Laylaya, Besao: A Volunteer Speaks From the Boondocks

There’s more to the Cordilleras than Baguio City, Banaue, Sagada, and the capital towns. Sadly, most media reports on the region are about these places. That’s why its nice to read (and to republish) articles about other parts of the Cordilleras.This report by Mariel Conel Bayangos on her experiences in Laylaya, Besao is one such article.

Mariel Conel Bayangos: My teaching assignment was at the Panabungen School of Arts, Trades and Home Industries in Laylaya, Besao, Mt. Province. The area is the farthest barangay in Besao, in the tri-boundary of Ilocos Sur, Abra and Mt. Province.

The Igorots in Laylaya practice and strictly follow their culture. For instance, the use of gongs is preferred only during occasions; otherwise, they have to seek permission from the community elders. Still, for every use of the gongs, a ritual should follow.

Though Laylaya is close to the Ilocos, the Igorot culture is preserved. Based on my observations and some inquiries, Ilocano culture is scarcely manifested in the area. In fact, some people in the Ilocos part are actually practicing the Igorot culture as well. Other residents in the Ilocos area also consider themselves full blooded Igorot.

The road to Laylaya would never be appealing to people who do not have a heart for this kind of work. We always describe our trip to be a roller coaster ride. Laylaya itself is a reward. Staying on top of the hill gazing at a wonderful panorama is stress-relieving. Laylaya offers the best sunsets I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life. But the mountains where Laylaya stands are rocky and lack water. This makes it hard for the people to till the land. Their farms are located down along the river, more than an hour hike away. This situation makes the people feel really bad about their place.

Laylaya is divided into three sitios namely Bana-ao, Panabungen (where the school got its name) and, Laylaya Proper. It has a health center managed by a midwife. It does not have a barangay hall; the council instead uses the former Central Cordillera Agricultural Program (CECAP) building, or the dap-ay (a traditional meeting place) for its business. It has two daycare centers, one kindergarten, one elementary school and the high school.

I handled Biology and Philippine History. Since both of my subjects are not my field of study I really had to study hard. But I do not regret that I taught those subjects. I discovered ways to change the classroom atmosphere by making the class more interactive and interesting.

Sometimes, I handled emergency classes especially when another teacher was not around. I also did remedial classes in Biology and Math. I held enhancement classes for the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) and for a Biology Quiz bee. I then accompanied the UPCAT takers to Bontoc.

We had a journalism seminar, leadership training and a health forum. I taught a stage play, a dance and a song. I also danced and sang myself. I also had counseling sessions with some of my students. I “coached” several sports events (volleyball, chess and softball) for the school intramurals, district meet and fiesta. I did not see myself performing well in this task though.

Although I had a wonderful time during my stay in the area, I had to face challenges and problems and did my best to deal with them. The community was generally suspicious of our motives. They have had to deal with insurgency problems earlier and want no more of it. We had to patiently introduce ourselves and the program over and over again.

We joined them in harvesting some crops, planting, in cultural affairs, and in any activity. Our encounters with drunkards were cases of fight or flight. We tried to understand local culture, tried certain practices if these did not hurt. We did our best to learn to speak the language. We had to draw our stipend from a bank in Bontoc which is quite far. This required us to travel every month to get our supplies.

Being a Gurong Pahinungod is a life-changing experience. It touched every aspect of my life. Living in a community where I was a complete stranger melted down whatever arrogance I had. It left nothing but humility and the ability to understand life from a wider perspective. It renewed and affirmed me as an individual. It has stretched my faith, exhausted my skills and revealed my unknown talents. Thus, it has provided the venue for the re-creation of my self. It allowed me to see and evaluate my weaknesses and fears and most especially to conquer them.

A year of volunteer work made me realize that teaching does not stop when your students could decode the word, recognize the word, or even understand the word. In reality teaching does not end; it’s infinite. Even separation could not break the process; it is a calling which persists. I am not only a giver but also a recipient of learning. If I could effect change on just one life I know the sacrifices are worth giving.

Note: This was first published in the July 2006 issue of Ti Similla, a journal of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Baguio City. You can download a PDF copy of the journal here. Mariel worked as a volunteer with Gurong Pahinungod, a program which encourages UP graduates to work in rural communities. Mariel is on her second year with said program but she is now based in Mankayan, Benguet.

8 Comments
  1. Bill – just found this post today and I’m mesmerized not a single show of affection to what Mariel is doing or has done from our readers. Would like to meet her one of these days. Godspeed and more power to her. Goodhealth….

    TruBlue

  2. Hi TruBlue,
    Ooops, almost missed your comment. I agree with you. She is also doing good work as a volunteer like Julia, no? Hope there will be more young people going into volunteerism. Thanks again.

  3. #3 carin joy bayongawan on 11.29.09 at 8:13 am
    laylaya is a beautiful place!

    How far is Laylaya from Payeo? Would like to hike it someday if I get a chance. Thanks!

  4. Just a simple correction: the farthest barangay from besao would be dandanac. No road network to that place yet.

  5. Wow! I did not know this was re-published in other site. Maraming salamat! I hope with my story I am inspiring lives… and i hope to impart hope for the Philippines and its people. =)

  6. Laylaya is composed of more than 3 sitios now namely Pangweo,Bana_a0, Panabungen and even masingen. Since the road already reach out this place Bana_ao is already becoming now a central business for the sitios. It is a mini city.

  7. actually 3 sitios…Bana-ao, the poetic name of Panabungen; Maliten, the poetic name of Pangweo; proper Laylaya where the office of the Punong Barangay should be.

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