In Our Own Little Ways
In the past three years, I have been going up the mountains with a group of young people from my neighborhood in Alabel. What I had in mind when I started was simply to take a break from the arduous tasks of being a teacher (and some other hats I chose to wear). I did not imagine that it was going to lead me to a new vocation.
I have always loved the outdoors. I got it from my active participation in scouting events when I was still a student and from my tree-planting activities in remote sites as a member of Junior Ecologists Movement in high school.
When I learned that the guys in the neighborhood are into mountaineering, I decided to join them. That decision led to my current passion. Our first trekking together was to New Canaan in Brgy. Pagasa, Alabel, Sarangani Province. We heard that there is a beautiful waterfall in that place.
After about two hours of dizzying ride on a motorcycle that just zooms along a winding, rolling dirt road, we started a three-hour trek crossing the river at least 17 times (I lost count) to reach the Atnayan waterfall.
We stayed at New Canaan Integrated School for the night. The PTA president at that time gladly accommodated us. (We also learned that the PTA president also goes to school as an adult learner – he was in second year that time and he has a son who was a year ahead of him.)
I noticed that their library was empty. In a conversation with one of the teachers, we learned that there were only eight of them teaching Grade 1 up to Third Year high school.
And so I wondered, “Not enough teachers, not enough books. How could the students learn well in a situation like this?”
We did that again in the year that followed and we helped their student government establish a plant nursery so they can start their own tree planting activities on their own.
Team BUNDOL Mountaineers (the name of our group) started to take on as an advocacy to help schools in far-flung areas. In the past three years, we have organized delivery of school supplies, feeding, reading and fun games with the kids, and tree planting activities in Nop Primary School, Pongoleel Integrated School, Dacera Integrated School, Purok Acacia Day Care Center, Malapatan Day Care Center, Kiahe Integrated School, and just recently at the annex of Mamanawa Elementary School in Sitio Lanao, Sapu Masla, Malapatan.
Our trek in Sitio Lanao is one of our most memorable so far.
Sitio Lanao is a small community in the hinterlands of Malapatan. We learned about the place from Oliver Tablazon of Hearts and Brains, Inc. (HABI) and Dr. Roel Cagape, who we met at the NGO Conference organized by Sulong Sarangani. It has never been visited by lowlanders as big as our team. I couldn’t believe that until we started our trek. It was very noticeable that all we met along the trail always had someone who walks along with them carrying a firearm.
To reach Sitio Lanao, one has to walk for four to five hours, crossing a river about as many times as we did in New Canaan. It took us longer because we carried sheets of plywood. Those materials were to be used in making tables and chairs for the kids in Sitio Lanao.
The school in Lanao has two adjoined makeshift classrooms about six meters wide and ten meters long. The blackboard they are using is a painted piece of plywood four feet wide and two feet high. I also saw four makeshift school chairs. From the data we obtained from the teachers, we learned that there are 271 kids enrolled there.
One of our companions asked the kids if they know PNoy or their Mayor and they all shook their heads – even their parents. There was no photo of them inside their classroom. But they know Cong. Manny Pacquiao because some of them have t-shirts with his face printed on it.
I have no background in carpentry. I have never built anything other than my science project in high school, which only required stick glue.
All the things I learned about the place and the people of Sitio Lanao, and that whirlwind of emotions I felt upon seeing their situation seemed to give me the strength to swing the saw through the wood and to hit the nails with the hammer.
We have constructed and painted nine tables in a day of working and we left them with materials enough for 21 more tables that the parents have agreed to build.
The materials were bought from the donations given by benevolent organizations and individuals who responded to my post on Facebook.
Our trekking might be very tiring— we often fumble our own pockets for our transportation and food and we are under the sun for long hours, but I am so amazed by the dedication of the members of my team.
Most of them do not have their own income but they never surrendered. They, too, fell in love with helping the needy. If there is a success indicator for what we are doing, it is the happiness that is clearly seen in the faces of my team members in our small talks as we share our boodle fight of sinugbang isda and bagoong after each trek. Seriously, we don’t get anything from what we are doing – only stories we can tell our children in the future.