Monday, July 29, 2013

Ifugao Outreach

by Ivan Ignacio

The BACKPACKERS and Guests woke up that morning feeling blessed and refreshed from the tiresome hike the day before. This was no ordinary morning for us as we knew that we would be affecting the hearts of the simple but beautiful community on top of Mt. Humalophop. The locals  especially the teachers were already touched upon seeing our arrival in their elementary school. They could not believe that people still care - I mean, they've been living their humble lives for years and did not catch a glimpse of any tourists or visitors of some sort in the area. The only support they witnessed was two years ago when PNP conducted a medical mission in the school, estimated to be a thousand meters above the ground.


The kids arrived in their school one by one. The wary looks on their faces explained that they were surprised in seeing strangers scattered in their playground. The BACKPACKERS and Guests took this idle time to mingle and play with the kids. BPs Angel, Jovy and Ralph played with the kids on stage. The children's song echoed the simplicity of the lives on top of the mountain. It goes something like this: "I love the mountains, I love the fishermen, I love the moonlight in the dark of night..." (to the tune of Sasara ang Bulaklak) And of course, who wouldn't let this pass without taking a souvenir photo of the adorable kids around!

Adorable Humalophop kids

The program started and the kids lined up per grade level for the flag ceremony. That was a cool morning as I haven't attended such since I graduated from high school I think. It's cool to note that the patriotic oath (Panatang Makabayan) was changed, at least in some of its lines. I suddenly missed my alma mater and my student years when life was just carefree and fun. 

Morning flag ceremony
After the flag ceremony, I took over the stage to briefly discuss the steps on how the event came into fruition. I also introduced our group, The BACKPACKERS and the other institutions that helped hand in hand for this project. BP Vice Ralph presented our gifts for the school of Humalophop - teaching kits, board games and books. Then, the much awaited portion: the gift giving for the kids. To ease up the task a bit, we grouped ourselves in three stations: station for the school supplies from National Bookstore, station for the goodies from The BACKPACKERS and the last station is for the slippers from Ka Eskwela. Events like this are best shared with the people you love and who share the same passion. I am very proud of my colleagues as they were very happy, sincere and enthusiastic in assisting the children. Smiles, laughter and love filled the halls and grounds of the school. Opportunities like this do not knock everyday in our doors. I can not describe vividly the feeling, but I can assure you, it was PRICELESS.

I had two defining moments during our outreach in Mt. Humalophop elementary school which up to now, still give me that sense of fulfillment and almost a tear in my eye. The first would be the sight of this female local, carrying a baby on a knitted fabric wrapped around her belly up to her right shoulder. I can still remember that look of respect and gratefulness as she approached the members of the team to give thanks for coming into their community. I remembered her reaching out her hand and flashing that simple smile. She had difficulty of not speaking in her native tongue. She uttered a calm Thank You while holding my hand and she had these other gestures of praise and being thankful. If I was able to understand her, I'm sure the conversation would have been longer. But I assured her that I appreciated her gestures even though she had difficulty of articulating it to something that we both would understand. Love is indeed the universal language which can unite people's differences.

So we were done giving out the gifts from The BACKPACKERS, KaEskwela and National Bookstore. We were ready to pack things up with light hearts and optimistic spirits when a teacher asked if we would like to hear a song prepared by the kids for us. And this my friends is my second defining moment that gives me chills whenever I reminisce this part of the experience. The children lined up and started singing. They were singing a thank you song in their native language first. And then it hit me when I heard the familiar phrase 'salamat po' sung by the innocent and sweet voices of the Ifugao kids. The song went on in different languages. When I turned my head around, I saw a lot of my companions crying, some staring while projecting that affectionate smile. Mommy Weng who was in tears hugged me as we both listened to the rest of the tune. Guest Rexie had his right hand perpendicular to his body as he was videotaping the kid's number. His other hand was used for wiping his tears on his eyes! As what you have read in the first paragraph of this article, we were excited for this day because we knew we would be touching the hearts of the kids in Humalophop. What we did not expect was that this activity would affect us more as persons and guests in their simple community. This was a day that I, and I'm pretty sure most of the Humalophop team, will forever remember and cherish. 

