TREK Donsol: Kindness Everywhere

October 14, 2018 Voluntourism

For most people, the image that comes to mind when thinking of Donsol in Sorsogon is whale sharks. Tourists flock to this seaside municipality to swim with these gentle giants. 

For me, however, Donsol is two things. It is the home of hero teacher Ryan Homan, who through his creative ways transformed his community into a haven for readers. It is also the site where new memories of kindness were built, for me and my fellow TRails to Empower Kids volunteers.

I met Teacher Ryan three years ago when I interviewed him for the annual recognition for inspiring educators of Diwa Learning Systems and the Bato Balani Foundation, called “The Many Faces of the Teacher.”

He mentioned that he used to teach in the mountains, and since I was also very much involved in this advocacy of helping kids in remote areas, I got very interested. I wanted to check the communities and see if they needed help, but our group was already gearing up for our 10thanniversary and we decided to do commemorate that milestone by going back to ten of our partner communities.

Earlier this year, we visited a community in Paluan in Occidental Mindoro, and we decided to schedule them for our annual August outreach. But, because of logistical concerns, we had to postpone. I remembered Donsol, so I asked fellow volunteers to go there for a recon.

The team went to Bandi and Old Maguisa, accompanied by Teacher Randy. 

One of the recon team members, Ujin, who is currently the our group’s president, recalled how hospitable the people were. They were tired after the long travel from Manila and the hike, and they just asked for a glass of water. They did not only give them a drink, they also fed them. 

That moved our recon team to recommend both communities for an outreach. They talked to three kids in Old Maguisa and vowed to return with the gifts they requested. Buboy asked for a new bag and school supplies; Jeneth solicited help in building their school’s feeding room; and Issa relayed her dream of becoming a teacher. Well, maybe except for that last request.

Jeneth during the turnover program
We spent months raising funds for the project. We’ve always said that there is no dearth of people who want to help. We were not wrong. We gathered enough to help in the construction of the feeding room of Old Maguisa; buy not only new backpacks and school supplies, but also new Duralite slippers, raincoats, hygiene kids, and art sets for the kids; and even start a reading corner for one of the schools.

We scheduled the turnover for the third week of August, which was a long weekend. We left Manila Friday evening, and by mid-afternoon the next day, we were already in Donsol. Teacher Ryan met us at the jump-off point, where several boats were waiting to transport us further upriver so that our hike would be shorter.

The first community we visited was Bandi. We had an advance team in place, so the turn-over program had already started by the time we arrived.

We did our usual set of activities, including games, making artwork, and awarding prizes! We wanted to spend more time with the kids, but we still had to trek to Old Maguisa and it was already late afternoon.

Night fell while we were still on the trails to Old Maguisa. It was a cooler trek, though. 

When we arrived at Old Maguisa, we were also treated to Old Maguisa’s hospitality, just as our recon team had been.

They relayed how they were both excited and anxious at the same time. They were excited because they were used to seeing these kinds gestures on television, but they never imagined it happening to them. They were also anxious because it was the first time they had received visitors like us, and given the simplicity of their lives, they did not know how to prepare.

We actually do not expect the communities we visit to prepare anything for us. We usually come prepared or self-sustained, as mountaineers would describe it. But we also really appreciate tasting local meals. Suffice to say, we were all delighted—especially me!

We spent the night at Old Maguisa and the following day, we were up early to prepare for the program.

Our volunteers each had their own task to do. Some helped in the kitchen to prepare for the feeding program, some helped set-up the reading corner, and some helped repack our donations. 


By mid-morning, we started our turnover ceremonies. The school had their own program prepared. The barangay officials gave their welcome remarks, the kids danced, and the teachers and PTA members took turns in giving speeches.

In every program prepared by the communities of TREK, there is always that one moment that make us cry. It can be a song sang by the kids or the hugs by the members of the community. Oftentimes, it is the speeches. This time, it was Nanay Maricar’s speech that brought tears to our eyes.

She said,“Ang pangarap ng aming mga anak, pangarap din po naming mga magulang. Sabi nyo po, hindi nyo kayang ibigay yung pangarap ng isang bata na maging teacher. Pero kanina po, naisip ko naibigay nyo na po. Eton a po yung pagsisimula ng pangarap ng isang bata.” (Our children’s dreams are our dreams. You said that you cannot give the wish of one of the kids to be a teacher. But, I thought, you already did. This is already the start of the kids’ dreams).

Truth is, I know that what we give the communities is not enough, and I am aware that some may consider what we do unsustainable. But, Nanay Maricar affirmed us, and I am grateful.

The donations we leave will run out. Those we built will eventually give in to wear and tear. But, I am confident that the kindness we showed will leave a mark, and the inspiration will stay. 

Actually, even the thought that for one school year, the mothers wouldn’t have to worry about providing for the needs of their kids were enough for us to keep on pursuing this mission.

I remember that Nanay Maricar also said, “Pag bibili po kami ng gamit, yung binibili po namin, nakakaagaw po yon sa pagkain.” (If we buy things, we get it from the funds we allocate for food.)

After the programs, we got to taste more of the community’s cooking. I was again awed by the warmth of the people of Old Maguisa. Despite their humble circumstances, they still managed to treat us to such feast. 

After eating, we headed back to the trails both with our tummies and our hearts full.

Other Good Travels