#trek10for10 Kibungan

November 21, 2017 Voluntourism

Just thinking of the stairs that we needed to negotiate to get to Sitio Polis in Kibungan, Benguet can make me faint.

It is a 380 meter descent that is definitely hard on the knees, and that is just the first part of the journey. After that, there is a long hanging bridge that takes us to the start of our ascent to our destination. From there it is another hour or two of climbing, including more hanging bridges and walks around rice paddies.  

I feel tired just writing about it. But I wouldn't miss miss a TREK (or a TRails to Empower Kids’ outreach) adventure for all the world (unless I literally cannot walk, like what happened in 2014 when TREK went to Kalinga).

“Maam, balik ka ng balik," (Ma'am, you keep coming back) quipped one of the locals who passed by us on the stairs. He was one of the parents who helped us carry the donations to the sitio.

It was already my 5th time in that part of Kibungan. It was supposed to be my 6th, but one time I just stayed at the jump-off point because I was recovering from a mountain climbing accident.   

The first time I visited, I was with a small group. We were on recon, and we interviewed Teacher Cleran Dayso who convinced us to do an outreach there. That was the time we first tasted a local chili called “sapuke”, which got us all palpitating. 

The second time was for our actual outreach. The parents sang a thank you song for us that had us all in tears. We brought so many gifts for the kids and had a very fun handover of donations.

The third time was for our 5th Anniversary. Sitio Polis was the first destination on our 10-day itinerary around Kibungan, with twelve school stops and one mountain climbing activity.  

The fourth time was for the outreach program of one of my mountaineering groups, Aduana Mountaineers.  

And now we are back again.

My fifth visit was for our group’s 10th Anniversary commemoration or our #trek10for10 that we have been celebrating with our partner communities since March. Polis was our 7th community in that program, and we have two more to go before we culminate in Itogon, Benguet, where our trails started.

Even at the jump-off point, I could already feel the welcome from the community members. They called me by my first name, and that made me feel special and like I belonged there. 

When I reached Polis, after 5 hours of trekking, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I felt accomplished (5 hours is not really that bad, plus my knees felt okay), joyful, and excited.  

I was immediately handed over a hot cup of lemongrass tea and I sipped it slowly while I savored the moment, reminiscing on my past visits and the lemongrass teas I relished each time. 

My view while drinking my lemongrass tea
I remember how warm it made me feel during my first visit, while I was still drenched and cold from our rainy hike. After that, I always looked forward to the lemongrass teas that were always waiting for us in Polis. It was also the reason why lemongrass tea will always remind me of Polis. 

I felt so thankful to God for another cup of lemongrass tea in Polis, the only place in the world for me that serves a perfect cup. I drank it while staring at the mountains surrounding us and its moving veils of clouds; the children playing in the school fields; and the volunteers enjoying the food prepared for us by the locals.

It was a fleeting, but infinite moment. Soon enough, we were all busy preparing for the program.

We started our activities that night. We brought in a 50 inch television and the kids got to watch on television for the first time that night. It was magical. The adults had the same enchanting experience, as they scanned the clear sky under the guidance of our volunteer astronomer, Nico. 

I wanted to stay with the stargazers, as it was TREK’s first ever professionally guided stargazing activity, but the kids’ giggles and laughters kept drawing me back to the film watching activity. Their eyes that night were as bright as the stars. 

I capped the night with a few drinks with some of our volunteers. The new volunteers shared why they joined TREK and the older ones shared their memorable TREK experiences. I shared how the group started and evolved.

The following day, we started with a toothbrushing activity. After the kids brushed, the volunteers applied fluoride on their pearly whites.  That was led by Doc Jo, who also gave free tooth extractions after.

We also had a simple handover program led by co-Expedition Leader Flo, with welcome messages from the teachers and artwork-making before the distribution. It was capped by a feeding program.

with the teachers and school head

co-expedition Leader Flo

The kids got new backpacks filled with school supplies. They were also given slippers, hygiene kits, and handmade teddy bears (thanks, HUG!).  For the school, we turned over sports equipment (javelins, discuses, shot-puts, badmintons) and book shelves filled with storybooks and reference materials.

I spent most of the time documenting - going around the kitchen area, program area, and the dental mission area - and talking to locals in between. 

Kuya Edgar, who was very helpful in the kitchen, invited us to spend the holidays there. “Kahit walang dala, Maam. Malamig dito non.” (Even without gifts. It will be very cold then). 

The thought of Christmas there was tempting.

Kuya Edgar is the father of Dempsey, the kid who inspired TREK’s most iconic design. It was made by Third, our volunteer, 7 years ago. 

Some of the volunteers with Dempsey
By mid-afternoon, we left Polis for the hike home.  We were the last team to leave because we had to wait for dental mission to finish.

We took it slow, enjoying the views, and talking about our new Polis stories. The trail to Polis was lovelier that time of the year. Sunflowers were blooming along the trail, and the rice fields were bright greens. Except for the newly installed electricity posts, everything was picturesque.

We stopped at the view deck where we could see the stairs back to the jump-off point. Some of the volunteers were already traversing that open trail under the scorching heat of the sun.  

We patted our backs for successfully traversing that track the day before, then started dreading the walk back and the heat. My leg was already aching (my weak ankle especially). Good thing I had enough positive energy from the community to keep me going!

By 6PM, we were back safely to the jump-off point.

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  1. Hello we are planning to visit Kibungan and have an outreach.. Do you have any contacts or IT?