TREK Nagtipunan: Happy to TREK

November 09, 2012 Voluntourism

After years of mountain climbing, I still get nervous before each trip. 

I lacked training plus my long-time traveling companion, who I really relied on, couldn't make it for this activity.  Bad weather also continued to ravage Metro Manila where I live. 
But much like in show business, the show must go on.  We got a mission to fulfill and that is to deliver help for children who live in the mountains.  Goodness should never be delayed. 

Our group's name is TREK or TRails to Empower Kids.

Our mission took us to Quirino Province, a landlocked province located in the Cagayan Region of the Philippines.  We arrived early in the morning the following day after about eight hours of bus ride, which included a short stop in Madela, where we brought our provisions for the three-day activity. 

One of the group's co-founders and three of our volunteers led the group as co-team leaders.  They are sisters Ponga and Judy May Jadulco and Doc Jo Gastador.  They visited our target site a month before to conduct a recon.

At the jump-off point, we met Maesto Diego, the teacher of Tamsi Primary School, our beneficiary school.  It was Maestro Diego who told us about the immediate need of the students of Tamsi for books and school supplies. 

To help us carry the donations up the mountain, Maestro Diego gathered the community members at the jump-off point, including some of the students.  They had with them carabao-driven sledges for the heavy boxes.

Transporting the donations

We didn't waste time moving some of the boxes from the truck to the sledges.  While we didn't understand each other because of the difference in dialects, we managed to send-off some carabaos, just in time before it drizzled.

After a short prayer, the participants also started their ascent.  I joined the lead team.  With us was Teacher Mary Jane, one of the teachers of the school we are visiting, Tamsi Primary School.   

After about thirty minutes of trekking, I asked if any of my trekking companions were interested in resting.  I was already panting and I wanted to rest my legs and back.  We spotted a good place to rest.  While turning back was not an option, moving forward was a decision easy to make.  The trails seemed difficult, but they were the ones that would lead closer to our mission.

Much of the trails were sloping, up to 45 degrees.  It was exhausting but a community member who joined us in one of our rest stops said in his own dialect that yes, it is very tiring but it is fun because all the community members were there helping haul the donations. 

It was not long before my untrained muscles started giving in.  From the lead team, I moved to the mid team.  Half way on our trek, I was left behind until the last team. 

As a famous mountaineering quote goes from Barry Finlay, Kilimanjaro and beyond "Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.”

So, after four hours of trekking and crossing several rivers, I reached Sitio Tamsi, which is located on top of one of the peaks of Nagtipunan, Quirino.  The sun was already starting to set.  Some of the participants were resting.  The others were fixing their sleeping area inside the classroom.  The expedition leaders began accounting the donations.  Some also started cooking dinner.

There are two classrooms made of wood.  One of the classrooms has two small rooms for the teachers and a little kitchen.  Maestro Diego and Teacher Mary Jane stay here during school days and just go down Fridays after class to their respective families.    

Teacher Diego was the one who helped put up a school in this humble sitio.  In 2005, he was assigned to conduct a study on putting up a school.  At first, he was hesitant, but he did anyway and from then on, he started teaching until he became a regular teacher in 2009. 

He and Teacher Mary Jane have about 50 students ranging from kindergarten to grade four belonging to an ethnic group called Ilongot.

After dinner, we started preparing the meals for tomorrow's program.   With the nod of Maestro Diego, we decided on a pasta dish, a chicken stew, chicken soup, and rice.  While chopping vegetables, boiling water, and washing pots, we started what mountaineers in the Philippines call socials.  Over rum, we started catching up with our good friends, some of whom we just see during these outreach programs.  We also took advantage of this time to get to know our new participants and of course, some members of the community. 

The following day was a lot busier.  At every corner of the classroom and the school grounds, there were activities.  Participants and some community members were cooking, repacking, unboxing and cleaning.  At about mid-morning, the school grounds were already filled with children so we decided to start the program by conducting some games. 

I tried leading but it was not successful.  They were just looking at me with their confused little eyes.  So, we let the teachers lead the games and we just assisted.  At first, it was hard to encourage the children to join.  They were very shy.  After all, there were so many strangers that day in their school and they are not used to it.  After showing them the prizes and prodding from their parents, they decided to participate and started warming up to us.  We had communication problems but their smiles and laughter conveyed much of what we needed to know. 

After the games, we started distributing prizes, then slippers, then boots, then school supplies, then backpacks.  It must have felt like Christmas for the children if they knew what Christmas is.  After getting their loot bags, they immediately ran to their parents to show them what they got.  We could here jolly screams of delights and giggles.   

with the kids

We love TREK

The beautiful children

Busy kitchen

We placed a lot of thought on what we would give these children.  We consulted a lot with Maestro Diego and derived from our past experiences so that we could give the children the best help we can provide.  Living in an isolated place, these children have been neglected.  They are deprived of good educational materials.  They get by with whatever little budget allotted to them by the government.  Yet, they pursue their education.  That is why we wanted to give to them.

While we allowed the kids to enjoy their new stuff, we formally turned over the books and other school materials we gathered to Maestro Diego and Teacher Mary Jane.  Since the classroom didn't have electricity, we also bought a small solar panel for the school that can light it up at night.

After the distribution of gifts, we started serving lunch.  It was a good time for me to absorb what just happened.  We successfully distributed the donations entrusted to us by our donors.  The children looked excited to go back to school with their new backpacks and school supplies.  The parents were all smiling as they examined the backpacks with their children. The teachers were pleased with the new materials they can use for school.  The participants looked fulfilled with the help they just provided. 

We were there, in the middle of nowhere, on top of a mountain, experiencing one of the greatest joys of human life.  I could see from where I was sitting the trail that would lead us to the next school then eventually to the plains.  It seemed endless but I was overwhelmed with feelings of happiness that worry of the long trek ahead didn't matter. 

Gray clouds were filling the sky but it didn't look like rain, more like shade to make our trek down the mountain a little less tiring. 

After a lot of goodbyes and thank you’s, we made our way down.  It was already midday and we expected to reach the second school before 3:00 PM.  We didn't talk much on the trail.  We walked fast and we reached the second school on time.

Kakidugen is a smaller community.  Kakidugen Primary School has less than twenty students.  The students were already there waiting for us when we arrived.  We had a shorter program, no more games, and feeding but it was as fulfilling and happy. 

We finished in less than thirty minutes then we headed back to the trail, with lesser luggage for our hands to carry but more glee in our hearts.  It was a good trek and I am excited to trek again.

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