Aklan Trekkers


Pagbueoligan Para sa Dalagsaan: Aklan Trekkers’ 5th Upland Outreach benefits 200 Underprivileged Families

A deep commitment to the community – this has always been at the core of Aklan Trekkers, an outdoor group and NGO promoting responsible mountaineering, sustainable ecotourism, and environmental conservation.

Recently, the group embarked on an outreach mission in Dalagsaan, often regarded as the last frontier within the municipality of Libacao, Aklan, and the ancestral homeland of the Akeanon-Bukidnon Indigenous People community. This three-day program unfolded from August 19 to 21, 2023.

The mission was to not only deliver immediate help but also equip the barangay’s 200 most vulnerable families with skills and sustainable livelihood programs to create a lasting impact.

Dalagsaan: The Final Frontier of Libacao, Aklan

Nestled deep within the municipality of Libacao, Dalagsaan is a place where time slows down and nature reigns supreme. Here, amid sweeping landscapes, meandering rivers, and terraced paddies, a close-knit community steeped in deep-rooted traditions thrives.

Breathtaking view of the picturesque rice fields along the banks of the Aklan River, complemented by the majestic backdrop of the mountains, all captured at Sitio Pula in Barangay Dalagsaan, Libacao, Aklan. Photography by Richard R. Cahilig
Stunning aerial view capturing the scenic beauty of Barangay Dalagsaan in Libacao, Aklan, surrounded by the majestic mountains of the Central Panay Mountain Ranges. Photography by Richard R. Cahilig

Locals find a lifeline in abaca, a centuries-old tradition known as pag-kigi. This involves the arduous process of cultivating, harvesting, and processing abaca fibers. To earn a meager P55 per kilo for Class A abaca and P30 for bar-os or rejects, they endure grueling hours trekking along the river, exposed to the elements and unpredictable river currents.

Beyond abaca, banban, a bamboo-like shrub, flourishes in the forest. It’s skillfully harvested and transformed into robust sleeping mats (banig) coveted in neighboring municipalities like Calinog, Iloilo. Adding to their repertoire of native handicrafts are swings crafted from oway, and the kararaw, the locals’ own take on the nigo basket, woven meticulously from cawayan.

Local weaver carrying mats made of banban and kararaw made of bamboo. Photography by Xel Andrei Villarias

Dalagsaan holds the status of a GIDA or a geographically isolated and disadvantaged area, which means locals lack access to essential goods and services. The poorest families make do with what they have, often relying on government aid and NGOs to get by. Some brave the journey to town a few times a month to stock up on supplies, using bamboo rafts to carry their haul upstream along the wild Aklan River.

In the midst of these challenges, the people of Dalagsaan take immense pride in their way of life, standing as dedicated caretakers of their precious homeland.

Thankfully, we had friends from the 1st Aklan Police Mobile Force Company and 12IB 3IB Philippine Army, Bravo and Delta Company tagging along. They not only provided good company but also security and much-needed additional workforce for the outreach.

A Three-Day Journey with a Purpose

The Aklan Trekkers’ outreach mission in Dalagsaan was a heartfelt endeavor to uplift the spirits and prospects of a remarkable community. But it wasn’t an easy feat. Volunteers, partners, and collaborators had to go through a nearly two-hour commute via dump truck and habal-habal and a four to six-hour trek under the scorching heat. They also braved multiple river crossings, with heavy backpacks in tow.

Here’s a glimpse of how the three-day program unfolded:

Opening Program and Valuable Insights

The initiative kicked off with inspiring speeches from leaders of the event, including a touching welcome remark from Dalagsaan Integrated School principal Jocelyn Colas. It was then followed by the following simultaneous activities:

Vegetable Gardening Workshop

Aklan Trekkers conducted a vegetable gardening workshop that covered a wide range of topics, including vermicomposting and keeping plants healthy and productive. The goal was to empower families with the skills to grow their food, fostering self-sufficiency. Seeds donated by our sponsors and the Department of Agriculture and planting manuals were then distributed to the families.

Handicrafts and Native Products Workshop

Aklan Trekkers founder and president Ritchel Cahilig, along with the Committee on Native Handicrafts, conducted a dialogue with Dalagsaan’s skilled artisans and proposed a Social Enterprise project. The NGO is seeking to provide a thriving livelihood for Dalagsaan’s artisans and help ensure their traditions endure.

Ecotourism Workshop

Joseph Tindog of Aklan Trekkers led an ecotourism workshop for current and aspiring guides of Dalagsaan. The initiative, which will go beyond the outreach program, aims to explore the potential for sustainable tourism, which can bring economic opportunities.

Family Planning Workshop

The family planning workshop sought to promote healthy family dynamics and provide essential guidance. One of the facilitators of the workshop is Panipiason IP, licensed midwife, and AT Board of Trustee Alvin Zaquita.

Basic First Aid and Life Support (BPAT)

The 1st Aklan PMFC made sure to maximize their time in Dalagsaan by equipping the community with essential life-saving skills. These skills truly come in handy, given the community’s limited access to healthcare and the risky nature of the locals’ livelihoods.

Riverine Walk and Art Workshop for Kids

Aklan Trekkers’ resident artists made sure the kids had an engaging and fun-filled morning with an art workshop by the river. AT is committed to inspiring young minds to appreciate nature and express their creativity.

Nourishing Both Body and Spirit

Amid the knowledge-sharing, the community also came together for a nourishing experience. The program included the distribution of packed lunches to sustain the eager minds and bodies of participants.

But it wasn’t all about lectures and workshops. The program also embraced the importance of social engagement. Psycho-social activities and games were organized for the 200 families and their accompanying children, creating bonds and shared memories.

Preserving Indigenous Wisdom

Theodore Bautista, a dedicated member of Aklan Trekkers who is also part of the Committee on Indigenous People’s Affairs, led a captivating talk on Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP). It was a moment for the community to reconnect with their heritage, fostering a deeper appreciation for the traditions that have sustained them through the ages.

Support and Supplies for All

The outreach mission extended a helping hand in the form of much-needed supplies for the community. From essential items to tools for sustainable living, these offerings were met with gratitude and hope.

A Celebration of Unity

In a heartwarming display of solidarity, the Akeanon-Bukidnon community of Panipiason joined forces with Aklan Trekkers to extend assistance to their fellow IP community in Dalagsaan. It exemplified the strength of unity and shared heritage among these indigenous groups.

The day culminated in a joyful baylehan hosted by Barangay Dalagsaan. The volunteers took advantage of the social event to connect with the locals, learn the traditional barok dance, and share laughs and positive vibes.

Supporting a Resilient Community

While the spirit of Dalagsaan remains unbroken, the need for essential supplies and services still looms large. Help doesn’t always find its way to this remarkable community. That’s why Aklan Trekkers is on a mission to stand by Dalagsaan through ongoing projects like a Social Enterprise initiative and the AT Advocacy Hub, which will support the local craftsmen of Dalagsaan and similar communities.

Everyone is welcome to be part of this endeavor by sharing Aklan Trekkers’ mission or offering support, whether through in-kind donations or financial contributions.

Photos by: Klyvin June Reyes of Klyvin.PH

Issa Gabrielle Bautista
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