Voluntourism Philippines.

Sharing Life With the Mangyans of Calintaan

Isolation is a problem faced by the indigenous peoples (IP) in the country.

An example are the Taubuid Mangyans who live in Calintaan, a municipality of Occidental Mindoro. Living in the backwoods means the tribe hardly gets to interact with visitors. They have limited access to commodities.

But recently a group of volunteers reached out to the community. The members of Trails to Empower Kids (TREK) and representatives from the Sorosoro Ibaba Development Cooperative (SIDC) brought boxes filled with shoes, hygiene kits, and school materials.

A little Mangyan boy happily clutches all the donated items he received from TREK and SIDC representatives.
TREK is a group composed mostly of mountain climbers from different organizations. Their advocacy is to help kids and communities who live in the mountains or other isolated areas. The organization is now in its 10th year.

These were distributed in the area’s Balangabong Elementary School-Ulango Extension and its main branch, the Balangabong Elementary School. They were the first visitors of the Taubuid Mangyans this year.

Jheigh Ann Odi, a representative from SIDC, said the experience was overwhelming. She said that it was her first time to provide community service to the Mangyans.

It was not an easy climb what with the rain and rough roads. But her fatigue ebbed upon seeing their journey’s end.
The Mangyan kids write a letter of thanks to their benefactors.
“Everyone in our team was excited on our way to the location. We felt challenged because we know that we will be needing energies going up carrying the packages for the kids. Felt relief when we saw the small community, meaning we reached our destination,” she enthused.

The Mangyans were all too happy to share their culture with dance and song numbers. Odi said that despite the language barrier, happiness of the tribes people was evident.

The Mangyans render a special number for the guests.
The feeling is mutual for the giver and the receiver. “Our hearts were happy too because we felt the joy painted on their faces. It’s a different feeling,” Odi shared.

About the Taubuid Mangyans

It was roughly five years ago when the conservative ethnic group decided to move to the lowland areas after a native clergyman reached out to them. Upon their request, the local government built the Balangabong Elementary School-Ulango Extension. Currently, the school only has three teachers.
Anna Pangalangan Anna Pangalangan Author

Smokey Tours: Seeing the Other Side of Manila

Vacationers often devote loads of time for rest and relaxation. But for the curious travellers who want an eye-opening immersion, slum tourism provides a unique opportunity to safely explore deprived neighborhoods and interact with its dwellers.

Slum tourism has been around since the nineteenth century. At present, the special tour is offered in countries such as South Africa, India, and Brazil, to name a few.

In the Philippines, there is “Smokey Tours,” which is a project of World Experience Philippines, Corp, a duly registered non-government organization in the Philippines founded by Juliette Kwee.

Silhouettes of a child and a man standing on one of the corridors in Happyland in Tondo, Manila. Photo by Jay Yao Campos.
This special tour seeks to raise awareness about social issues, inspire individuals to bring about societal change, and bridge the gap between people from different backgrounds.

The proceeds of the operations are used to improve the living conditions in various shantytowns.

Connecting Two Worlds

The Dutch psychologist who has been living in the Philippines since 2008 says that she is not new to volunteer activities. But she felt something stir within her during her first visit to Smokey Mountain, a poverty stricken area located in Tondo, Manila.

Kwee could not help but notice the difference between Smokey Mountain and its neighboring area, Makati City.

Kwee shares, “I went to Smokey Mountain and I was so touched by the community. But I also sometimes go to this posh park in Makati and I was shocked. It’s only half an hour from each other. I started thinking, ‘how can we connect this two worlds?’”

“Smokey Tours” takes travellers to Barangay 105 Happyland, a temporary housing resettlement in Tondo, Manila. Photo by Jay Yao Campos.
Kwee knew she has to use a tool that will appeal to Filipinos from all walks of life.

She concluded: “What do Filipinos like? Filipinos like taking photos. We organized a photowalk and called some photographers to take photos of the children and to show the resiliency of the community.”

The photos, which were put up in an exhibition, sent a powerful message that one could be happy without material things as long there is love, food, and the opportunity for education.

Kwee says that the special tour took shape when she worked with the Smokey Mountain residents and area officers.

