Voluntourism Philippines.

Finding Meaning in Climbing Mountains

Meet John Rex Jardinero, one of the volunteers of Trails to Empower Kids (TREK).
When John Rex Jardinero joined Trails to Empower Kids (TREK) in 2015 in its Kalinga expedition, he had no idea that he will endure 17 hours of mountain climbing coupled with river and bridge crossing.

But instead of grumbling or giving up, Jardinero decided to view the challenging excursion as a cathartic moment as a volunteer.

“It took us 17 hours to get to our host school but we were re-charged immediately upon seeing the energy, excitement, and joy of the community. The experience was life-changing so I immediately wanted to become a member and be actively involved in the organization,” he says.
Jardinero playfully pats a child's head during one of the TREK games.
Helping Others

Jardinero is not new to community service. Back in his home province of Palawan, he was a student and community leader.

Although he is now based in Manila, Jardinero still chose a career that leans heavily on helping and providing ways to provide better services to others.

“I work for a local bank as its Customer Engagement Manager. Our mandate is to find gaps in how the branches handle our customers. Then we would devise intervention programs and implement them, together with the branch personnel themselves,” he shares.

Drawing a parallel between his day job and volunteer work, he says, “I find it very similar to what we do at TREK which is focused on enriching the lives of the communities through empowerment. We involve beneficiaries in all stages from planning, implementation, monitoring and follow-through after the outreach," he says.

Participation as a TREK Volunteer

Jardinero shares that in the Kalinga expedition, he spearheaded the kids’ activities. But he says that he is planning to do more for TREK as the group marks its tenth anniversary in 2017.
Jardinero playing with the children during TREK Calintaan.
 Next year, TREK plans to implement a ten-month outreach program that involves past beneficiaries.

“I hosted TREK programs and helped facilitate the games for the kids-beneficiaries during the outreach. For the 10th year, I am in talks with singer-songwriter friends for a mini-benefit concert to raise funds for the #10For10th communities we will be visiting or re-visiting,” he says.

Slated for December 10, the gig will also be his pre-birthday celebration for a cause in partnership with the League of Authors of Public Interest Songs (LAPIS).

Also in the works is a collaboration with his singer-songwriter colleagues to come up with the TREK’s theme song.

“Hopefully, we will be able to complete it by next year to serve as our tribute to TREK, the volunteers, and the communities for the tenth year,” he says.

His other contributions to TREK include telling stories of inspiration to his friends and family and spurring them to participate.

“During free time, I share how TREK brings out the best in people– the partner-community residents and the volunteers,” he says.

“I'm also encouraging more friends and family members to help in any or all of the ten communities we will partner with next year by donating, finding sponsors and volunteering to join the actual outreach programs,” Jardinero adds.

On the Meaning of Community Service

When asked to give his two cents about volunteer work, Jardinero says that one must be willing to address the needs of the communities.

“There are so many communities that need assistance– find a way to help them. You may join TREK or any other volunteer organization,” he says.

He also says that volunteers have to connect with the people in the community and not just to take in the sights.

“When you visit a place in the Philippines or elsewhere, don’t just be amazed by its beauty, get to know its people especially the indigenous folks. Listen to their stories, their aspirations, and their dreams,” he says. “You may be able to help in the realization of these dreams by simply sharing their stories.”
Jardinero (rightmost) doing the Kalinga's traditional dance.
Lastly, he says every volunteer should not forget the real purpose of the “heartwork” they do– which is to serve others.

“It’s never about your personal fulfillment or satisfaction. It’s how the community, the leaders, the parents and the kids will be empowered and move forward, after you partner with them,” he says.

He adds: “When you do volunteer work, never think of what you will get from doing it– always have the community’s welfare in mind. I think that’s what TREK is all about and that’s what keeps the most selfless volunteers behind it going nine years after partnering with the first community.”
Jardinero (third from left) smiles for the camera with other TREK members before giving away slippers and school supplies to the beneficiaries in Kalinga.
Photos taken by: Alain Carrascal, June Jaroz, Reynaldo Canlas, and Rod Aldueza.

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