TEXT AND PHOTO BY EUDEN VALDEZ
ALMOST four years since Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs took the lives of thousands, this fact remains: Families are left dealing with losses of their loved ones. Wives without husbands. Children without fathers. Parents without children.
Justice is far off, not within reach nor within sight.
Healing, on the other hand, may be a step closer to some of these family members. They are taking the steps forward, upward and downward along the trails of mountains.
This outdoor activity is made possible by Step-Up, an activity initiated by Program Paghilom, an integrated program centered on helping widows and orphans rebuild their lives; which is then implemented by us at RAK Ph Mountaineers, a cause-oriented group of mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Since its beginning in April 2019, we have so far intervened with the lives of about 30 family members who have already graduated from Program Paghilom. This way, healing can continue for them even after the holistic program’s psychosocial-spiritual, educational and socio-economic interventions.
They have been carefully guided during healing hikes to expose them to nature, its beauty and its importance. Some have joined a healing camp for an even more immersive retreat. In each of this activity participants have expressed that they have disconnected themselves from their troubles and pains, and yet, have reconnected within and among themselves.
Such was the case when an all-women batch—with the addition of an 8-year-old boy—became part of the first Step-Up hike for 2020. It was held at Mt. Tagapo in Binangonan’s Talim Island, which is located right at the heart of Laguna de Bay.
It became a healing hike of firsts: the first time senior citizen mommies climbed a mountain, the first time we guided the most number of elders in a hike, and the first time a fellow cause-oriented mountaineering group, Nomad Terra Crawlers, joined us.
More important for us at RAK was the unforgettable and incomparable experience of our hikers in the mountain.
The mothers in their senior years, despite initially worrying about their knees and arthritis, were surprised that they were able to reach the summit still with strength and even filled with joy.
“Nabunutan ako ng tinik pagdating sa summit,” said one of them.
“Sa buhay may dinadanas tayong kahirapan, pero meron ding mga pagkakataon na makakaranas tayo ng kabutihan,” expressed the other.
Another participant, despite experiencing cramps, was thankful that she was finally able to hike a mountain.
Aside from the first-timers, there were also repeaters who have been part of Step-Up since Day 1. On why they kept joining, one reasoned that they were able to forget their problems even just for a day.
And even it was still difficult again and again, they would like to climb again. “Hanggang kaya at may pagkakataon, uulit kami,” they echoed.
One mommy commended how everyone treated each other like family especially during lunch at camp where everyone gathered and shared their blessings. This, in fact, had always been the practice of RAK, to bond over food.
To the delight of everyone, one of our volunteers just celebrated his birthday and brought handa, which included lechon, patatim, and grilled fish and shellfish!
At the summit of Mt. Tagapo, everyone savored the 360-degree views of the lake, of Taguig and Makati skylines, and of mountains across Laguna province like Makiling.
The only kid of the batch became the constant source laughter thanks to his funny and bibo antics.
Our long day finally concluded with a dinner at one of the local restaurants in Binangonan, wherein we received our participants’ gratitude. To be called “Angels” for our deeds by one mom was more than enough to touch our hearts.
This story was originally written and published for RAK Ph Mountaineers.
Names of our Step-Up participants are not divulged for safety and security purposes.