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Trekkers ease OFW depression with charity hikes and eco-cleanups

28 November 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao 

Trekkers gather for their first anniversary to hike, do beach cleanup, and eat

It began with a call for help from a fellow overseas Filipino worker whose village in Mindanao was ravaged by two earthquakes in the closing days of October last year.

Veteran hiker Ligaya Francisco said she and a bunch of friends wanted to help but knew it was difficult to solicit donations since her fellow helpers were also hard-up. They eventually decided to raise funds by hiking.

Naging successful naman ang fundraising. Noong nagkasunud-sunod na ang mga humingi ng tulong ay nagtatag na kami ng grupo,” Francisco said on Nov 22, as Bagong Bayani (The Trekkers) celebrated its first anniversary with hiking and a beach cleanup in Discovery Bay, Lantau.

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The 54-year-old unassuming woman, who is called “Nanay” or “Happy” by members of The Trekkers, said there had been several requests for help this year as natural calamities and pandemic safety protocols put communities back home in difficult situations.

As the hikes for a cause became frequent, more workers joined, Francisco said. From a bunch of just eight women who met on the trails, the group that initially called itself The Trekkers grew to more than 50 members as it attracted other workers.

The group expanded even as pro-democracy protests and the coronavirus pandemic affected their activities.

Francisco says the protests and pandemic drove them further afield

Dinaanan namin ang mga rally, pero ang pinakamatindi ay ang Covid-19 dahil mahigpit sa social distancing. Kung saan-saang gubat at bundok kami nagtago para magkasama-sama. Naghanap kami ng mga tagong lugar at isla,” said Francisco.

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There was a time when social distancing measures limited group gatherings to just two persons, but the group managed to continue hiking without breaking the rules by trekking in twos. The strict protocols were a blessing nevertheless as they enhanced group growth. 

Noong panahong iyon ay saka naman lalo kaming lumago, dumami ang sumama sa amin,” Francisco said. She said many of their friends brought along friends until the group grew and camaraderie improved.

Members brought food so they would have picnics when they went hiking to stay away from the city, she said.

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Kasi yung time na iyon, ang hirap e, napaka-isolated natin. Yung depression, yung gusto mong umuwi, may mga namatay hindi ka makauwi, may mga problemang pampamilya, hindi rin maayos kasi na-stuck na tayo dito. At saka yung emotional need, kailangan namin ang isa’t isa,” Francisco said.

Pumupunta kami sa mga ganitong lugar walang tao, malaya kaming magsalita, malaya kaming tumawa, malaya kaming ilabas yung kung ano ang nararamdaman namin,” she said.

She admitted there had been intrigues due to petty misunderstandings or pressure brought about by the times, but they stayed together as a family.

Para kaming magkakapatid, minsan may away-away, minsan nagkakatampuhan. Normal lang po iyon dahil sa panahon. Maraming pressure. Pero eto pa rin kami, magkakasama, kailangan namin ang isa’t isa, parang isang pamilya yung community,” Franciso said.

The Trekkers try to maintain social distancing even in isolated areas

The members come from all regions of the Philippines. She said the priority is helping fellow OFWs, especially since they and their families don’t get dole-outs from their government even if they need help, too. The group reaches out to any OFW, even a non-member, who is in dire need to ease her worry, especially when a family member falls ill.

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Whatever amount the members give, these add up and mean a lot, said Francisco.

She said that’s one reason why almost every week The Trekkers hold charity hikes. At the same time, Francisco said, they would do cleanups on the trails and beaches to teach members to love and protect the environment.

Gusto kong masanay sila at magkaroon ng mind-set na kailangang mahalin ang environment, na huwag itapon ang kalat kung saan-saan kundi ilagay sa tamang basurahan,” the group’s “nanay” said.

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At their anniversary celebration, about 40 people gathered before noon on an isolated beach at the northern fringes of Discovery Bay. Many others came in twos or threes in the early afternoon.

On the site they strove to be in fours in line with protocols, even in preparing the food they served to celebrate the anniversary and the birthdays of two or three members.

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However, not all their weekends are devoted to hiking and cleanups, Francisco said. Sometimes they also hold a hammock festival, where members hang layers of hammocks from trees and spend the day or night in those nylon cocoons suspended in mid-air.    

The group has no elected leaders. It is the organic core group, including Francisco, Annabeline Allera, sisters Mary Joy Rebucan and Ma. Ana R. Bautista, as well as Jessie Lopez that coordinates activities. Lopez, who figures in several OFW fundraising drives, takes charge of The Trekkers’ charity projects.

Last Sunday, as they marked their special day, The Trekkers also superseded the group name with Bagong Bayani, or New Heroes, a name that best fits them.

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