave the donations to the school administrators and let them decide how they would distribute the backpacks. That was heartbreaking. The children went home without any backpacks, just loot bags.


We left after entrusting the school supplies, books, and backpacks to one of the teachers who attended to us. 


It was still a lovely afternoon, and we are thankful to all the participants, friends, and supporters who made this possible.


On our way back, we stopped by some preserved traditional huts, where we had lunch. The original structures are still there, in that compound, but we could feel modern society encroaching fast on it.  


After lunch, we passed by a familiar hanging bridge. Noel accurately recognized it as part of the trail we took down from Mt. Ugo. It was there that we talked a lot about starting this group. We felt happy seeing the hanging bridge again and the familiar Mt. Ugo signage, where we waited for then-Brgy. Captain Pacio to pick us up and bring us to the Barangay Hall.


A Celebration


Aside from December being our anniversary month, it is also my birthday month. So, after every project, there is usually a small celebration.


After visiting our last school, most participants opened their bottles of beer. Aside from the two celebrations, TREK is also a reunion. We don't get to see most of the participants often because of work and our personal hobbies, so TREK is also a time to catch up. 


We prepared a humble feast. Once we had finished setting up the table, I was asked to call the participants who were resting on the third floor of the Barangay Hall.


I was surprised. When I went back, there was already a cake, pink balloons, and pink flowers waiting for me. My friends know I like pink and that my eyes sparkle at the sight of anything pink.  


After blowing the birthday cake, we had a little icing fun with the officials and staff of Brgy. Tinongdan. We also had some games.  


I thought it would be an uneventful birthday for me. After all, the kids' smiles were more than enough to mark another year of my life. But I am thankful for friends who care and remember.


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