#trek10for10 Tinglayan

September 11, 2017 Voluntourism

At 28 hours, our group, TRails to Empower Kids or TREK, just had its longest trip ever. What was supposed to be just 14 hours of travel, no thanks to our rented bus that had to stop at every corner because of overheating, doubled in length. But, it was all good.

TREK Tinglayan is our group’s fifth outreach activity this year, in a series of 10 to celebrate our 10th Anniversary.  Our chosen partner community is the village of Loccong, which is tucked in the mountains of Tinglayan, close to Buscalan where the Whang-Od, the famous mambabatok or tattooist practices her craft. 

TREK first visited Loccong in 2014, the only outreach activity of TREK in its decade of reaching out to the country’s far-flung communities that I have missed.  I was recovering then from a mountain climbing accident.

We were supposed to arrive in Tabuk, Kalinga early morning, have breakfast, then travel a few hours more via mini bus or van to the town of Tinglayan, where trucks were waiting for us to bring us to our jump off point.  Instead of arriving early afternoon at our jump off point, we arrived at midnight.

When we were supposed to be either merry making or sleeping soundly, we were in the mountains, trekking, in that pitch dark, silent and cold night. 

But, as they say, never curse the darkness for it reveals the brightest stars.  Am not just referring to those hordes of stars around the Milky Way stretching overhead us.  I am talking about our volunteers, who did not only carried on without complaints but also remained cheerful; and the community members of Loccong, who waited for us to the wee hours of the morning, to welcome us. 

I have always known the people of Kalinga to be very hospitable.   Loccong was already the third community in Kalinga I was able to visit.  In 2008, also with TREK, I went to Lobo in Tanudan.  Two years ago, we visited Tawang in Balbalan. 

But, I was still overwhelmed by the reception of the community. I didn’t expect that spread.  I have never been that excited to eat fried chicken and pineapples in my life.  If my mom were there, she would have delighted to see so many rice cakes.  There must have been more than 10 kinds of viands there. 

We learned that the mothers have been waiting for us for hours.  The food had gone cold, but not their warm smiles.

For the next two days, it was one beautiful gesture of kindness after the other.  We had hot cups of Kalinga brews always waiting for us.  We didn’t have to worry about our meals because they always cooked for us. 

As our expedition leader, Rex, said during this speech “Naging sentro ng pagtutulungan ang Loccong.” (Loccong has become the center of brotherhood (or sisterhood)). 

Some of the students of Loccong with the volunteers of TREK Tinglayan
The tasks of cooking were divided among the moms of Loccong.  The fathers took charge in hauling the donations.  Even the kids had their chores.  They were in charge of washing the dishes and fetching water.

Every member of the community also took time out to prepare a program for us.  Almost everyone performed.  The kids started the program with their traditional dances.  Their parents followed.  The teachers had their own surprise.  They got us teary eyed when they sang an original composition to the tune of Kanlungan.

The program lasted almost the whole day, and it extended until nighttime.  The men lit a bonfire for us and taught us their courtship dance.

When we do these outreach activities, we get applauds from people for all our efforts. But, the truth is, it is usually us who benefit more than the people we serve.  Sure, the kids got new backpacks, school supplies, raincoats, and other gifts.  The school got construction materials for a new makeshift classroom (Thanks, PSBank!). But, what we got are a lot more.

Some of the donations


We experienced authentic indigenous cultures and traditions.  What can be more genuine than seeing traditional dances performed by the members of our cultural communities, in costumes passed on to them by their forefathers, at exactly the places their ancestors performed them?

Students performing a traditional dance

Loccong Elementary School students

Kids of Loccong Elementary School

We met people who we will be fond of for the rest of our lives.  There was the affable Kapitana Susan, whose message got us all stirred up.  “Go forth and multiply,” she said.  There were the inspiring teachers of Loccong who showed us the true meaning of serving.  There were also kids whose hopes keep us positive and determined to continue this advocacy.

Our Expedition Leader Rex dancing with Kapitana Susan

Kids sharing to us their dreams through their artworks

More kids doing artworks

Artworks time!

We gained more friends from diverse backgrounds, and I must emphasize, across different generations. Our ever reliable “elders” are now complemented by our equally hard working millennials. 

TREK Tinglayan volunteers

We were also able to step foot in some of the country’s most beautiful places. Imagine a school perched atop a mountain, surrounded by endless peaks, sometimes obscured by clouds and highlighted by rice terraces.

View from Loccong Elementary School

The village of Buscalan as seen from Loccong

On our way down, we got to trek in these rice paddies, met Whang-Od, and refreshed in a waterfall. We also got to marvel again at its most famous mountain, Sleeping Beauty. 

Some of the volunteers with Apo Whang-Od. Photo by Darwin Fabrigaras.

Cliché as it may sound; volunteering gives us things money can never buy – happiness, fulfillment, and a new sense of purpose. 

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