“We rise by lifting others”
It’s been a year and a half since my first time to join a volunteer trip with an NGO called Young Focus at the Smokey Mountain where I saw the extreme level of poverty and social injustice in the Philippines. Recently, my friend Shin of OneLoveJuanAdventure invited me to join his “voluntour” to give love to our friends from the Dumagat Tribe. I never imagined that the trip would shake up my views in life.
Who is the Dumagat tribe?
Based on my research, “dumagat” derived its name from the word “dagat” or sea. The people used to live along the coastal stretches, but when Filipino homesteaders arrived in their area, they were pushed farther into the mountains, and eventually dispersed in small groups.
Some can be found in Bulacan, Rizal, Aurora and Nueva Ecija. The Dumagats generally possess the physical traits of the Negrito race–dark brown to black complexions and curly hair.
Who is the person behind this project?
Shin initiated the organization of the volunteer trip. I was honestly impressed with how he managed everything. Being part of the group chat, I got wind of updates about the project, although I wasn’t really involved in the preparation.
I saw posts and updates about him going around Manila during his free time, even in the middle of the night, to pick up some donations from friends. I admire his passion to help the Dumagat tribe. I’m sure he had sleepless nights to make the trip possible.
Out of curiosity, I asked what inspired him to launch the project that requires a great deal of time and effort. He answered, “There are two main reasons behind all this. This is my second time to organize the same trip. First was with my ex-girlfriend who pushed me to organize a “voluntour,” which could add purpose to our travels. Then we broke up. We didn’t end our relationship well.
I’m doing this for the second time around to check if I can still go back to the same place we used to visit together, to know if I’m already okay. But more than that, I was moved by the people of Dumagat. They have beautiful smiles on their faces despite living in an isolated place in the mountain, far from civilization. It made me realize how lucky I am. I experienced a lot of pain and hardship, but knowing their story makes me feel blessed and thankful, so as much as I can, I will do something to help them.”
Our Side trip to Dingalan, Aurora
We left Manila around midnight and traveled straight to Dingalan, Aurora to visit its famous cliff side hills that offer marvelous views of mountain ranges, a lighthouse, and the vast blue water and strong foamy waves of the Pacific Ocean. I was amazed by the charms of Dingalan. The vibes made me feel that everything is slow paced, relaxed and laid back. We were actually welcomed by a colorful rainbow when we arrived at the port. That alone was amazing!
Shin explained that our time in Dingalan was limited, because we had a very important mission to do that day. Travel time by boat from the port to the white beach is around 20 minutes. We didn’t waste time and hiked toward the mountain view. I honestly didn’t expect that. My mind and body weren’t conditioned. Although it was a short hike, it wasn’t an easy trail. It took us probably 30 minutes to reach the mountain view deck. After few minutes of taking photos, we immediately went down to proceed to our next stop. We went back to the port to go to Tanawan falls.
Half of the road going to the falls was still under construction, so our van had to be park and we had to walk for another 15 minutes under the heat of the sun. There were tricycles and habal-habal, but we opted to walk under the extreme heat despite skipping a proper meal. It was terrible. If I’d be back in the same situation, I’d surely rent a motorbike.
Tanawan falls is a good place to take a dip, because the water is cold but bearable for a swim. Bomod-Ok Falls, on the other hand, is too cold. At Tanawan Falls, you can cliff dive and swim. There were few people visiting that time, so it was not crowded. Surrounding the falls are big rocks where you can sit on and relax, too.
There are sari-sari stores on the way where you can rinse and change your clothes. You can also buy some souvenirs and snacks. After our quick trip to Dingalan, Aurora, we immediately headed to Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija where our mission for the day started.
The unforgettable journey to the Mountain of Nueva Ecija
Time check: 2pm. Shin instructed us to transfer to the truck that would transport us to the mountain. I was shocked to see the truck without a cover. It was very hot that time. I was thinking that it would be a short trip. I’d just hold my umbrella over my head and everything would be okay. But that didn’t happen. I sat on the hot floor while holding my umbrella using one hand and holding on the rope with the other to keep my balance. The first few minutes was fine, but as we moved farther, everything became more uncomfortable. We passed by a vast, dusty land where there was a small onion plantation.
When we entered the mountain, everything changed. The view was amazing, but I could hardly enjoy it since the road was bumpy. Truck was rocking for almost an hour. I couldn’t hold my umbrella any longer. I had to use my two hands to cling to the rope.
With the extreme heat of the sun, the dust, and the bumpy road, I questioned myself, “Why am I doing this?” As we journeyed, though, I realized how fortunate I am to live in a decent place in Makati where I don’t need to face all of these just to go wherever I want.
I can’t imagine how the people from the mountain would go to the lowland for medical assistance. I can’t imagine the struggle if they have to walk just to get medicine or to get a treatment from a hospital. That is unacceptable.
As we approached their small community, I saw almost a hundred people waiting for us. It gave me goosebumps. I saw barefoot children wearing dirty and torn clothes. They don’t look healthy. I can’t say clearly who experience the worst in life–the children of the Smokey Mountain or the children of the Dumagat tribe, but both conditions are deplorable.
They seemed shy at first, but when we started our program, they willingly joined our games. The group donated hundreds of clothes, slippers, bags, toys and cooked sopas for everyone. I saw how they craved for food. I felt their desire to get more food.
We asked them to come back and refill their plates. They ate fast, people were hungry and they asked for more. It was an indication that weren’t getting enough food to banish their hunger.
I don’t want to go political but I can’t help asking: What are the government’s plans for these people? Are they doing something? If yes, are they doing enough? We are in one country, ruled by one government, protected by one constitution. Every Filipino must have the chance to enjoy at least the basic support from the government, but clearly, it’s not happening.
This travel made me realize again how serious social injustice here in the Philippines is. We take the indigenous people for granted.
My aim in writing this article is to spread the word about the Dumagat tribe and to encourage my fellow Filipinos to act on their dire situation. We could do more in our own little ways to help them and push the government to check on them from time to time.
I left the community with a grateful heart, not just because I realized how fortunate I am but because through a small act of kindness, I made someone’s life better even just for a day.
I dearly hope that even for a short period, I made them feel love in this world. We should help people whenever we can, even if they don’t have the capacity to give something in return.
I leave you with one question: What do you do to help others? For inquiries and more info about how we can help, you can message OneLoveJuanAdventure on Facebook.