I just returned from an amazing 10-day tour put on by Make-a-Difference (MAD) Travel. The tour is called the Bayani Tour, bayani meaning hero. This was one of the most eye-opening and touching experiences I’ve had, so let me go over what we did each day. Be prepared for a long post!
Day 1- Saturday was the first day of our tour. As this tour is aimed for international travellers, there is nothing planned until the evening to allow the guests to have enough time to get to the accommodation from the airport. We went to the Hineleban Cafe for coffee and dinner, where we learned all about the Hineleban Foundation. The Hineleban Foundation works with a tribe in the Philippines to help with reforestation, environmental conservation, and sustainable farming practices. We got to try coffee made from the coffee beans that are grown by this tribe, as well as a grain dish containing adlai. Both the coffee and the dinner were very delicious, and it was a simple way for me to get to know the other guests I would be spending the next week with. I knew that at the end of this tour we were going to plant trees for a different tribe in the Philippines, so I thought this was a good, brief introduction to the topic.
Day 2- Sunday was one of my favorite days on the tour. The morning started with a bike tour of Intramuros, or the walled city. This history-rich city is the only walled city in Manila, created by the Spanish during their colonization of the Philippines. Besides the great information I learned, I really enjoyed that the bikes we rode on the tour were bambikes. These are bikes made from bamboo by local Filipinos, offering them employment. On top of one of the hotels in the city, the Bay Leaf Hotel, we could see a 360 degree view of Manila, which reminded me just how big the city really is. After having lunch, we drove about an hour to a Gawad Kalinga community called Silver Heights. Gawad Kalinga is a foundation created to alleviate poverty and help build-up the nation. The smiles on the childrens’ faces when they saw us get off the van were priceless, and that was just the beginning. While we were getting a tour of the area, the kids did not let go of our hands. After the tour, we were able to see what the kids do during the day to have fun. Even though I used to work with kids daily, it still amazes me how creative children are. We all danced and played various hand-clapping games (I am very good at “Faster!” for the record) and later they showed us their choreography to their favorite songs. Some of these kids really got moves, we were all impressed. Unfortunately, we had to say our goodbyes after dinner. We all left with smiling hearts and drove to our next destination.
Day 3- We woke up in another Gawak Kalinga (GK) community in Angat, Bulucan. This community is known as GK Enchanted Farms, and is the world’s first farm village university. Since being built, it is now a productive farm and offers university schooling in social entrepreneurship to scholars from other GK villages. We got a tour of the farm after having breakfast in the home of one of the community members. Being welcomed into someone’s house is so heartwarming, especially when they have so little but willingly give us everything they have. I loved hearing the advice and stories from all the titos and titas (titos and titas translate to uncles and aunts, but it’s a term used to refer to people older than you with respect) I met here. Later on, we got to design our own t-shirts from Tinta Ni Juan, one of the products developed by some of the university’s graduates. It was really cool to see the thought process before designing their items and learning how to press designs on as well. The shirt I made says “walang iwanan” meaning “no one left behind”, a common saying in GK communities. We had dinner in the community again, and after that we all went to bed because we were to have an early start the next morning.
Day 4- Bright and early at 6am, we went to the university’s farm to help the students with some tasks in the garden. We helped pull weeds around the basil plants while also getting to know the students better. They do this every morning from 6-7:30, so I could tell they appreciated our help. After washing up, we went to the kitchen to help the titas prepare lunch. We peeled garlic, cut string beans, and helped make palitaw, a Filipino dessert made from sticky rice and, in our case, coated in coconut shavings. I enjoyed doing this because when it came time to eat lunch, I felt like I really deserved my food. I also gained a lot of respect for how much work goes into cooking for so many people! I have obviously cooked for myself or my family before, but doing it for so many people is a lot more work. After lunch, we went to a local school and taught students about deforestation. They learned that simple things such as saving the seeds from fruits and vegetables can help combat this problem. As a demonstration, we all ate mangoes (my favorite!) and saved the seeds to be planted at a later time. We had dinner in the community, like every night, and went to bed early again because another early morning was to come.
Day 5- We helped the students on the farm again this morning, this time by harvesting mung bean. I liked this better than the pulling of the weeds because finding the ripe mung beans was like solving a puzzle to me, making sure to only pick the ones that were ready. Again, we helped out in the kitchen after rinsing off the dirt, but today we made crepes! Getting the crepe perfectly paper thin is so hard, and I don’t think any of us ended up mastering it, but there was significant improvement in the end. Once again, we felt we earned our lunch and took pride in seeing everyone enjoy our creations. We packed up our bags and headed off on a 5-hour ride to our next destination. We arrived in San Felipe, Zambales in time to watch the sunset on the beach. Watching the sunset is one of my favorite things and being at the beach makes it that much more beautiful. Once it went down completely, we had dinner at Mommy Phoebe’s, the restaurant where we would have lunch and dinner everyday. The hostel we stayed at was made out of ecobricks, which is a very innovative solution for reusing plastic waste (picture below!). We knew Thursday was going to be a busy day, so we all went to bed pretty early to ensure we were refreshed for the it.