TREK Romblon: Hurray for 15 Years of Empowering Kids

September 06, 2023 Voluntourism

Trails to Empower Kids’ most recent mission, which is part of its 15th-anniversary trilogy, was TREK Romblon. 

The activity benefitted the students of the Layag Cultural Minority School of Sitio Layag, Barangay Taclobo, in San Fernando, Romblon. The school is located on the island of Sibuyan, a popular destination among mountaineers because of Mount Guiting-guiting. The school lies in the same mountain range and our volunteers fondly call it G1. 


We conducted our recon on June 29, 2023. I was still recovering from a recent surgery, so I just joined the trip to Sibuyan but did not climb to the community.


It took our volunteers, who struggled because of the steep and slippery trails, more than four hours to climb. So, we just decided to schedule the outreach during the summer months so that the climb would not be too hard for them.

Recon Team - Doc Jo, Ponga, Uncle Benjie, Ailene, Sir James, Sir Ervin, and Chris

Our group’s mission is to help kids who live in the mountains and other far-flung areas, and we go there ourselves, no matter how far or difficult. But of course, we must balance that out with our volunteers’ safety. 


However, since the school had urgent needs and classes were opening, we decided to do an advance mission on August 28, a day before the opening of schoolyear 2023 – 2024.


Among those urgent needs were construction materials for the classroom, which were really in a sorry state. The classrooms were built in 1975 and have not been renovated ever since. 


We also wanted to help the teachers who attend to students who stay in the school during weekdays. These students live hours away from school, so they just decided to board in the school together with the teachers. They needed food supplies, sleeping mats, and some forms of entertainment like board games and sporting equipment. And, of course, since it was school opening, all the students needed school supplies. 


These students, who are members of the indigenous group Mangyan Sibuyan Tagabukid, have very limited access to these necessities for school. They live very simple lives, mostly relying on farming and mountain guiding, and very often do not have funds to buy these.


So, we gathered funds, rounded up volunteers, and prepared for a day filled with fun and food. Plus, one of our volunteers, a dentist, offered to lead a dental mission. 


We decided to just hold the activities at Taclobo Elementary School, which is located near the jump-off to the trails leading to the school. The students will just go down the mountains at meet us there.

With Principal Mario Romano of Taclobo Elementary School


Initially, we were very worried that the kids would not be able to go down. The weather was so bad, and we did not want to risk their safety. We told the head teacher, Sir James Pantonial, that it was okay if the kids did not attend the activities. In that case, we would just send up the donations.


We had a lot of talks about postponing. First, two typhoons were hovering over the country. Then, Starlite Ferries cancelled their Saturday trips to Sibuyan, which we only found out when we were already at the Batangas Port. 


But we really wanted to conduct this outreach as promised. So, we sailed to Odiongan Port, then traveled by land to San Agustin Port, before boarding the Starhorse Ferry, which sailed us to Sibuyan Island.


The morning of the activities, the kids started arriving early. We were not even ready with their breakfasts yet. Good thing we had leftover porridge for them.


While the kitchen was busy, Doc Jo and Ponga, our volunteers, started gathering the students for the dental mission. They began by teaching the kids how to brush properly. Then, they were all led one by one to our makeshift clinic for check-ups and fluoride.


While these were ongoing, our kitchen team, led by Uncle Benjie, finished preparing their breakfasts – sopas or macaroni soup made with elbow macaroni, various vegetables, and meat. We also had puto or steamed rice cake for them, prepared by the family of Sir James Pantonial. 


Our host, Sir Mario Romano, Principal of Taclobo Elementary School, had a videoke machine set up, which had the parents and students entertained.


By lunchtime, it started to rain, so we led the students to the classrooms and had pancit, adobo, boiled egg, and rice. Each one received a plateful, and most finished. Of course, it was delicious because it was lovingly prepared by our volunteers, who were assisted by the volunteer mothers of the Layag community.

The fun part happened after their meals. 

We asked students to pick their own toys and handed each one a plastic envelope filled with school supplies. Every kid went home smiling.

This is my favorite part of every TREK mission. Those smiles easily wipe away all the exhaustion and stress. It also gives us the strength to pursue this advocacy.


And since we prepared extra sets, we were also able to turn over a few for Taclobo Elementary School.


This mission would not have been a success without our donors and volunteers. We also got a lot of help from the teachers of Layag (Sir Ervin Raras, Ma’am Jonally R. Rutor, and their head, Sir James Dominic Pantonial), Principal Mario R. Romano of Taclobo Elementary School, PNP personnel of 3rd Platoon PMFC Talaba-Substation, and all the volunteer mothers. 


TREK’s 15th Anniversary


Our group’s 15th-anniversary celebration consisted of three parts. We decided to have an outreach in each of the Philippines’ major island groups – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

We held the first outreach last year in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, on the island of Luzon. There, we visited two schools – Bato Ili Elementary School and Salafay Elementary School. 


Our Mindanao leg was held earlier this year, which I was unfortunately unable to join because of the surgery. Our volunteers went to two schools - Keupiyanan Te Balugo – Sitio Bongbong Extension and Panayaban Te Binasalan.


These schools were all beneficiaries of our pandemic program as well, designed to help these schools with their modular learning. 

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