“I met some tanods at that time and I was amazed at how they could talk about where they’re from and what they’re doing with pride. “Why is there not a slum tour here?” she shares.

Kwee wasted no time in recruiting and training “tourleaders” from the area. She sought the help of Chris Way, the co-founder of India-based Reality Tours & Travel, which won the Community Award at the World Travel and Tourism Council's (WTTC) 2015 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards Ceremony in Madrid, Spain.

Meet the tourleaders of "Smokey Tours".
“The communities loved it and they are happy. They are very open,” Kwee shares.

“Looking for Volunteers”

The number of Kwee's staff grew over the years. She started by training a barangay tanod and his wife. Now  “Smokey Tours” is staffed by student leaders and freelance “tourleaders.”

Kwee says that potential “tourleaders” must undergo an initial interview, criteria checking,  and poverty assessment. Aside from that, they are required to answer a questionnaire and an exam, memorize notes, and attend tours, meetings, and the Tourism Smokey Course developed by Kwee and her team. Their punctuality is also evaluated by the “Smokey Tours” leaders.

After that, Kwee says, the rest is trial and error.

Kwee enthuses that there are other ways to contribute to Smokey Tours.

“We also have volunteers in our office we always welcome who help with marketing, research, bookings, to name a few,” she says. “Actually, we are looking for some volunteers.”

Makeshift homes in Tondo are made of wood and other scrap materials. Photo by Marty Argarin.
 Facing Adversity

Kwee notes that she thought twice about starting the slum tour in 2014 because of all the negative comments that she received from the online community.

But she decided to push through for the sake of the community. “And at one point, I got so much criticism online. But I asked myself, ‘if I stop now, who will be the victims again?’ It will be the poor,” she says.

Open Doors of Opportunities

For Kwee, the way out of poverty is to provide livelihood and teach the values needed in life.

“I want to train people who can take their own initiative. To be empowered and to take responsibility. People are smart enough to make their own decisions,” Kwee says.


“Smokey Tours” has expanded its list of activities. Aside from the slum tour, tourists can now explore Manila while cycling, go to cemeteries and other local spots, and experience Old Manila by visiting Quiapo Church, Lacson Plaza, and Ongpin Street.

As a testament to the organization’s excellence, “Smokey Tours” has been ranked number one on TripAdvisor.
Anna Pangalangan Anna Pangalangan Author

Volunteer at the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Open House Festival

CCP volunteers in action. Photo taken by Kiko Cabuena.
 The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is looking for willing individuals who want to extend a helping hand for its annual festival, "Pasinaya."

Pasinaya is going to be held from February 4 to 5, 2017 at the CCP grounds. According to CCP's website, every part of the venue will be "zoned" to accommodate different entertainment genres including music, theater, dance, film, literature, visual arts, children and family variety, and the artists market.

CCP provides fun and exciting opportunities. Volunteers will get the chance to meet "prominent artists, leading arts managers, and international figures in culture and the arts." 

Participants are also welcome to join crash workshops, film screenings, visual arts exhibitions, and activities for children.

Download the application form here:http://bit.ly/CCPVolunteers and send to ccpvolunteers@gmail.com. Deadline of application is on January 20, 2017.

Some volunteer opportunities are:

*Assisting the ushers during registration;
*Manning the different kinds of booths during shows and festivals*Assisting with the operation of the RF Card (ID) reader for subscription cards during festivals;
*Working side-by-side with local and international artists performing at the Center;
*Assisting at the CCP’s merchandising booth;
*Assisting the backstage production staff in a performance or festival;
*Answering customer queries at the CCP Box Office,
*And conducting guided tours of the CCP, and many others

For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/culturalcenterofthephilippines/ and http://culturalcenter.gov.ph/
Anna Pangalangan Anna Pangalangan Author

What a Voluntourist Finds by Trekking

Camille Lumbang is a proud member of TREK. She has been with the group for some six years.
Voluntourism offers a wealth of experience as it enables others to contribute to communities and cultivate friendship with other like-minded individuals.

One person who knows this all too well is Camille Lumbang who joined Trails to Empower Kids (TREK) in 2010. Her story paints a vivid picture of how voluntourism has allowed her to give back to different mountain communities and gain friends along the way.

