TREK Itogon 2: Returning to our Roots

November 08, 2012 Voluntourism

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

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

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

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

We walked through those familiar hanging bridges, we 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 we again were awed by the vast landscape 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 donated. They were neatly piled in a new bookshelf. The inside of the classroom was as colorful as it was. 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 are now being sent to nearby Binga Elementary School and Tinongdan Elementary School. There is still no drainage system, which they requested help on 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 he once again helped us organize the project.  He also arranged a visit for us to two other schools in the area.  We were able to visit one, which is Petican Elementary School.

We also visited both schools.  

We discussed with them the project and the possible help we can give 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 and on our anniversary month.  Our second Itogon outreach was just as rewarding and fulfilling.  

We packed backpacks filled with notebooks, papers, pencils, pencil cases, erasers, and sharpeners. We brought toys. We toted new textbooks and storybooks. We also arranged for 76 bags of cement to be delivered to fix the drainage system that has 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 9AM. The children were already in the classroom when we got there.  It was around 11AM. It was a school day for them.

We usually conduct our outreach programs on a weekend for our volunteers who have to work Mondays to Fridays.  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 alerted 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 had 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 the refreshments waiting for us. We rested only for a few minutes. Then, we already 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 had the formal turnover ceremonies. 

Seeing the children smile when 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 on 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 there at the school ground.

I thought it would go out well, but we learned that the school has 150 students, and they would be arriving soon. The school administrators asked the students to come to the school after lunch. That was a problem. We only had a hundred backpacks allocated. We didn't want to disappoint any children. 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 problem, the pre-school students were also there and some guests.

3rd school

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 participants, friends, and supporters who made this possible.

On our way back, we stopped by some preserved traditional huts, where we also took our 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 recognized this as part of the trail we took down from Mt. Ugo, and it was.  It was there where 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 picked us up and brought us to the Barangay hall.

A celebration

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

After our last school, most of the participants already 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 hobby, so TREK is also a time to catch-up. 

We prepared a humble feast.  After we finished setting up the table, they asked me 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 my eyes sparkle at the sight of anything pink.  

After the blowing of 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.

Other Good Travels