TREK Balbalan: I am trekking again

January 15, 2016 Voluntourism

The previous treks were really kind to me.  There was not much of a hike and was not that strenuous.  I already had my implants removed, and was on my way to full recovery from a mountain climbing accident in 2013. 

But I felt I was already getting rusty, and was a bit scared.  I didn’t trust my legs.  I also didn't trust my trekking shoes, which I bought before the accident and have remained in the box ever since.

But I trust my friends and they said it was an easy trek.  Well, yes, except we had to trek through a landslide; negotiate some steep ascent and descent; cross several hanging bridges; and a few river crossings.  

photo by Judy May Saracho 
But, all is well and there is a reason.  I also trust trails and every trail has its rewards, especially this one.  We are doing this for kids. 

It was TRails to Empower Kids or TREK's 8th Anniversary Outreach!

Balbalan, Kalinga

Balbalan was not an easy place to get to.  We had to take a ten-hour bus ride from Manila; ride a truck to the jump off point; and trek through the rain. Some of our volunteers even had to cross a wrecked hanging bridge.  

They were wary of tourists.  We had a long interrogation at a military checkpoint.  One of our volunteers who conducted the initial recon was even mistaken as a member of the NPA (New People’s Army).

But these are just part of the travails of the trails.  Our story is about the kids; the beauty of Balbalan; and the kind of community the elders built for their children. 

One of the things that impressed us about the community is how much they value the environment and the emphasis they put on being clean and green.  There are trash cans everywhere, properly labeled; the kids are disciplined; and the elders make sure the community remains tidy. One of the signs that we are already near the community is the abundance of signs reminding everyone to take care of the environment.

We camped at Tawang Elementary School, one of our beneficiaries.  The students from the other schools, Buaya Elementary School, Bassao Primary School, Bonong Community School and Ubual Primary School, just trekked to our campsite during the turnover ceremony, which we scheduled the day after we arrived at our campsite to give us time to prepare for a full day program.

Outreach Day

We started our day early.  We were excited to welcome the kids and see how they would react to our gifts.  While waiting for all the students, we asked them to prepare some artwork.  

By mid-morning, we started our program.

We started with a prayer that felt like it awakened all the spirits of the mountains to pour out its blessings for everyone.  It was led by Mrs. Ines Bayudang, who also helped the group organize this outreach.  

Each school also had their own part in the program.  Our host school performed Kalinga’s traditional dance accompanied by their traditional instruments.  

There were also students who reenacted a bodong, a Kalinga peace pact ritual.  

It was also not just the students who prepared something. The barangay officials, teachers, and parents also had their own performances.  

The whole morning, our hearts were beating with the beat of their gongs.  We were also enjoined to dance with them and it was such an honor.  It was like being accepted as part of the community. I was also privileged to receive from the community, as a token, a traditional weave that can be worn as a skirt.

After the program, we had lunch (and thank you very much to our volunteers, including the guys from Kalinga Mountaineering Society who took charge of the kitchen).  Then, it was time to play games and give gifts.

Imagine a whole field filled with children running, jumping and laughing.  It was glorious.


The most awaited part came after.  We turned over a two-kilometer hose to our host school, so that the school can have its own access to clean, drinking water.  We also turned over books, teaching materials and other gifts for the teachers.  The kids each got their own toys, backpacks, school supplies, and loot bags.   

We ended the program with the awarding of prizes for our art contest, then an impromptu concert. The kids who live on the mountain usually have amazing voices.  We've seen that in our past TREKs.

Rewarding TREK

After the kids left, we had our reward – a refreshing dip in the cool, clear river beside the school. The day ended with lots of stories shared around a bonfire.

It was back to Manila the following day with lighter loads on our backs, but with more joys in our hearts.  I left Balbalan with that big, familiar smile on my face and in my heart.  I knew I am back on the trails for good.  Yeah, my legs got swollen and I worried a bit, but it was okay.  The swelling was gone after a few days but the memories of that 3 days with Tribong Buaya will remain in me, forever.

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