TREK San Jose: Back on the TRails

October 20, 2022 Voluntourism

Everyone who joined thought the same thing: It feels good to be back on the trails, doing what we love doing. 

TREK San Jose was our first trek since the pandemic started. TREK stands for TRails to Empower Kids, an outreach group I co-founded with friends in 2007. For years, we have been going to the farthest and most-difficult-to-reach communities to deliver aid to kids. Each project is called a TREK. 

But since the pandemic happened, we’ve had to find other ways to help. In 2020, we partnered with local organizations to facilitate the purchase and turnover of donations to 13 chosen schools located all over the country. In 2021, we focused our donations on nine schools in Occidental Mindoro. We sourced all donations here in Metro Manila and hauled the donations to Occidental Mindoro. 


While the objective of helping kids was achieved, the project lacked the interaction we usually enjoy with fellow volunteers, kids, and inspiring teachers. We also missed traveling to beautiful places, becoming acquainted with local culture, and sharing food with each other.


So, TREK San Jose was a very much-anticipated project. 


We visited two schools – Bato-ili Elementary School (ES) and Salafay ES. Both schools are in the mountainous area of San Jose in Occidental Mindoro, specifically in Barangay Monte Claro. Both schools were part of our 2020 and 2021 projects, and it was only now that we got to see them.


The project was initiated by the Teacher in Charge of Bato-ili ES, Ma’am Regina Sarabia. She was introduced to the group by Teacher Richard Binagen, who we coordinated with for TREK Paluan. 


Bato-ili would normally not qualify for a TREK outreach because of its road access, but Ma’am Regina’s fervency inspired me. According to her, Bato-ili ES is the front-line school for IP (indigenous people) education in San Jose. Ma’am Regina is in charge of overseeing IP education in the whole of San Jose.


So, when TMF Philippines – a partner of TREK for two years now – approached our group again for a collaboration, I recommended Bato-ili ES. When they approved, we immediately set the date. We chose the second weekend of the National Indigenous Peoples Month.”


Most students at Bato-ili and Salafay are members of the Buhid community, one of the richest cultures in the country. Aside from having its own language, the culture also has its own writing system. 

Mana Mana means Thank you!


Buhid, which literally means “mountain dwellers,” is one of the six Mangyan groups in Mindanao.


Initially, we planned to just give backpacks filled with school supplies and hygiene kits to the 250 students at both schools. But as we continued coordinating with Ma’am Regina, the project got bigger.


First, they requested funding for a makeshift classroom for Bato-ili’s Grade 2 students, who currently just use the stage during their lessons. They also share this stage with Grade 5 students.


Second, we were told we would be introduced to educators from Quianay, Taganop, Lagnas, and Yabat ES. These schools are farther and more difficult to reach; it would take at least eight hours of hiking to access them. 


Despite the pandemic and the rising prices of gas and basic commodities, it was a good thing we were still able to gather enough monetary donations, not just to provide the budget for all the construction materials for Bato-ili’s classroom, but also school supplies for the four additional schools. 


We have been saying this since we started TREK: there is no dearth of individuals, even organizations, who are willing to help.


With all these donations packed in our volunteers’ vehicles, most of us left Manila at 6:00 PM. By 8:00 AM the following day, we were already at a view deck, admiring the majestic Devil’s Mountain of San Jose and taking our souvenir shots.

We proceeded to Bato-ili immediately after. We were tired and without much sleep after more than 12 hours of travel. Good thing the teachers at Bato-ili helped us sort the donations for the six schools. 


After that, the school presented a short program that included cultural presentations by the students, which I think is the best part of any TREK activity. Ma’am Regina, Monte Claro Barangay Captain Von Joseph Ortelano, and Sitio Bato-ili Purok Leader Michael de Jesus gave their speeches. As co-founder of TREK, I also spoke.

Photo with the volunteers and teachers


I also got a thank you gift from Ma'am Regina and Barangay Monte Claro

After the program, we had lunch, which was also prepared by the teachers, and then proceeded to trek to Salafay.

Unloading of donations


I must admit, I was pretty scared of that hike. Aside from being stuck at home without much exercise during the pandemic, I also got infected with COVID, and one of its effects on me was persistent fatigue. Plus, there was a prediction of bad weather and dark clouds at the jump-off point.

But we were blessed with good weather, the walk was shorter than I expected, and the view along the way was awesome. We went through a thicket, walked beside fields, and beheld Devil’s Mountain up close.


The students were already waiting when we got there. And since we were observing safety protocols, we didn’t have a hand over of donations to individual students, like in Bato-ili. 


After taking group pictures, talking to the teachers a bit, and resting a while, we walked back to the jump-off point with lighter loads and happier hearts. 


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