#trek10for10 Calintaan

May 25, 2017 Voluntourism

In our outreach group that provides aid for kids in the mountains in the Philippines - called TRails to Empower Kids, or TREK - we make it a point to visit our sites after three or four years to check up on our kids and see how else we can help. 

However, this was not the case for Balangabong Elementary School in Sitio Balangabong and its annex school in Sitio Ulango, both located in Barangay Malpalon in Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro.  Seeing how much the kids needed help, we agreed to immediately return. We thought the opportune time would be to coordinate our visit with the celebration of our group’s 10th Anniversary, where we decided to visit ten of our communities once per month.

#trek10for10 Calintaan is our third outreach, following #trek10for10 Papaya last March and #trek10for10 Casiguran last April. The activity happened this May, barely 9 months after our very first TREK Calintaan, which was August of 2016.

During our first visit, most of our activities were focused on Sitio Balangabong.  We were supposed to visit both Balangabong and Ulango, but we decided last minute to move the Ulango program to the jump-off area because of the heavy rains, since the trek to Ulango included more river crossings.    

So, for our #trek10for10 program, we decided to conduct our handover activities at Ulango.

TREK volunteers and kids

Both schools serve Taubuid Mangyan, an indigenous group that used to live in the upper areas of Calintaan.

However, I noticed that the community in Ulango is much more conservative and it was much more difficult to get the kids comfortable with us. 

Teacher Irene de Guzman of Ulango explained that this community is fairly young. It was only roughly five years ago when the group decided to settle in that community after a native clergyman convinced them to go down from the mountains.

The village elders added that they are not used to accepting visitors, especially since their place is not accessible.  From the town proper, it is still about an hour and a half drive on very rough roads to the jump-off, plus a twenty minute to one hour trek, depending on the weather or pacing.

Trail to the community with volunteers hauling the donations

However, they conveyed that the group was happy to see people from a totally different area. 

Our handover was simple. While waiting for the program to start, we asked the kids to do some artworks, while some of the adults braved our dental mission. During the formal program, we started with a few welcome remarks, followed by the kids’ dance presentation, then the handover proper. 

Kids lined up to receive their new rubber shoes and bags from Converse; followed by school supplies donated by another school, JCSGO; then hygiene kits from SIDCI, whose representatives also joined the program; plus other gifts. 

All the donations, ready for handover

Kids eagerly waiting for their turn during the handover

We then had to dismiss the kids because of the rains, but we just called them back when it ceased to handover of their new solar lamps, donated by my colleague Mr. Cito Beltran (who also donated roofing materials).  After that, we had our late lunch.

The rubber shoes, hygiene kits, and solar lamps are all vital donations. Although the kids are not used to having footwear (most of them were barefooted during the trek and handover program), Teacher Irene said the shoes would really be useful in school activities in the lowlands.  Nahihiya sila kasi nakayapak sila” (They get shy during these activities because they don’t have shoes), explains Teacher Irene.  What she used to do is borrow shoes for the kids.

The hygiene kits of course would help the kids.  Hygiene is health.  I noticed during our visit there that a lot of the kids and mothers have some skin problems. I even saw a mom covered with what seemed like rashes breastfeeding her baby.  I know it wouldn't affect the baby, but it was a really sad sight.

The school supplies, like in the cases of other schools we visit, are helpful not just to the students, but also to the parents and teachers.  The donations ease the worry of parents, and relieve teachers of these expenses.

The solar lamp will help the students study at night.  Since most of the students help their parents during daytime, they only have nighttime to study.  The older students even attend night classes to make up for missed daytime lessons.

Teacher Irene explaining how to use the solar lamp

It was a fast handover, with no time for proper group pics because of the rain, but we have imprinted in our memories the joy in the kids’ and their parents’ faces.

TREK volunteers and PTA leaders

Because the dental mission was not yet finished after we ate our lunch, which was already around 3:00 PM, I decided to gather up the kids again.  We still had a few toys left and the kids who gave impromptu song numbers and recited poems got them.

The kids were much more relaxed that time and we had lots of laughs.  I was touched when one of the kids sang so that she can give a toy to his brother.  I ended up giving toys to them both. 

Really, the kindness I witness in our TREKs are something else.  I know I am very fortunate to experience all of these, and I thank God He chose us to be one of the channels of His blessings.

There are still a lot more TREKs this year (seven to be exact!) and I look forward to more of these meaningful interactions.  Updates are available at www.trailstoempowerkids.com.

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