TREK Romblon: In the Heart of the Layag Community

June 04, 2024 Voluntourism

I love the trail. Whenever I am able, I join the outreach of TRails to Empower Kids (TREK), a group I co-founded 17 years ago to support children living in the mountains. 

So even though I felt somewhat unprepared, I couldn’t pass up the chance to join TREK’s latest expedition to Romblon. What is typically a two-hour hike for locals and a four-hour trek for seasoned hikers stretched into a six-hour journey for our group.


The intense heat of the sun made the hike particularly tough, but the companionship of my fellow volunteers made the challenging trek bearable and even enjoyable at times.

Our destination was the Layag Cultural Minority Schools in Sitio Layag, Barangay Taclobo, San Fernando, Romblon, nestled on Sibuyan Island, a favorite among mountaineers due to Mount Guiting-Guiting. The students here belong to the Mangyan Sibuyan Tagabukid indigenous group, with very limited access to educational supplies.


Our initial visit to the school was on June 29, 2023. I was recovering from surgery then, so I stayed at the jump-off point. We returned on August 28, just before the 2023-2024 school year began. With unfavorable weather for hiking, we met the kids and community at Taclobo Elementary School, near the jump-off point, where we provided school supplies and conducted a dental mission.


Since then, thanks to our donors, we’ve been helping repair the school’s classrooms, which haven’t seen improvements since they were built in 1975. 


The Climb


We set off on the morning of Saturday, April 27. I boarded a bus at SM Megamall with two other volunteers, Sir Rey and Ailene, and we met the rest of the group at Batangas Port for an overnight ferry to Sibuyan Island. The smooth sail and calm sea allowed us all to have a restful sleep.


Early the next morning, before dawn, we arrived at Ambulong port in Magdiwang, Sibuyan Island. From there, it was over an hour’s drive to San Fernando, where the jump-off to Sitio Layag is located.


At Sir James’s house, the head of the school, we met community members who would help us haul donations up the mountains and teachers who would accompany us. We chose the longer but less steep trail among several options.


The lengthy trek, with much of the path exposed to the sun, was taxing. Volunteers who had visited the school before suggested taking the steeper but shorter trail on our way back. We arrived at the school by mid-afternoon.


The Outreach


As soon as we arrived, everyone got to work. The kitchen team, with help from community members, started preparing dinner for the volunteers, teachers, students, and some community members.


Some students and teachers stay at the school because they live far away. That’s why we donate sleeping mats, blankets, clothes, and food to the school. While the kitchen was busy, we organized the donations for the turnover scheduled for the next day.


Tired from the hike, most of us turned in early. The next day, we were up early, recharged, and started preparing. Some volunteers helped with breakfast and lunch, some organized donations, and others interacted with the kids.

Because only a few volunteers signed up for this outreach due to the location and duration, our turnover was simpler but still fun. Even the parents and other community members enjoyed and became part of the whole festivities.


We started with games, followed by the distribution of clothes, underwear, slippers, toys, loot bags, sporting goods, and other goodies for the kids. We also had special gifts for the school’s swimming team, which has been winning awards in competitions, and for students who stay at the school.


We also provided them with flashlights to assist them, especially during night treks, and whistles for emergencies.

Since it wasn’t our first time interacting with the kids, there was already a sense of familiarity, making our interaction even more enjoyable. 


After lunch, we began our descent using the shorter trail, which was steeper and included more river crossings, offering us different views.


One of the kids, Manuel, even took it upon himself to meet me at the river crossings to guide me, making sure I stepped on stable rocks and saw me off at the jump-off. We had ice cream afterward.


The Side Trip


We take voluntourism to heart. Before heading back home, we visited another famed attraction on Sibuyan Island, Cresta de Gallo. We had been eyeing this island famous for its sandbar since our first visit, and the weather finally permitted us to enjoy it.


The side trip was fantastic, allowing all the volunteers to continue bonding, reminisce about previous climbs, and discuss future projects. 

Cresta de Gallo’s pristine white sandy beaches and emerald-green waters provided the perfect backdrop for these conversations.

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