Lumbang hands over an item to a happy kid in an outreach held at the Palina Elementary School in
Kibungan, Benguet. Photo by Joseph Cruz.
TREK is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that celebrates its 10th founding anniversary this year. The volunteers bring good cheer to their partner communities by delivering educational materials, slippers, and other items that are most needed by the residents.

Scaling mountains and crossing rivers, the TREK volunteers have been to far-flung areas in the country including Calintaan, Mindoro; Balbalan, Kalinga; Fuga Island, Cagayan; Sta. Elena, Camarines Norte; and Papaya, Nueva Ecija.

Ready for the Climb

Lumbang said that she discovered TREK through Facebook. She shared that she wanted to join but felt a tinge of uncertainty because she does not know anyone from the group. It was not until she spoke to an elementary classmate that she finally made up her mind to enlist.

“I saw the TREK page on Facebook and thought about joining. But then I decided to give it some more thought. I had a chat with Jasmin, an elementary classmate, told her about my interest, and she said I should join because I would meet ‘kind’ people there,” Lumbang shared.

Lumbang continued that she mustered enough courage to post on TREK’s Facebook group. She stated her intention to join but, unfortunately, she has no buddy or partner for the climb.

The newbie’s apprehension vanished when a TREK member sent her a message that they can team up. It can be said that the simple act was Lumbang’s introduction to the warm and welcoming environment of the organization.

“Flo Fajardo sent me a message. She said that since her buddy will not make it, we can be partners,” she shared.

When asked about her first experience with TREK, Lumbang said that it was easy for her to establish rapport with other volunteers.

Lumbang (rightmost) strikes a wacky pose with her TREK friends while crossing a river in Calintaan, Mindoro. Picture taken by Nelfie Flores.
“It was a happy experience. I instantly made new friends. You won’t feel like an outsider. Everyone is warm and approachable,” she enthused.

She added, “It's not difficult to develop friendships with fellow volunteers since you have the same goal of helping the target community.”

Care for Others

According to Lumbang, the spirit of “bayanihan,” a Filipino custom where the whole community joins forces to achieve a common goal, can be seen and felt within the group.

“There is the willingness to organize donations and arrange the programs for the outreach,” Lumbang said.

Lumbang added that the cooperative and helpful attitude becomes more evident during the trip as the volunteers face the travails of mountain climbing.

“Based on my experience, you will see the support and concern for one another when the mountain is difficult to climb. (For example), we help and assist one another when a volunteer gets tired or has to carry a heavy load. Moreso, we help one another when the road is slippery or when there is a need to cross a river,” Lumbang enthused.

The trek may be tough but for Lumbang it does not steal the joy of serving others.

“It is an opportunity to serve and to share the blessings that I have. When you get there, you will be touched because of how they (partner communities) appreciate the efforts. When you share blessings, you get something in return (even if not monetary). And you also realize the blessings in your own life,” she noted.

Lumbang is all smiles while giving goodies to the kids in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. Photo by Joseph Cruz.

TREK’s 10th Year Anniversary Campaign

As part of TREK’s tenth-year celebration, Lumbang and other TREK volunteers are going back to their ten partner communities for ten straight months.

TREK recently partnered with Conquer Outdoor Equipment to come up with a collection of travel bags that will be used to generate funds and supplies for #10for10 campaign.

In relation to this, the group recently held a benefit concert for the campaign at B-Side (The Collective) in Makati entitled, “Diyes Is It.”
Anna Pangalangan Anna Pangalangan Author

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.

Anna Pangalangan Anna Pangalangan Author

Some Do’s and Don’ts in Voluntourism

Voluntourism allows participants to meld traveling and community service. It can be a fulfilling experience, one that leads participants to meet new people, discover a foreign culture, and contribute to community building.

Volunteer work is never boring!
Good intentions are notable but voluntourists must also have a concrete plan in undertaking this kind of activity. Preparing well can go a long way and will benefit not just the volunteer but also the target beneficiaries.

Here are some things to consider before booking that social cause.

Do your research. Just like any seasoned traveler, allot time to read blogs or articles that talk about the organization that you want to sign up with. If possible, interview individuals who have joined the organization to know the score. 

