Secluded Mountain Tribe Meets Jollibee for the First Time as a Surprise
We arrived at the Kayapa Municipal Hall in Nueva Vizcaya at about 9am on December 22, 2014 after an overnight trip from Manila. With us were 40 volunteers from different universities and professions eager to contribute something.
Our goal? To bring Jollibee and other stuff that most of us commonly enjoy to Barangay Amelong Labeng, the home of an indigenous people called Iwaks. Here is the catch: it is a few thousand feet above sea level and you need to cross at least six mountains to get there (depending on the trail).
Just a bit of a background: For 3 years, Akyat NV, a mountaineering group based in Nueva Vizcaya, has adopted the Iwak Community at Amelong Labeng. Different trainings and programs were given to educate the Iwaks. Support such as a generator set, computer set, medical supplies, first aid kits, education supplies, hygiene materials, seeds and their very own videoke were given by Akyat NV and its partners.
Hard Trail Vs Purpose
After (or most probably during) the climb up the first mountain, many can’t help but think of quitting. I almost quit during my first climb there. Though I already conquered Mt. Apo before, my tongue was hanging from my mouth during my first Amelong Labeng climb. That’s how hard the trail was especially for those not so adept at hiking.
The trail consists of steep muddy slopes, which turn into shoe killers when it rains. Lucky for us, the weather was a bit sunny during our ascent. On the sides were deep ravines. The very cold wind was battering us like a typhoon. Apart from that, all of the scenery was beautiful!
Reaching heights is never easy, both literally and figuratively. It requires persistence. It requires discipline. More so, it requires a deep sense of purpose. As the trail gets harder and harder every step going up, the question “is my purpose worth it?” will keep on revisiting you. There will come a time when your purpose is the only thing that will keep you going.
Since we all have a higher sense of purpose (we believe so!), everybody surpassed those muscle pains and cramps. Everybody reached Barangay Amelong Labeng a bit later than expected but, hey, we reached it! We were heartily welcomed by our Iwak brothers and sisters who even drew a welcome image at the entrance of their small but neat village.
That Positive Change
The village of Iwak has drastically improved since the first visit of Akyat NV. Now, their houses are better and sturdier. They have bathrooms. They have new school and church buildings. They also have electricity!
After a few minutes of rest, we all got back to work preparing for the activities. Everybody was busy. Some cooked the food. Others prepared the gifts and giveaways for the families. Others prepared the activity area.
Then time for the activities! The Iwaks, both young and old, eagerly gathered in the church building, which is also convertible to an activity area. They might have discerned that they will be experiencing something new.
As the Jollibee mascot was being prepared, the volunteers facilitated some fun games for the kids and adults.
When the Jollibee mascot entered, the reaction of the Iwaks were priceless! Watch the video here:
It was their first time to see Jollibee. Their eyes were curious yet their smiles were full. A little bit hesitant at first, they did dance and play with the mascot in the end. After that, they were treated to “city snacks”. We also gave the Iwaks imported chocolates and cookies. We could see glitter in their eyes once the chocolate melted in their mouths.
While documenting these reactions, I felt an unsure mixture of happiness and sadness. These people were born with the same rights as you and I were born with. Yet, we are not equal in terms of access to opportunities. I usually take Jollibee for granted. Yet here they are savoring every glimpse they can get of that mascot. If we don’t even have equal access to Jollibee, how can we have equal access to the more important factors, such as quality education and healthcare?
Akyat NV consists of a bunch of simple people who just love to climb mountains for the heck of it when they stumbled on this special cause. After three years, they have brought tremendous improvements to this little community of Iwaks. And this is just the beginning. Imagine the potential they’ve unlocked in this minority group.
There are lot more indigenous people scattered across our country, some in more inaccessible places. They are the ones mostly left behind by development and the improvements that come with it
It is up to us who are more empowered to reach out to them. It is about time we increase awareness about them. It is about time that their lives be improved to the point that they will have access to opportunities fitting for every human living in the 21st century.
It just takes simple people like you and me to take action. With those collective acts, the change we can effect is limitless. It all starts with that simple act.
And now, let’s ask ourselves, what’s my simple act today?
By: Aunell Ross “AR” Angcos
UNESCO Young Professionals Club
Website: unescoyoungprofessionals.com / aunellross.wordpress.com
Facebook: Akyat-Nueva Vizcaya