TREK Papaya: Ang Malayong Paaralan ng Mapedya

October 08, 2013 Voluntourism

To reach Mapedya Elementary School in Papaya, Nueva Ecija, one must embark on a roughly five-hour journey from Manila to the town proper. From there, travelers hop onto a local truck known as a 'skeleton' and endure a rough hour-long ride on a challenging road. The final leg of the journey involves a five-hour walk along a sun-exposed trail.

Mapedya Elementary School served as the beneficiary for TRails to Empower Kids (TREK)'s 14th outreach. Nestled in a valley amidst the Sierra Madre mountains, the school currently accommodates 80 students with the assistance of five dedicated teachers. The student body comprises two cultural groups – Igorots and Altas (or Agtas), with many Igorots relocating there after being displaced by the construction of the Binga Dam.

The Reconnaissance

As part of our standard operating procedure, TREK conducts a thorough survey of our outreach site. This includes seeking permission from tribal leaders or elders, assessing trail conditions, and ensuring the community genuinely requires assistance.

Prior meetings with Wishly, one of the school teachers, provided insights into the school's and children's needs. During the reconnaissance, we not only gathered information but also delivered a kilometer-long water hose and a small solar panel.

Hitting the Trail

The hour-long journey aboard the skeleton was exceptionally bumpy, lacking shock absorbers that would have softened the ride. Despite the initial impression of a steep rental fee, the challenging ride justified the cost.

Our trek commenced from the Bignay River. Although the water was tempting, we refrained from taking a dip because the journey was long. As we traversed numerous mountains and crossed rivers, the scorching heat had us yearning for rain to cool our bodies.

the trail

rest stop

one of the river crossings

The locals and teachers informed us that the usual trek takes four hours, but for me, it stretched beyond five.

Our fatigue melted away when we met one of the tribal leaders. Gratitude filled the air as he thanked us for providing their most wished-for item—the water hose.

Teachers as Real Heroes

Teacher Wishly has dedicated years to Mapedya Elementary School. It's common for teachers to seek transfers after gaining permanent status, but Teacher Wishly chose to stay, leaving his family behind on weekdays. Along with three other teachers, he sleeps in the classrooms. Teacher Wishly visits home weekly, while the others only return during paydays, having their food supplies brought to them.

Witnessing one of the teachers washing a student's muddy feet touched me deeply. We often say that teachers are like our second parents. Indeed, they are.

Poverty in Mapedya

Mapedya has 80 enrolled students, but attendance can be low. Some students choose not to attend when they lack food, preferring to help on the farm. When we inquired about the school and community needs, they emphasized two essentials—rice and medicine.

While the school, like many others we've visited, lacks sufficient books and school supplies, they prioritize these needs. It makes sense; how can teachers nourish the minds of students when their stomachs are empty or they're unwell?

Often, it's the teachers who provide these essentials to their students, dipping into their meager salaries.

Mapedya Elementary School

the students writing their Christmas wish


Our recon team

flag ceremony

TREK Papaya: Celebrating Our 6th Anniversary

Our outreach, which coincided with our 6th Anniversary celebration, aimed to forge deeper connections.

We sought to understand the children better, cultivate a more intimate relationship between donors and beneficiaries, and actively engage our volunteers. To achieve this, we decided to bring back the timeless art of letter writing. Despite being considered old-fashioned, it proved to be a powerful and personal means of communication.

Our first step was to ask the kids to write their Christmas wish lists. The children of Mapedya Elementary School in Papaya, Nueva Ecija, expressed simple desires. Most requested basic necessities—pencils, papers, umbrellas, and more. This poignant detail highlights the stark lack of essentials in their lives, with some even asking for something as fundamental as bread.

We shared this initiative online, and the response was immediate and positive. Volunteers and friends eagerly selected their godchildren, joyfully embarking on shopping sprees to fulfill the items on the wish lists and more.

With the arrival of the first batch of gifts, it became evident that Mapedya's Christmas celebration would be extraordinary. The letters from the children, penned in response to our request, were not only heartwarming but also infused with humor, making the entire experience even more special.

In addition to gaining new godparents (ninongs and ninangs), the children also received letters from newfound friends. The students of Beacon Elementary School thoughtfully assembled school supply packs for them, accompanied by heartfelt letters. This gesture of kindness not only added to the joy of the kids but also strengthened the bonds between young hearts across different communities.

Infinite Moments

The book 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' delves into moments that make us feel infinite.

That sentiment precisely encapsulated my experience during the program when we played games with the kids, handed over their gifts, and shared a simple meal with the community members.

Infinite joy. Infinite love. Infinite moments.

Months ago, during our reconnaissance mission, the kids appeared shy, lacking in self-confidence.

However, during the actual outreach, the ambiance was entirely different. Big smiles adorned their faces, they willingly allowed us to embrace them, and enthusiastically posed with us for pictures.

To our surprise and delight, they had prepared a special program for us, featuring a heartfelt thank-you song and traditional dances, marking a truly remarkable change in their demeanor.

We were serenaded by one of the parents, and the heartfelt efforts of both parents and village elders never fail to bring tears to our eyes. These genuine expressions of gratitude and the positive transformation we witness in the community make all our efforts undeniably worthwhile.

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, thanks to the abundance of happy memories.

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

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