Zambales has become known as a home-break spot to many Manileños when the call for a quick vacation arises.
With its breath-taking coves, beaches and mountains, such as Liwliwa, Potipot Island, Capones Island, Anawangin Cove and Nagsasa Cove, people may opt to camp, surf, trek, or simply rest by the beach when in the province.
But little did many know, until recently, that apart from these vacation spots in Zambales is a greater scheme of adventures that matter: The road to the barren ancestral domain of the Aeta community in Yangil Village.
Yangil Village, together with its neighbouring sites, was once teeming with vegetation, until the eruption of Mount Pinatubo happened in 1991. Their 3,000-hectare land got wiped off by the volcanic ashes, leaving them with nothing but the clothes they were wearing on the day itself. All of their belongings, natural resources and dreams vanished in an instant.
Twenty-four years later, Tribes & Treks is hoping to revive the area. It is a joint initiative of The Circle Hostel and Make A Difference (MAD) Travel, a social enterprise I cofounded with Raf Dionisio.
It has also received considerable support from the municipality of San Felipe, Zambales, with the shared goal of uplifting the lives of the Yangil Tribe (among others in the region), and transforming barren land into a 3 million tree forest within a few years’ time.
It took the Aeta community more than five years to recover from the terrible eruption and a lot of people promised to help them, but still the communities have been left behind. Raf hopes to revive their land through a positive, rather than destructive, approach to tourism, which caters to the community needs, such as carabaos, seeds, crops and most important, people.
“Tourism can help make nation-building fun and inspiring. We have a culture of destructive tourism in this country and I would like to change that. We want to create a model in which tourism becomes really good for the environment,” Raf said before adding, “Our goal is to keep the Aeta community’s sustainability and the environment’s sustainability. It has to be both.”
Over the past year, Raf has visited the community on an almost weekly basis. He spent time with the elders in the community, talked to them about their needs and problems, speculated the potential of their land to develop sustainable tourism, studied what needs to be planted and encouraged a lot of people, especially students, to come and help.
Now, with the help of all guests who joined our Tribes & Treks tour, the once barren land of the Yangil Tribe is already generating more than 4,000 plants, and this is just the beginning. This perfectly sums up what bayanihan and walang iwanan can do.
I can still remember the “bi-polar” weather conditions we had to face when we went there a few months back. It was raining hard when we crossed the rivers, then the fiery sun popped out all of a sudden, as we walked through the mountains, and the cycle went on.
With no paved roads connecting them to the local town, this is a trip the Aetas have to do every day, regardless of the weather. They trek to and from the mountains for an hour to make a living out of their crops and other resources, while the children face a similar arduous trek just to get to school every day.
When we reached Yangil Village, everyone greeted us with a sweet smile. A smile so genuine you would instantly feel at home. They served sweet potato and tea for breakfast, and a sumptuous lunch all cooked by the community for us to feast on.
Thereafter, they taught us their traditional archery, the uses of the herbal medicines, their traditional song and dance, which we all gladly enjoyed as we learned about them more through their rejuvenating culture.
At the end of the trip, locals and guests gather to plant their seedlings and offer their own contribution to what they hope will one day grow into a significant rainforest. Of course, there is a limit to what any single “voluntourist” can achieve in one day, but if just one visitor has been touched by the spirit of walang iwanan—no one gets left behind—then it will have been worth it.
There are lots of beautiful destinations in the Philippines to “go MAD” about, but behind those destinations are its golden people and their stories that have convinced foreigners like me to stay in the country and make it my adopted home.
The Philippines have a competitive advantage in this new approach to travel because you speak English and social tourism is all about connecting communities to travelers. Through inspiring us to show love for both people and planet, Filipinos can lead the way in building a world-class tourism industry in which no one is left behind.
To join Tribes & Treks tour, visit MAD Travel at www.madtravel.org/tribes-and-islands/.
Thomas Graham is an international speaker and author of the book The Genius of the Poor. Thomas is also the cofounder of MAD (Make A Difference) Travel (www.madtravel.org), a social tourism enterprise that creates fun and fulfilling travel experiences in partnership with Gawad Kalinga communities. For comments, suggestions and reactions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.