#trek10for10 Papaya

8:18 AM Voluntourism

Has it been ten years?  It seems like only yesterday when we were founding the group, TREK or TRails to Empower Kids.  It was just a supplement to our mountain climbing activities. Our volunteers were our friends in the mountaineering community, and we only got by because of our families and friends, who chipped in to help us mount our outreach activities.

Now, TREK is the only reason I climb.  We have grown both in terms of number of volunteers and donor base.  And, with it, we have built new friendships, experiences, and life learnings.

For these reasons, we have decided to mark our 10th year in a big way, by going back to ten of our communities to celebrate, one per month. We kicked off the last week of March in Papaya, Nueva Ecija, in a school we fondly call “Ang Malayong Paaralan ng Mapedya.” 



#trek10for10 Papaya volunteers

Anyway, a bit of throwback, we first visited Mapedya Elementary School in 2013.

A lot has changed since our first visit.  First, we didn’t have to trek anymore for five hours, as the skeletons (the modified trucks they use) can now reach the school.  That is if the weather is good.  So, instead of our aching legs, we had numbed butts from the five-hour bumpy road ride.

The Skeleton with the donations
Skeleton
The school stage was moved from the center to the far end of the grounds, and beside it, a small room for Home Economics was being constructed.  Two small open huts were added to the school grounds.  The water system that we had installed unfortunately had not survived.  So, the school, again, didn't have water.

Of course, the kids also grew.  Dilinger is no longer that overactive kid.  He is now the big brother who looks after the little kids.  I kinda missed the little Dilinger.  A lot of the kids have also transferred already to other schools, mostly near the town center.

Dilinger.  Photo by Ian G
Some things remained, though.  Teacher Wishly was still there.  He is this hero teacher we met during our first visit, who chose to serve this community despite opportunities to serve in more accessible locations.  The roof repairs we initiated were still good.  And, of course, the parents remembered us and were happy to welcome us back. 

One of the parents even gave me a small pouch, which she kept all those years.  She said we left it during our previous visit.

Since I joined the advance party, I had more time to spend in the community.  I remember enjoying the first night, in my hammock, which was so quiet and peaceful. 

During the second day, it was completely different.  It was raucous, with more volunteers around.  But tasks were getting done.

Because of the nine years we have been doing these programs, almost everyone already know what to do.  There was no more need for instructions.  Even our newer volunteers always found ways to make themselves useful.  We have volunteers who are very good in the kitchen, and are honed already in preparing a feast for a hundred people.  We have volunteers who are already experienced game masters, hosts, and storytellers.  We also have volunteers who just make sure they provide logistical support for everyone.  It is almost like clockwork.

For TREK Papaya, we had art sessions, storytellings, and a few inspirational talks.  By 3PM, when the sun was no longer scorching hot, we moved the program outside the classrooms and had games, then the formal handover of the donations.  Kids got new sturdy backpacks, filled with school supplies, raincoats, slippers, and toys.  They also got loot bags.  For the school, we had construction materials, a new water system, and gardening equipment. 

Class picture after the art session

Games

Distribution of Gifts 

Kids were lucky we found generous donors.  But, I think, we were more fortunate we got to experience this display of kindness. 


Kids and their gifts.  They are the first recipients of #trek10for10 backpacks

The stage ready for the handover
Gosh, I will miss John Raymond, who delighted most of the volunteers with his short quips and cute smiles.  I will remember, especially when I am stuck in traffic, the hell of a skeleton truck ride.  But, most of all, I will remember the kindness – of the donors who shared their blessings, volunteers who shared their blessings, and the community who shared their home to us.

Dilinger and the kids.  Their first time to taste Chicken Joy. Photo by Jay H.
Shoutout to our expedition leader, Maan; the new officers of TREK – Ailene, Ujin, Joseph, Maya, and Velle; other board members including co-Expedition Leader Jay, Maam Ega, and Noel; all the volunteers of TREK; AY Foundation; and the rest of our donors!

For more information about #trek10for10 and more pictures, visit www.trailstoempowerkids.com. 

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