By ROD ASURIN
On the second project visit of the Cordillera Disaster Responds and Development Services (CorDis RDS) in Oling, a far-flung village of Itogon, Benguet settled at the brow of the mountains scarce of trees, the team composed of seven persons had to prepare their muscles and stable feet for the long trek, everyone had loaded their backpacks with bottles of water to avoid being dehydrated along the way on this sizzling hike.
It was my first time to join in community work since I began with CorDis RDS, and I have had no idea what it was like to be working in the field and I was eager to find out. As the team set out in the morning, I was told by one from the team that I have to bring a jacket since the climate there, he said, was really cold. I doubted him because I had been hearing from other officemates that the weather there this summer would be like that of Tabuk in Kalinga that was too hot. I saw no seriousness in his face as he told me that, so I thought he must be kidding me.
We brought not only clothes since this was not simply an adventure but community work with the intention to help communities, who were deprived of basic services, with things we can do to help them address their struggles. My teammates had to carry their laptops and all that were needed, and finally we were on our way to the said village.
We arrived in a community where the road ended, and we had to walk a mile to reach the foot of the mountain and started to climb. We passed by the Agno river, shimmering in the light of the afternoon sun, it lured the eyes enough to make me plunge into its waters to ease the scorching temperature.
Looking at the mountains, I noticed it was sparse of trees so that the red soil can be seen through the vegetation. You could see only a few green trees near the river bank where houses were scattered.
On our way, one of the village folk met us with his mare and graciously offered to help with some of our baggage for his horse to carry. The ladies were so grateful and started to enjoy their walk unhampered by the burden, but that only lasted a few minutes as we began the arduous hike up the dusty trail with no trees that could possibly have given us shade from the searing sun.
Much to my desire to reach the community, I surrendered as the others had. My feet could no longer make it further through the next stretch of the trail, but this was what a community worker is like, I must overcome every obstacle and be courageous to reach and be of help to the masses.
Halfway on the trail, I laid down on the now brown grass while the others searched where they could hide from the sun. I wondered why these people opted to live in a place that was so remote to civilization when they could have had occupied the wide land down the valley long ago? There must have been some compelling reason, I thought.
When we arrived at our destination in the late afternoon, we were received at the teachers’ quarters in school and all we wanted to do was to lay on our back, but we couldn’t do it because we had to prepare for tomorrow’s activity, so we rummaged through our bags and fixed all things needed. The teachers welcomed us with big smiles and prepared our dinner while some of them helped us with the preparations for tomorrow.
At night, we slept inside the school building and it begun to get cold. The day was indeed very hot but the night was shrilling cold, only then I realized that my teammate was right when he told me I must get a jacket, but it is too late now to even think of it. I had no choice but to bear the cold all night.
In the morning, I was surprised to see and feel how tranquil the village was. The cold morning breeze against my face blew in a very fresh and invigorating scent, drawing away all the stress gathered from the long trek we had yesterday. The village had more trees than the rest of the land.
The villagers had started coming in as we began the program with giving the orientation about the small scale project in their community. Village folk attentively participated in discussions and bared out many common problems in their community including the long distance from urban centers to their community, how they were badly affected by typhoon Lawin which left great devastation to their source of livelihood and how the government was dawdling with the release of the cash reliefs for typhoon victims.
In the kitchen, while we were preparing for lunch, one of the old folks I talked to and asked about how they came to this place struggled to recall that their roots were not in this village, they were laborers who used to work on the other side of the mountain and they decided to just settle in the place with their families. He said there were only four families before and now they have increased ten fold.
I asked about when they had settled here in this place, he said it was during the Japanese time (2nd world war) and the Japanese soldiers even crossed their village at times. He also said, though the soil was barren then, they somehow managed to live here.
He said some vegetables like cabbage can grow on the brown soil which they had for food and the water supply was just enough for the villagers and their gardens.
I just could not imagine what they would do in times of emergencies like sickness or women giving birth, how could they possibly rush him or her to the hospital in that long strenuous trail to hike? And if my mind served me right, it was about six hours hike.
I asked him of my concerns, and he said pregnant women would rent a boarding house in Baguio City while waiting for their time to give birth and then go back home after. He also said there were cases of sick village folk who were brought to the hospital. They were brought on a make-shift hammock of a blanket secured on bamboo poles carried by the men on foot to the town hospital. He said it took them only an hour to hike down the trail because they were used to it.
In the meeting with us to help at facilitation, the community had identified priority problems in their school. With them we discussed the project management process and on their own, the community drew their implementation plans. They were united to implement the project through bayanihan, a system of voluntary and shared work, to maximize the project budget to afford for as many materials the project may need.
Seeing the difference from other development projects, the CorDis RDS encouraged the practice of bayanihan in all their projects because they believed in developing the community’s self-reliance, and projects like this should rather tighten community unity than inflict misunderstanding or conflict between community members.
It was then getting dark, and we knew we were going to set off tomorrow morning so we had to put our things together. In the morning, we leave before the sun rises so we do not get beaten up again by the sweltering heat. The sun could catch up at midway but at least we would not be as severely roasted as when we first came.
At last, I learned both the gladness (the joy) and the difficulties of being a community worker and the struggle of people in a remote community similar to many communities in the region. I must say, courage, endurance, teamwork and good community relations are all components for a virtuous community worker.#nordis.net