TREK Nagtipunan: Happy to TREK

November 09, 2012 Voluntourism

After years of engaging in mountain climbing, pre-trip nervousness remains a constant for me. The absence of adequate training, coupled with the unavailability of my long-time travel companion, upon whom I heavily relied, added to the challenge. Additionally, inclement weather persisted in ravaging Metro Manila, my place of residence.

However, in the spirit of show business where "the show must go on," our mission persisted. Our objective was clear—to provide assistance to children residing in mountainous areas. We firmly believe that acts of kindness should never be postponed.

Our group, known as TREK (TRails to Empower Kids), embarked on a mission to Quirino Province, a landlocked region situated in the Cagayan Region of the Philippines. The journey involved an eight-hour bus ride, including a brief stop in Madela to secure provisions for the three-day activity.

Guiding the group as co-team leaders were three volunteers, Ponga and Judy May Jadulco, along with Doc Jo Gastador. A month prior, they conducted a reconnaissance visit to our target site, ensuring thorough preparation.

At the jump-off point, we encountered Maestro Diego, the teacher at Tamsi Primary School, our designated beneficiary. Maestro Diego highlighted the urgent need for books and school supplies for the students of Tamsi.

To aid in transporting the donated items up the mountain, Maestro Diego rallied community members, including some students, at the jump-off point. Together, they brought carabao-driven sledges, essential for transporting the heavy boxes containing the much-needed supplies.

Transporting the donations

Efficiently, we unloaded some of the boxes from the truck onto the sledges. Despite the language barrier due to differing dialects, we successfully dispatched the carabaos just in time before a light drizzle began.

Following a brief prayer, participants commenced their ascent, with Teacher Mary Jane from Tamsi Primary School accompanying our lead team. After approximately thirty minutes of trekking, I suggested a rest, feeling the strain on my legs and back. We found a suitable spot to recuperate, and although turning back was not an option, moving forward was an easy decision. The trails, though challenging, were the very paths leading us closer to our mission.

Much of the trails featured steep slopes, some reaching up to 45 degrees. While exhausting, a community member in one of our rest stops expressed in his dialect that, indeed, it was tiring but enjoyable due to the collective effort of the community in hauling the donations.

As my untrained muscles began to fatigue, I transitioned from the lead team to the mid team. Eventually, I found myself trailing behind until I joined the last team. In the words of Barry Finlay, as quoted in "Kilimanjaro and Beyond," "Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing."

After four hours of trekking and crossing numerous rivers, I reached Sitio Tamsi atop one of the peaks of Nagtipunan, Quirino. The sun was setting, and some participants rested while others prepared sleeping areas inside the classrooms. Expedition leaders accounted for the donations, and some began cooking dinner.

Two wooden classrooms were present, one with two small rooms for teachers and a kitchen. Maestro Diego and Teacher Mary Jane resided here during school days, descending to their families on Fridays. Teacher Diego played a crucial role in establishing the school in 2005, conducting a study and eventually becoming a regular teacher in 2009. They teach approximately 50 students from kindergarten to grade four, belonging to the Ilongot ethnic group.

After dinner, preparations for the next day's program ensued. With Maestro Diego's approval, a menu of pasta, chicken stew, chicken soup, and rice was decided upon. Amidst chopping vegetables and tending to cooking duties, the group engaged in socials—a tradition among Filipino mountaineers. Over rum, camaraderie flourished as old friends reconnected and new participants mingled with the community members.

The following day was bustling with activities. Participants and community members engaged in cooking, repacking, unboxing, and cleaning. By mid-morning, the school grounds were filled with children, prompting the start of the program with various games. 

I tried to lead the games, but it was challenging to motivate the initially shy children to participate. The teachers took charge, and we provided assistance. As they warmed up, smiles and laughter transcended the language barrier.

Post-games, the distribution of prizes, slippers, boots, school supplies, and backpacks commenced. The joyous reactions of the children, akin to a Christmas celebration, echoed with delight as they rushed to show their parents their newfound treasures. Jovial screams and giggles filled the air, signifying the success of our mission.

with the kids

We love TREK

The beautiful children

Busy kitchen

Considerable thought went into selecting the gifts for these children, a process involving consultations with Maestro Diego and drawing from past experiences. Residing in an isolated location, these children have been neglected and lack access to quality educational materials. Despite the limited government budget, they persist in pursuing their education, motivating us to provide them with the support they deserve.

While allowing the children to revel in their new belongings, we formally handed over the books and other school materials to Maestro Diego and Teacher Mary Jane. Recognizing the absence of electricity in the classroom, we also acquired a small solar panel to illuminate the school at night.

We started serving lunch after the gift distribution. 

That gave me a moment to reflect on the successful delivery of the entrusted donations. The children appeared eager to return to school with their new backpacks and supplies, parents smiled as they inspected the gifts with their children, and the teachers were content with the additional materials for their classrooms. The participants expressed fulfillment in the assistance they provided.

There, amidst the remoteness atop a mountain, we experienced one of the greatest joys of human life. From my vantage point, I could see the trail leading to the next school and eventually to the plains. Though seemingly endless, the overwhelming happiness overshadowed any concerns about the long trek ahead.

Gray clouds filled the sky, hinting at shade rather than rain, potentially easing our descent down the mountain. After bidding many goodbyes and expressing gratitude, we descended. Despite the midday hour, we aimed to reach the second school before 3:00 PM. Conversation on the trail was minimal, as we briskly walked and successfully arrived at the second school on time.

Kakidugen, a smaller community, housed Kakidugen Primary School with fewer than twenty students. The students eagerly awaited our arrival, and although the program was shorter without games and feeding, the sense of fulfillment and joy remained.

In less than thirty minutes, we concluded our activities and retraced our steps along the trail, carrying lighter loads but hearts filled with more happiness. It was a gratifying trek, leaving me excited for the prospect of future journeys.

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