TREK Tanudan!! Hope Rising

January 12, 2019 Voluntourism

In 2017, our group, TRails to Empower Kids, or TREK, celebrated its 10thanniversary by going back to re-visit ten of our partner communities.  

Choosing the ten communities we wanted to include in the project, which we called ‘#trek10for10’, was very difficult. In fact, there were many communities we wanted to include that we couldn’t, but we felt even as many as ten would be a bit ambitious for us. However, in the end, with God’s grace, we successfully conducted all ten outreach activities.

One of the communities we sadly could not include was Lubo, which is located in Tanudan, Kalinga. Whenever people ask me to name my most memorable TREK experience, I would always have to include Lubo on the list. I fondly remember the hospitality of the people there, their rich culture, and, of course, their coffee. I am quite sure many of our volunteers would agree with me.  

Lubo was also the venue we chose for our group to celebrate our 1stanniversary.

We were planning our 11thAnniversary outreach when photos of Lubo Elementary School submerged in flood water, with captions calling for help, filled our news feeds. The nearby Tanudan River had swelled and broken over its banks, inundating the whole school with flood-water. Fortunately, the community itself sits on a mountain side, so that, at least, was spared.  

Tanudan River, Lubo Elementary School, and the community as seen from the trail
It was heartbreaking. We couldn’t imagine how the school would rise again after such a disastrous event. Though it was difficult to recreate all they had lost, we figured we could, at least, try to help them to get back on their feet. So, we decided to hold our 11thanniversary project there, exactly ten years after our first Lubo outreach.  

With the help of friends from Kalinga, we were able to secure an initial list of items the school needed. The list included science equipment like a torso, microscopes, cylinders, etc.; sports equipment, including shot put, javelins, basketballs, volleyballs, etc.; materials for blackboards and simple repairs inside the school; and, of course, the usual books, school supplies, etc.

It was easy for us to gather donations. People wanted to help. A lot of volunteers signed up, not just to help in the turnover program, but also with the preparations which included marketing, packing, collecting donations, etc. With lots of help from our friends in Kalinga, organizing the turnover program was also not that difficult. 

So, we organized everything quite well, and we were in high spirits when we headed for Kalinga.  

I had gone eon ahead with the first batch of volunteers. We had errands to complete in Tabuk, mostly buying food and construction materials. We had not expected to finish late, so we also arrived late at the jump-off point. It was already dark when we got there and it was a good thing some of the locals were still waiting for us.

When we actually started trekking, reality quickly set in.

What I had remembered as being an easy trek turned out to be very challenging because of the number of landslides we had to cross. It didn’t help that we couldn’t see much, and were all too aware of the sound of rocks falling down into the unknown around us as we moved.

When we arrived at the school, we were welcomed by the teachers and some members of the community. Among them was Teacher Mhay Tombali, who had been the one who had posted the photo of the school after it had been hit by Typhoon Rosita.

Over coffee, Teacher Mhay shared with us what happened. She said the flood had risen so fast, they did not have time to save anything. Mud had filled the classrooms and they had only just finished sweeping it away. There was no trace of stress in her voice, but we could feel her, and the community’s, loss.  

We were lucky, two classrooms had been spared, so we used them as sleeping quarters. The rest – the comfort rooms (some of which had been donated by our group), the stage, and the other classrooms were either damaged or had been washed away.  

Teacher Mhay told us they were currently holding classes in the community on the mountain side, but the kids were already longing to get back to their school.

Seeing it for myself the following day when I woke up, was nothing short of heartbreaking. I woke early, before dawn, which was quite unusual for me. It was still very quiet; the volunteers and the students yet having to arrive.  

I remember how the school grounds had once been – the stage where we had sat and watched and listened to all those beautiful songs and dances performed by the students, teachers, and parents from sun-up to sun-down; the rest of the classrooms, which had been used as mess halls and sleeping areas during our first outreach. And all those happy faces, eager to welcome us.

It was so sad that we had to return to see the current condition of the school, but, nevertheless, we were determined to make it a happy day for the kids, and we also wanted our volunteers to experience the joy we had felt when we first visited Lubo.

And again, with God’s grace, that was what happened.

For one whole afternoon we made nothing but wonderful memories. After lunch, the kids gathered in groups with a volunteer from TREK to create artworks.  Some of them drew their dreams, some their homes, and a few drew the devastation that had been caused by Typhoon Rosita.

After that session, the school and barangay officials opened the program. They took turns to welcome us, expressing their appreciation of the group’s efforts to help.  

Despite the fact that they were still reeling from the effects of Typhoon Rosita, they managed to stay cheerful. In fact, it was almost like the typhoon had never happened judging from the dancing that took place after the opening speeches.

The students, teachers, and parents took turns to perform their traditional dances. Though the sounds of the gongs, the steps, and the costumes were all familiar, it was as if I was watching them again for the first time. I had the same feeling of awe, respect, and gratitude for their generosity in sharing their culture with us, especially at a time like that.  

Later, it was our turn to give back.  We started by giving rewards for the excellence of the artworks, then we presented each student with their own backpack filled with school supplies, hygiene kits, raincoats, coloring books, and other surprises. We gave the other donations to the teachers later.  

By the time we had finished, it was getting dark and the kids had to trek back to the community. Some of the parents and teachers stayed, and we continued the merriment.  

We bade everyone farewell the following day in the hope that, soon, their school would again be ready to welcome back its students.

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