Voluntourism: Pack, travel and share

For some people, traveling would mean visiting different places and having a taste of other people’s culture.

But for this group of friends from Manila, it is more than that. They seek and yearn for a more profound purpose of travelling which means giving back to the community and devoting time to help and promote humanity in the destinations they have chosen.

TAO Po which stands for Travelling hearts Advocacy Outdoor Po is a group of backpackers, nature lovers and spiritual seekers who love outdoor adventures, at the same time share the same credo of sharing their blessings.

This group is one among those who advocate voluntourism which is becoming the new trend in the Philippines, but these are not widely publicized and are unheard of.

Basically, voluntourism was coined from a combination of two words- volunteerism and tourism. The scenario is like this – local travelers organize an outreach program in a selected barangay in a province where they chose to visit. For the remaining days of the trip, they explore and visit tourist attractions. 

These events are normally Kanya-Kanyang Bayad (KKB); thus, volunteers who would like to join are expected to shoulder their accommodation, food and transportation.

Prior to the TAO Po’s visit, Vevey coordinated with the Bontoc municipal government through Elizabeth S. Farnican from the Municipal Tourism Office to look for a barangay where the group can visit and share gifts before they will proceed to their travel itineraries on June 2, 2018.  The latter, with the nod of Bontoc Mayor Franklin C. Odsey,  identified Barangay Caneo as the recipient-community.

From the money they solicited from their colleagues and friends in Manila, and the collection shelled out from their pockets, Vevey, together with her friends, bought bags, notebooks, pad papers, pencils, ball pens, sharpeners, erasers, boxes of crayon, coloring books, oral hygiene kits, tape measures and scissors.

Fifty-four pupils from Caneo Elementary School and 34 from Chapyosen Elementary School were given five pieces of notebooks, two pieces of pad papers, five pieces of pencils, two pieces of ball pens, one sharpener, one eraser, one box of crayon, two coloring books, one toothbrush and two sachets of tooth paste.

The tape measures were distributed to the weavers in the barangay while the scissors were given to the teachers.

A mother whom the writer had the chance to share pleasantries expressed her profound gratitude and happiness saying that the visit of the group was timely. With the items donated by the visitors, she was saved from buying school materials for her children whose first day of class starts in June 4. 

It may be little, but for the grateful receivers, it is more than enough.

In a small community where people are busy tending their rice fields, men working on odd jobs (pordiya, pakyaw or kontrata) and women spending the whole day weaving and doing household chores, spending quality time with their children during weekends is not a common practice.

For one day, this routine was changed when the TAO Po visited Caneo. Mothers and fathers rested from the back-aching labor in their rice fields, men laid down their working tools and women momentarily stopped weaving.

The group introduced parlor games to include the “Longest Line” and “Trip to Jerusalem”. It was not the first time that the pupils have heard and played these games, but these are not played every day.  Thus, everyone was eager to join and even think of tactics on how to win.

The “Trip to Jerusalem” became more interesting and overwhelming when mothers were included in the game. 

The laughter of children and their shouts of excitement as they played the “Longest Line” and “Trip to Jerusalem” were music in the ears of the parents, visitors and teachers.

As expressed by one of the mothers, not to work for a day to play with her child, see him laugh and shout in excitement, is not a waste of time and money for the day. To this mother, it was priceless. A cherished experience of her child that money cannot buy.

Caneo is one of the places in the country that the group has reached out. To them, it is innate in human’s nature to be compassionate to those who need it. 

From the blessings that they have and enjoy, and from the money they spend in travelling to visit different beautiful places, the group knows that there are others who have been denied of these opportunities. To them, the sense of fulfillment in all their travels is imperfect without giving and sharing their blessings to the less-fortunate. It was the joy on the faces of the villagers and their simple words of “Thank You” that made their travel in Mountain Province a perfect get-away from the hustle and bustle of the city where they came from. 

By Alpine L. Killa

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