“Leaping the mountains, bounding the hills.” These must be a canticle on the hearts of the team. We remember the late Apo Mateo and Bro Dok Joel (at Rome) and now Br. Mario (also at Rome) as they sang this canticle of ours whenever we do missions. These series of missions we are always accompanied by Brother Sun as he starts to rise up to welcome the horizon, The Capuchin Brothers, care of Bro. Michael Flores, OFMCap, and the young Capuchins of Sta. Teresita del Niño Jesus Fraternity convoyed the goods that was gathered by the generosity of our brothers and sisters. Along with us, is our ever supportive friends and benefactors, medical doctors and nurses who are ready to leap and bound mountains and hills with us! They would be bringing material goods from different persons and groups. Barangay Langka, Nueva Ecija, one of the gates to the ancestral domain of the Dumagat Tribe of southern Sierra Madre, is our mission area, where we help rebuild the lives of the Dumagat and Igorot Tribes.
I was so impressed by their strong willpower and identity as Igorots; they are strong and proud people, able to receive and be grateful for help without any sense of self-entitlement or self-pity: their smiles were so genuine, their words sincere, and their eyes pierced with the resilient strength of souls well-acquainted with adversity. They lived their lives with no duplicity, simple, real and filled with joy. Now, going there is always a challenge. Rocky roads challenge our transportation and everything is shaking hard! But going up will be always a sight to see because you can see the valley below, with the blue sky and lush greens, the locals were hardly getting a signal from their phones, they have to go to the highest point just to get a bar of signal, or two at most.
Arriving at the community is also a lovely sight. The dedicated teachers of Langka Elementary School are always a welcoming bunch! Take note, these teachers, some of them are Igorots themselves are so dedicated, along with their Barangay Captain, to get modules weekly from the head office (which is in Palayan City; where Barangay Langka is in) for the students of the school; Dumagat and Igorot students; going up and down the rivers and mountains using motorcycles. The Mission team; last October 22, 2021 brought textbooks, stationeries, bundles of bond papers for printing modules and other school documents, and five laptop units for the teachers, each from the generosity of our friends and benefactors from all over. The Principal, Sir Oliver was so grateful for the aid that was given and helped build morale to the teachers of the Elementary School, as well as the parents who are present there, and The Barangay Captain himself, who was in tears for their hard work was recognized and reinforced. The team also brought and turned over the budget for the new school building of the Langka Elementary School which will cater to more Dumagat and Igorot students around the area. This made the whole community and the team grateful to the Lord for His love and generosity.
Then we went into the heart of the Dumagat community where we immersed with them again check on how they are faring with their lives today. They struggle on their livelihood for they are not as skilled as the Igorots on mountainside farming, and we asked them how they want to be helped. Another matter is the repair of their multi-purpose hall where the elders and the families gather for their life affairs as a community. This is very dilapidated and is on the verge of breaking already.
After a month we returned last November 16, 2021 where we brought our doctors and nurses for a medical mission and free circumcision for the young boys of Dumagat and Igorot tribes, we also followed up the construction of the new school building and the finalizing what to do with the multi-purpose hall of the Dumagat village. Along with it, life stories and experiences are shared both by the team and the community. For sure God made ways for us to bond together and learn from one another. We left with rich experiences and a grateful heart.
In the end, we are still challenged by Pope Francis in his Fratelli Tutti he quoted: ”Isolation and withdrawal into one’s own interests are never the way to restore hope and bring about renewal. Rather, it is closeness; it is the culture of encounter… True wisdom demands an encounter with reality. Today, however, everything can be created, disguised and altered. A direct encounter even with the fringes of reality can thus prove intolerable.” And for that, we intend to come back. May God bless us all.