Do decide if you want to pursue a domestic or an international trip. If you plan to go abroad, research on the country to learn about the fees and other needed documents. Some organizations require volunteers to have a travel insurance. For local expeditions, read about the community to know the requirements and how to connect with key contacts. 

Whether embarking on a local or an international trip, one of the benefits of voluntourism is meeting like-minded people.
Do plan an excursion that reflects your interests and competencies. There are organizations that are in need of individuals with key skills. Tell your partner organization about your abilities and interests beforehand so that they have an idea how to make your trip more relevant.

Do maximize the use of technology. According to organization founders and facilitators, most volunteers get in touch with them through email or Facebook.

Do a pre-trip orientation with your contact. Anticipation is a traveler’s best friend. Ask questions about the social norms like language, appropriate clothing, or other cultural practices. Another thing to consider is your lodging. Some organizations do not have centers where volunteers can take shelter. In that case, you can ask for their help in securing your food and accommodation.

Do immerse yourself. One of the many blessings of voluntourism is knowing a new culture and meeting new friends. Sit down with the locals to know the community’s needs.
Voluntourism is one way to explore a new culture. Tribal dancers from the Panay Bukidnon of Iloilo do a performance using traditional moves.
Don’t make hasty decisions without consulting your host organization. Talk to your immediate contact about your needs and thoughts. They are responsible for your well-being so there is a need to maintain clear communication throughout your stay.

Don’t forget to share the joy of voluntourism with others. Involve your friends and loved ones in these life-changing expeditions. Send photos or write about your trip to engage them.
Get creative with your shots for voluntourism souvenirs. A volunteer arranges slippers donated by TREK to create a ground artwork.
Whatever cause you decide to take, it is always good to remember that voluntourism is not about personal gain but about inspiring change in the community that you decide to help.
Anna Pangalangan Anna Pangalangan Author

Guiding Volunteers Up the Mountain

Leading a group of people in an outdoor mission can be a daunting task. But for Ujin Austria, a seasoned expedition leader (EL), directing the Trails to Empower Kids (TREK) participants is all part of the adventure that can be referred to as "voluntourism."
Austria comfortably talks about his experience for the TREK Calintaan promotional material.
Austria has been climbing mountains with TREK for two years. This organization, composed of volunteers from different backgrounds, delivers clothes, toys, and school supplies to disadvantaged communities in the country.

Leading Others

Austria, a mountain climber with over 15 years of experience, says that he keeps on learning and growing as an EL with every TREK trip.

He shares that TREK’s expedition to Kalinga held last December 2015 was one of the most challenging adventures to date.

“That time, the typhoon just ended so we needed to cross a river. We were told that if the river level rose, we had to walk a little bit further. We even had to cross a hanging bridge,” he enthuses. “Also, they were a couple of new volunteers from PS Bank, one of our sponsors.”
Austria crosses a hanging bridge in one of the TREK outreach programs.
Traversing raging rivers at TREK's trip to Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro.
Austria, carrying a yellow backpack, leads the TREK members in a muddy trail.
Besides being an EL, Austria considers himself as an all-around guy who can spearhead games and other activities for their beneficiaries.

‘Simple life’

Austria shares that each TREK crusade touches his heart anew.

“There are always different experiences for me. The beneficiaries’ cultural presentations and unique way of saying ‘thank you’ present a different impact every time,” he enthuses.

Austria says that the rustic setting in the upland communities help him put things into perspective.

“We are used to the city where everything is fast-paced and all about the money. But in every TREK trip, everything is different, very simple,” he notes.

Getting Hands Dirty for a Good Cause

Austria shares that volunteers have to be prepared to tackle nature’s obstacles.

“The participants should not be afraid to get dirty and sweaty during the climb. It’s all part of the experience,” he says.

He also encourages the volunteers to set aside gadgets to be able to gain a deeper insight about the community’s culture.

“When you reach the area, limit the use of gadgets. Be a local; immerse yourself in the community. That way you can know their immediate needs. It will also help you learn something about yourself,” he says.

TREK’s 10th Anniversary

Austria shares that TREK will celebrate its tenth birthday in 2017. They are currently crafting an exciting activity lineup for their partner schools.
Anna Pangalangan Anna Pangalangan Author

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