In this neighborhood, the hardworking rooster crowing at the crack of dawn was my alarm clock. It was time for me to start my day. A long day ahead was waiting for me. The destination was Ilocos Sur, about seven hours travel from the capital city of Metro Manila.
Bleary-eyed and half-asleep, I dragged my travelling bag and halted a jeepney. The patok jeepney, the rectangular and sturdy military cars that evolved to become a necessary part of everyday commuting experience, had declared with vivid colors and blasting music that they were the king of the streets. Pretty soon, I had been shaken way too much out of sleepiness more than a coffee shot ever could.
In retrospect, that was a good thing too.
Our jeepney navigated the polluted and traffic jammed streets of Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA). This was a city that never sleeps, the place where all points converge.
Its name was gotten from an unfortunate misunderstanding. Legends say that many hunchbacks used to live here, kuba in the local tongue. Decades later, though, it seemed that the place had not quite shaken off the kuba association. Houses made of rejected tires, discarded tarpaulins and secondhand rusty roofs leaned and overlapped against each other in discordant manner, threatening to topple down at the slightest sighs of winds.
That was a picture of poverty. I used to avert my eyes, shamed beyond endurance. However, I realized that wouldn’t change a thing. I decided I’d blink, go past the ugliness and look deeper.
Only then did I find the saving grace that I was looking for. I found it in the toothless smiles of my fellow passengers, turning the annoying situation into a laugh-worthy joke. It was in the calluses at the hands of the driver, bearing the brunt of hardwork with patient determination.
I hadn’t even step a foot inside the bus that would take me to my desired destination; but already I had started my adventure.
Sight-seeing with a Mission in the Philippines
To travel alone for seven hours straight was a herculean feat. Being forced to navigate the world by yourself was rather scary. But I never did think of it that way. For me, every travel was an exciting opportunity to celebrate freedom.
It was freedom from the mundanity of everyday life. It was freedom from the encumbrance of metropolitan living.
Soon, the tangy scent of trees and grasses started dominating my senses. My hair was whipped by cool and sharp breezes as I looked out the window. Enigmatic, steep mountains served as the perfect scenery backdrop. The never-ending greenness of rice fields was soothing to the eyes. Every now and then, a black carabao can be seen reclining lazily by the road, resting after a long day of toil.
The simplicity and tranquility made me reevaluate my definition of what was really essential in life. Stripped of the anxieties that dogged us in the chaotic world we used to inhabit, travelling was a retreat.
When our vehicle had halted to give way to the sauntering goats, I knew that I had arrived at my destination.
Trip of Hope
Located along the western coast of Northern Luzon, undulating and rolling mountainside was Ilocos Sur’s dominant topography.
However, I came for a reason that goes beyond mere sight-seeing. I came here with an understanding that the gift of nature could be a double-edged sword; hindering as much as it was helping.
Precarious bridge and perilous waters had to be crossed in order to go to school. Quality educational materials seemed to have been lost and late in coming here.
Bringing books to far-flung areas is my reason for coming here. As the representative of Acts of Hope for the Nation (AHON) Foundation, I go from one remote place to another in an effort to help provide quality education to our young learners.
The community, officials, teachers and parents, welcomed me with the warmest smiles. Together, we put the boxes of books in the backside of the van. It will soon navigate trees and rocky roads to reach isolated schools. Still another batch of boxes was put in a bamboo raft, to sail across tricky waters to reach its destined school.
The day was punctuated with uncontained excitements and grateful sighs. Kids and parents alike eagerly fingered the interactive and high quality books, the first they had seen in ages. That day, surprisingly I never felt the exhaustion.
Education has always been the great equalizer. It will develop the right set of thinking and values of the new kids. It will be a great tool against poverty.
That day, I travelled to encounter poverty and to find hope in its midst. I travelled to commune with nature. And ultimately, I travelled to help battle poverty in my own small way.
This was no ordinary trip. This was a trip of hope. Boy was I glad to part of it.
About the Author: Mary Herbel Santiago likes adventures, going to places no one dared take and understanding people no one bothered to understand. Her goal has been to live a well-lived life. You can find more of her writings on her blog or at Facebook.