#trek10for10 Itogon

December 29, 2017 Voluntourism

It was one of those few moments I was up early.  It was a December morning, not as cold as I expected for a mountain community. We had Christmas songs playing in the background while we, the volunteers of TRails to Empower Kids or TREK, enjoyed our breakfast. We had fried sausages, hotdogs, and bacons, partnered with fried eggs and fried rice, a very typical Filipino breakfast.  A lot of us were donning our Christmas hats.

Inside the classroom, there were loot bags, backpacks, grocery packs, and gifts waiting to be distributed.  Outside, hammocks and tents,  where we slept the night before,  were waiting to be packed. Kids were already filling up our activity area.  The community members were busy preparing for our afternoon feast - the men roasting a whole pig, and the women were chopping, slicing, and dicing.

It must have been the Christmas music.  It must have been the presence of my friends, old and new.  It must have been being back in the place where our trails started ten years ago.

I felt peace and happiness. 

Ten years ago, when our trails started, we only had simple wishes.  We just wanted to share the joy we feel when there is a celebration.  All we wanted was to have all the things kids look for in a party - food, particularly spaghetti and hotdogs, parlor games, and of course, loot bags. 

We were inspired by our visits to the mountains.  My friends and I, prompted by our common love for nature and compassion for kids living in the mountains, decided to give back.  After all, we owe the fulfillment of our hobby of mountain climbing to these communities in the mountains. 

It was in Mt. Apo where we first discussed the dream and in Mt. Ugo where we started acting on it. 

It was the "ber" months already and we, being Filipinos, were already feeling some Christmas cheers.  Plus, my birthday was near and my friends knew I wanted to make that birthday different. 

So, we pinned the date, the weekend closest to my birthday, asked friends to help, then conducted the outreach at Saybuan Primary School, Sitio Saybuan, Itogon, Benguet upon the recommendation of then Barangay Captain Norberto Pacio, who met us after our Mt. Ugo climb. 

There were seven of us who planned and fifteen who climbed.

The kids then did not know hotdogs, marsmallows, chocolaters nor spaghetti.  They have never heard of any music except for country beats.  They have never attended a children’s party. 

But we felt tremendous joy during the outreach.  So, we were moved to do more.   As we continue, the magnitude of tasks and challenges also increased. 

There were many times we did not know where to get more funds.  We saw immediate need for clean water, comfort rooms, and other facilities.  We also saw the need to address health and nutrition.  Plus, of course, there is still the lack of books, school supplies, rain gear, and footwear that we initially wanted to address.

There were also times when getting the donations up there proved very difficult. We had to deal with transportation problems.  There were times we had to trek till the wee hours of the morning.  We had to cross raging rivers, landslides, even broken bridges.

But, God kept us.  He always sent donors who trust the group, some of them  found out about us through social media.  He sent us tireless and selfless volunteers.  He gave us partners, including local officials and community members, who helped us.

It is ten years of doing this kind of help that we are celebrating. 

We started our celebration last March in Papaya, Nueva Ecija, and conducted a project every month thereafter – in Casiguran, Aurora; Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro; Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro; Tinglayan, Kalinga; San Luis, Aurora; Kibungan, Benguet; Nagtipunan, Quirino; and Pudtol, Apayao.  It was ten communities for our 10th year. We dubbed it  #trek10for10.

Itogon, Benguet, specifically in Sitio Saybuan, was our culmination.

It was already our third outreach there.  The second time was in 2010.  It was my fifth visit.

Ipe, Noel, Frankie, Mimay, Me, and Dennis, the original cast
After breakfast, we gathered the kids for some artworks.  There were more than thirty kids who joined us and I spent time taking photographs and talking to some kids.  Sari, my godchild and daughter of one of my co-founders, Mimay, also joined. We had a member of the second generation already with us.

Sari with one of our volunteers, Ben
Then, we had games for everyone, not just the kids.  We had "bring me", one of the games we played in 2007 and in 2010.  We distributed our gifts then started with our feast. 

Teacher Marcela said the number of gifts we brought overwhelmed them.  We really brought more since it was our tenth anniversary and we all felt we owe them much, the community who first embraced us.

The kids' gifts from their Santas
Toys and stuffed toys.  Most stuffed toys from Sari.
Loot bags filled with chocolates, cookies (the kids' requests), candies, and other goodies.  Plus hygiene kits and #trek10for10 backpacks filled with school supplies.
Noche Buena packs from Pamana.  School supplies from PAGASA.
It was actually a triple celebration – a Christmas party, a celebration of TREK’s 10th year, and another birthday surprise for me. 

Another birthday surprise!
Anna, my friend and long time TREK donor, commented on my instagram “so happy to see people you bring happiness to, celebrate your birthday, and return the happiness.”  Indeed, it is. I am just blessed beyond words – with friends, with loving TREK communities, and with awesome TREK kids.

Come to think of it, it is already ten years of celebrating my birthdays in the mountains.   I really could not think of a better way to celebrate.

There was really a lot to be thankful for that day and a lot of new fond memories. 

Now, when I walk those hanging bridges again, when I stood again atop that unnamed peak (for us it is Mt. Kelly), and when I walk those flower lined trail to Saybuan again, I will have new ones to reminisce.

Trail to Saybuan
View from the Hanging Bridge

Mt. Kelly and Kelly
Happy 10th TREK!

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