TREK Paluan: For the Kids of Paluan

July 08, 2019 Voluntourism

“Papasok sila lahat sa Lunes. Kumpleto na school supplies nila,” teacher Jeverly Ambrocio of Sitio Aglimasan in Barangay Harrison, Paluan, Occidental Mindoro, joyously declared as she stood witnessing our group, TRails to Empower Kids (or TREK), turn over backpacks to her hundred or so students. We could see the happiness—not just in her, but in everyone’s faces as well. It was the Saturday before school opened. 

Students of Aglimasan with TREK volunteers

It is common for students in the coastal communities of Paluan, Occidental Mindoro, to miss their first day of school because of lack of school supplies. Sadly, this happens in many impoverished areas, all while their counterparts in other parts of the country are excited to show off their new shoes, bags, and other stuff.

In all my years in organizing these community projects, I have come to realize that coastal communities are among the most impoverished in the country. It is somewhat unthinkable, considering they have access to the bounty of both the mountains and the sea.

It was mid-morning when we started our program. Earlier that day, we decided to split our group of around forty volunteers into different teams so that we could all finish our distribution that day. Teacher Jeverly was with us during our repacking a day before, and we briefly chatted about her school. 

She also traveled with us from Paluan Town proper. The boat ride took us around four hours, but it was much more comfortable than our recon, when we travelled for around five hours on a much smaller boat that was cramped and exposed us to the sun.

I got so curious because her school was clustered with another school, Kalangingan Elementary School. I later found out that her school still doesn’t have a school ID; it is just an extension school of Kalangingan. Before the establishment of this school, the students would walk to Kalangigan, which was quite risky, especially during harsh weather when the seas are rough. If they opted to trek through the mountains, the rocks on the trail are slippery. 

When we got there, we were amused to see that school gate didn’t have walls or barriers. It was literally just a gate. We were even more fascinated when we saw locals who hauled our donations from the boat enter through that gate. 

Some of the backpacks being hauled to the school

TREK volunteers at the school's gate

It was just a sample, though, of the sad state of the school. 

The classroom near the gate was dilapidated. It didn’t have flooring, and portions of its walls had fallen off. The kindergarten students had it worse. They used the porch of one of the rooms as a classroom. 

One of the classrooms of Aglimasan

Anyway, it was a good day, and we brought more than just backpacks, school supplies, slippers, raincoats, and hygiene kits. We also brought them hope. 

While the students were waiting for us to arrange the donations, we passed them envelopes filled with colored pens and white paper so they could do their artwork. The parents were there, helping their kids. They got even more excited when we told them that we had prizes for the best drawing. 

One of volunteers of TREK assisting a student

The excitement was quickly replaced with cheerfulness when we started awarding the prizes, then distributing the things they need for school.

When we finished, the volunteers and I decided to pass by the local waterfalls to cool down. 

When we got back to our base camp after our brief side trip, we were just in time for the trip to three coastal communities that we had chosen to give additional gifts. From what we saw during our recon, these villages were among the most impoverished. We brought them water containers, rice, and new clothes – three of the most important (yet very basic) things that the community members badly need. 

Last year, one of our volunteers also assisted the community by bringing a water hose so they can have convenient access to clean drinking water.

As far as I can remember, it was the first outreach conducted by our group during a school opening. During our early years, we usually scheduled our outreach activities in May and December. I met most of my fellow TREK volunteers May in 2007 and we founded the group December in 2007. But we usually postpone during election season, until we decided to just move our activities to August and December. 

Both these months, however, were not safe for outreaches in coastal communities. So, every now and then, we would schedule summer projects, mostly in early May.

It took us a year to finally decide on the date, and more months to prepare for TREK Paluan. Our recon was conducted summer of 2018, but due to various reasons, we had to keep on postponing. But, thank God for teacher Richard Binagen—he was the one who initially contacted our group, and he was relentless.

Teacher Richard first messaged our group through our Facebook page in 2017. He got to know about us through his common friend with Velle, one of our volunteers who is now based in Dubai. He didn’t stop following up until we scheduled our recon. Even after, he kept on asking for updates. 

Teacher Richard.  Taken during our recon.

When I posted recently about our outreach, I acknowledged Teacher Richard’s persistence. Because of him, our group helped reach five schools in Paluan – Kalansan, Ignonok, Kalangigan, Aglimasan, and Pinagbayanan, plus three pocket communities. I conversed with him recently and he said that he really wanted me to go to Aglimasan to see the state of the school there, hoping we could help further. 

I am just thankful that these communities have someone like Teacher Richard, who took it upon himself to help the community and not just teach. The fact is, taking a teaching job in this faraway community is already a noble act. While teachers before him stayed only for months, Teacher Richard chose to stay. He is actually more than just a teacher to the community. He is a community leader. 

I overheard one of the community members say to our volunteers that during feeding program, the students used to eat with coconut husks, but through Teacher Richard’s efforts, they were able to have proper eating utensils. It was also with the help of Teacher Richard that the classrooms of Pinagbayanan also improved from makeshift rooms to concrete classrooms. 

He is also a harbinger of hope for the other communities near them, like Aglimasan. 

I also asked him about Kalansan, the farthest community from our base camp. It took more than an hour to reach the community. One of our volunteers described the experience as a rollercoaster ride. They reported that the community is also in need of further assistance. 

It was probably same with Ignonok. We weren’t able to visit the community anymore, because our boats cannot dock there, but the teachers managed the distribution.

There is a really a lot more we can do to help these communities, and our group is hoping to do more. I am also confident that more volunteers will join our efforts, especially after we shared our experience, including how the community took care of us and fed us. 

TREK Volunteers

TREK Volunteers with some of the community members

PSBank, our major sponsor

Meantime, we pray that the students will have a good school year.

Other Good Travels