Some of the Humalophop kids singing the moving Thank You Song


Six people sort of got lost on the way down. Instead of getting back at the jump off point, they missed a turn on a fork and trudged the path to one of the target schools: Mompolia Elementary School. And it was a blessing in disguise as it was almost end-of-school when we arrived at the jump off point. They were able to share the gifts in one of our target school which is located near the jump off point at Brgy. Mompolia.

Rexie, Liz, Aaron, Jovy, Angel and April got 'lost' on the way down
to find themselves at Mompolia Elementary School
Angel, April, Liz, Jovy, Rexie and Aaron were the six fortunate souls who were able to give love in three elementary schools (third being the next one: Hingyon CS). They were welcomed warmly by the teachers and students of Mompolia Elementary School. Food was served and a program was prepared for them. The children were very enthusiastic in entertaining the five lucky people. BP Jovy took charge of the small team and introduced the group and a brief history of the activity to the faculty and kids of Mompolia ES. Then, smiles and love were all around the place as the six ambassadors distributed the gifts to the kids of the school.

The kids of Mompolia's presentation


All of us convened at the Hingyon Central School for the ethnic ensemble. Miss Ermie and the faculty were anxiously waiting for us. They got worried because of the six people who they thought got lost on our way down. Apparently, they were sent by an angel to spread love in Mompolia ES before being regrouped with us at Hingyon CS. Upon our arrival, we were served a delicious late lunch - such hospitality from our Ifugao brothers and sisters that we adored and loved. We were never pampered like this before in an outdoor event.

late lunch at Hingyon Central School
The program started with a presentation from the natives of Ifugao who performed Hudhud. Hudhud is a dance, sort of a chant of the Ifugaos during the harvesting of rice, wedding, funeral wakes and other rituals. It was SPECTACULAR. We were blessed to witness it right before our very eyes. As what I realized that time, I have only read about it in books way back in my elementary years. I did not expect that I would have a first hand experience of the customary dance. Fifteen years after I wrote Hudhud in an identification quiz or Social Studies examination, I was able to actually see it, oh yeah!

The Hudhud performers

Then it was the locals' time to dance. It was so cool to see policemen, teachers, elderly and children gathered together on stage and performed some of their unique dances. But wait there's more... They started to invite The BACKPACKERS and friends to join them on stage! That was one of the highlights of the program for our team. It's not everyday that you'll get the chance to dance with the native Ifugaos IN Ifugao. So a lot of us, including me, grabbed that opportunity and just had fun all throughout.

The locals' ethnic dance
The BACKPACKERS join the dance floor
Then there were several speeches from notable speakers. And there were parts of the program that moved me. One of the lines that truly moved me: "You could have just sent the gifts here but you came with the gifts. For us, you are the angels brought by the heavens above to spread smiles and love here in our town."

"You could have just stacked the boxes and packages on a bus and have them delievered, then we catch them here; but, what made it so special is that you, The BACKPACKERS and KaEskwela, went all the way here to personally hand them over," Ms. Gloria Buya-ao, OIC Assistant Schools Division Superintendent of Ifugao DepED Division.

"You are the first group who showed concern to the schools in Ifugao and we will be forever grateful." Mr. Anthony Gallangi, District Supervisor, DepED Hingyon District.

Gen of KaEskwela (left) and the DepEd officials

When Miss Ermie took charge of the microphone, we were all out support in cheering her. We've grown to love her during our stay in Ifugao, and her famous "Ten minutes" line. Her speech was long but we would tend to joke around saying, "Miss Ermie, you only have ten minutes left for your speech". All of these were collective efforts of all the organization that made it possible but the brain of the activity is this person, Miss Ermie Bahatan, a good Samaritan, and a friend. Kudos, Miss Ermie!

We donated sports equipment and school supplies at the Hingyon CS. In return of all these, the people in Hingyon, Ifugao handed each of us a bounty of newly harvested native rice. The bits of rice represent the hardwork of our Ifugao brothers and sisters in planting in the rice terraces, the simplicity of their lives and the hope of the future of the children in their communities.

I am lost for words in providing a very good conclusion to what has been an inspiring activity that was drawn from the efforts of friends, donors, colleagues and partner organizations. All I can say is that this is probably the adventure with the most worthy cause this year. I love Ifugao, especially Hingyon, and I swear I will be coming back.

We had so much fun in Ifugao!

The BACKPACKERS' Ifugao Series

(3) Project Ifugao: Sending Love to Even Greater Heights

Photo credits:
Liz, Marion and King

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