TREK Papaya: Ang Malayong Paaralan ng Mapedya

October 08, 2013 Voluntourism

To get to Mapedya Elementary School in Papaya, Nueva Ecija, one must travel about five hours from Manila to the town proper; then get on a truck locals call a skeleton and travel on a rough road for about an hour; and lastly walk for five hours on a trail exposed to the sun.

The students of Mapedya Elementary School are the beneficiaries of TRails to Empower Kids or TREK's 14th outreach. 

The school sits in a valley in the middle of the Sierra Madre mountains.  There are currently five teachers in the school attending to 80 students.  It serves two cultural groups - Igorots and Altas (or Agtas).  Many of the Igorots moved there after they were displaced by the construction of the Binga Dam.

The Recon

It is standard operating procedure for our group TRails to Empower Kids to survey our site, which includes asking permission from the tribal leaders or elders, checking the trail conditions and of course, validating if the community is really in need of help.

We had prior meetings with Wishly, one of the school teachers, so we already knew some of the things the school and the kids needed.

So, when we had our recon, we also delivered a kilometer long water hose and a small solar panel.  

Hitting the trail

The hour-long ride onboard the skeleton was really, really bumpy. The truck doesn't have a shock absorber so we bounced at every bump.  At first, I thought the rental was a bit steep, but after the ride, I understood why. 

We started from the Bignay River.  The sun was up and the river was too tempting.  Glad we didn't because the trek took much longer than what we expected.  At some point, we were already praying for rain to cool off our bodies.  We traversed several mountains and crossed rivers under the scorching heat of the sun.  

the trail

rest stop

one of the river crossings

The locals we talked to and the teachers said that it usually takes them four hours.  It took me more than five hours.

When we met one of the tribal leaders, our exhaustion was wiped out after he said thank you for giving them their pinakamimithing (most wished for) water hose.

Teachers are Real Heroes

Teacher Wishly has been serving Mapedya Elementary School for years.  Most teachers request to be transferred to another school after becoming permanent.  Teacher Wishly chose to stay there, leaving his family behind on weekdays.  

He and the other three teachers sleep in the classrooms.  Teacher Wishly goes home weekly.  The other teachers go home only during paydays and they just have their food supplies brought up to them.  

I was touched when I saw one of the teachers wash the muddy feet of her student.  We often said that teachers are like our second parents.  They really are.  

Poverty in Mapedya

There are 80 enrolled students in Mapedya but attendance is sometimes low.  Students opt not to go to class when they do not have food.  They would rather help tend their farm.  So, when we asked what the school and the community really need, they mentioned two things - rice and medicine.  

While the school, like most of the schools we visited, do not have enough books and school supplies, they prioritized these, which actually makes sense.  How can the teachers feed their mind when their stomachs are empty or they are sick?

Oftentimes, it is the teachers who give these to their students, taking funds from their measly salary.   

Mapedya Elementary School

the students writing their Christmas wish


Our recon team

flag ceremony

TREK Papaya

For the outreach, which was also a celebration of our 6th Anniversary, we decided to make it more personal.

We wanted to get to know the kids a little bit more, the relationship between the donors and the beneficiaries more intimate, and the volunteers to be more involved.  So, we revived the art of letter writing.  It may be old fashioned but it delivered.  The first thing we did was ask the kids to write their Christmas wish list.

The kids of Mapedya Elementary School of Papaya, Nueva Ecija have simple wishes. Most of them just asked for the basic stuff -- pencils, papers, umbrellas, etc, which shows how lacking they are in necessities. Some even requested bread.   

We posted this online and positive replies immediately poured in. Volunteers and friends started choosing their godchild and shopping for the items on the wish lists and more.

As soon as gifts started arriving, we knew this would be one of the kids of Mapedya's best Christmas parties, and judging from the letters they wrote us back, we were right. The letters we asked the kids to write were heartwarming, some funny.

Aside from new ninongs and ninangs, the kids also got letters from new friends. The students of Beacon Elementary School assembled a school supply pack for them and wrote them letters.

Infinite moments

The book The Perks of Being a Wallflower talked about moments that make us feel infinite.

It was exactly like that for me during the program when we played games with the kids, turned over their gifts and had a simple meal with the community members.

Infinite joy. Infinite love. Infinite moments.

Months ago, when we conducted recon and delivered water hose to solve the community's clean water access problem, the kids were shy and showed lack of self confidence.

It was a totally different ambiance during the actual outreach. We saw big smiles on their faces, they allowed us to hug them and even posed with us when we took pictures. 

They even prepared a program for us, which included a thank you song and traditional dances.

We were also serenaded by one of the parents.  

These efforts by the parents and other village elders never fail to make us cry. 

That moment was perfect -- a beautiful song, children sitting close to me, the cool mountain breeze, and good friends sharing that moment with me.  The trails back were not as difficult because of all the happy memories.

Before we left for Manila, we stopped by a resort to freshen up and for a little birthday celebration. That was 6 years of celebrating my birthday in the mountains, with fellow volunteers turned good friends.

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