The invitation to represent HAPI and partake in an organized trip to interview and award the sponsorships of student fund for school year 2019 to 2020 by the aloha.org was such a delight as I wanted to know more about the people from ground zero of the last Ompong (Manghut) disaster. Itogon, Benguet have always been known to be a mining area, so landslide occurrence is not a surprise.
The Benguet Volunteers
I was at the Clark International Airport at around 4:45pm looking at the wrong area J then I met Tempi Raziel and Hiromi Takahashi at around 5:30 pm where most Filipino would wait for their relatives, did not expect them to be there J then we rode the bus heading for Baguio City, it was not an easy travel but hey we arrived safely in Baguio City at around past midnight, hailed a Grab taxi bound for # 17 Pointsettia St., Monterrazaz, Tuding, Itogon, Benguet. The home of the Benguet Volunteers from February 21 to March 1, 2019. After meeting the caretaker, DenDen Magpilly our next team mate arrived past 2am. Now we are complete.
Alejo n. Pacalso National Highschool is located in Bua, Itogon, Benguet, this is the only public school in the area and most children of the miners came here to study. As it is a mining area, migrant local miners came to get their hand on the Baguio silver and gold that the area has been known for. The school was the brainchild and the namesake of the then Mayor Alejo N. Pacalso circa 1978. His family donated the area with the initial intention as a vocational collegiate school but was not given the accreditation as Bua, Itogon, Benguet is about forty minutes to Baguio City where most city colleges are located.
Mt Province is pre-dominantly IGOROT, and it is to my understanding that the indigenous community takes pride in being self-sufficient and very industrious people. Self-sufficiency has always been the trade mark of the IGOROTs but the recent events led them to be more receptive and less skeptical with outsiders. The landslide in Ucab, Itogon, Benguet is the location of the ground zero due to incessant rain of Ompong.
Ground Zero in Ucab, Itogon, Benguet is located in the center between two adjoining mountain so no wonder that most people have died during the landslide, whereas the Alejo N. Pacalso National Highschool is strategically located on top of a steep hill in Bua, Itogon, Benguet.
Going to school alone takes a lot of hard work and patience, as most of city dwellers will not understand that some children need to go to the city so that they can go home in the next town. Imagine a straight line, you are already in Point B but you have to go back to Point A so you can eat at Point C. Kudos to the resiliency of these children. I take pride in myself that I do a lot of mountaineering in Central Luzon, but dang, a few days of uphill/downhill walk in Mt. Province just proved that the oxygen in that area is a lot thinner than what I am used to.
From the get go, I was excited to represent HAPI and it was through the invitation of Ms. M to participate with the aloha.org program that makes me wonder what it was about. Series of chats and info are not enough at that time. Being a traveler myself, I wanted to know where, who, what and how to go about the trip, but since I am just a guest and representing HAPI at that time, I have to curve myself and just follow the plan of the group.
All I know is that I have to accompany guest from aloha.org, one American and one Japanese to validate sponsorship of the local student to their prospective sponsors.
As I am listening to the encouraging introduction of Tempi Raziel on his journey in making his project a successful one, made me realize that I am indeed lucky to participate in the project.
As he has said, he had experienced poverty and bullying but it never stopped him from making his dreams a reality. He had sent himself through school by enlisting in the army, after which he had planned to make his foundation a reality. Aloha.org is a culmination of one man’s dream to help a child go to school. His foundation started about 3 years ago helping out impoverished families in Tondo to which he ventured further and have found Benguet to be a good place for his project to take roots. He clearly has resonated, that all monies he was able to collect will all be spent with the chosen students of each sponsor. What made me admire the man was when he said, that the money he will be spending up to the last centavo is not his alone but from all the people who have believed that paying it forward is a lot better than doing nothing.
First world countries does not understand poverty as we do in the Philippines. Hence, looking for donors is not as easy as it was assumed to be. What he wanted was for the students to understand that the aim of the program is paying it forward, the program shall enable a child to study and make good with their lives but also in the hope that after the education given to them they shall also help the foundation to grow by helping the next generation in the school.
A hope was provided by aloha.org to indigent students it will be up to them to make that hope a success so that the next batch will be given a chance to succeed as well.
The task is simple, we have to validate about 860 student to be included in the program. Our team leader, Tempi Raziel will video each student to introduce themselves to their probable sponsors, Hiromi Takahashi is our Japanese Teacher instructing the students on the proper enunciations of Nihongo, DenDen Magpilly and I will be the English tutors.
What we did as volunteers for aloha.org
The task was very educational. We have to divide and conquer as the saying goes. DenDen and I would switch classes to keep students occupied while the others are being prepared for the interview.
Being an inquisitive person, I have literally probed the lives of each Grade 7 to 12 students. Each student has varying hopes, dreams, stresses but all have one thing in common they are depressed over their inability to eke out a living for themselves and family. Their situation is not so different from the lowlanders, but theirs is not a choice. The natural disaster made it for them.
What impressed me the most was their ability to communicate well in English sans grammar and enunciation which made my exercises easier to deal and a lot funnier, I hope. We did converse a lot and it was as eye opening experience for me as I hope to them as well.
They did open their hearts bearing scars of a life so hard for them to fathom and yet so yearning of hope, my experiences were put to shame.
If I was asked again to comeback, and ask what continuing program will I do, I most definitely process each child so that each one of them will understand their emotions and how to face that conflict. Their scars were left with me unintentionally, I think it is what you call transference?