1. You started ROTA because of the illiteracy problem in Mindanao. How bad was illiteracy (and other issues such as unavailability of shoes/food/school supplies) before ROTA started? Can you share the details with us?

ROTA’s outreach (help projects) has always been within the IP since they are the people whom we meet while we climb mountains taking us to far flung areas in Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, to Southern Mindanao like Cotabato, Ozamiz on the West, and was once invited by other NGOs outside Mindanao, in Benguet Province.

There aren’t any illiterate among IP’s because within their own community, every member of a tribe can read and write, they do have their own literature written and oral, their own alphabet, and can pretty much communicate and understand each other.

With their academic performance in the IPEd program, like how many students are doing well in their ABCs, reading and writing or flunking it, or number of drop outs if any, we don’t know. We only have stories from the kids themselves, their struggles to go to school, let alone stay in school. Some of them have to walk miles to get to school barefooted with very little food or no food at all. They eat camote tops every day. Some of them have no notebooks, pencils, paper or school materials to be used in the classroom, hence their interest in school is affected. Some, often young women, are discouraged to continue in their studies once they graduate from their elementary level. They are forced to abandon their dreams and ended up marrying early. Some stop going to school because accessibility to secondary schools is too difficult.

2. How did ROTA started? How many years has the group been doing this? How was it formed?

The brainchild of ROTA was three people. It was supposedly, geared to nature-nurture related activities alone. Its earliest projects were tree planting around Mapawa – a reforestation area near the city. Few months later, we were able to invite our friends and colleagues to join us. We started hiking and exploring in the mountains of Bukidnon. The group showed interests in hiking and camping, or mountaineering.

We met the head of Climb Against Cancer organization through friends and participated in their advocacy, “Climb Against Cancer 2”, a nationwide fund-raising climb event for children with cancer.

Months later, CAC asked us if we could help them transport their school supplies to an IP school in Quezon, Bukidnon. That’s when we started as couriers and decided to change the goal and objective of the group.

ROTA has grown in membership, and with its supportive members, we were able to do our own fund-raising, outreach events for IP school children. We’ve been doing this for the 3 years and onwards.

3. How do you go about ROTA projects? Can you share the details of how you look for locations, get sponsors for school supplies, food, and shoes, and then go about the actual “Trek and Treat” events?

Information Gathering
We encourage our members to suggest an impoverished school that they know for an outreach project. A lead member(s) will contact the school, informing them about our project and asks for the number of students enrolled. Through these numbers, we will be able to tell how much items we’ll give, enough for us to carry while traveling and hiking.

Website and Social Media
After the information is gathered, every member is then informed through the ROTA website and/or ROTA Facebook group to start a solicitation from their friends and relatives.

Inventory and Check List
We prepare a document spreadsheet for inventory that monitors from time to time and check what items are already complete or lacking. We make sure to meet the target number of items. Members would go so far as to pledge and buy out items and foods from their own pockets. Even other organizations would somehow come to help us to fill in the lack items or even donates foods, slippers, and shoes.

Just like planning a climb or hike event, days before the actual activity, we hold a pre-event meeting to confirm the number of volunteers, total items gathered, planning for event time schedule or itinerary, meal plans, assigning committees during the event, logistics, and budgets.

Trek and Treat, a Fund-Raising Event
Aside from our usual outreach event, “Trek and Treat” is a fund-raising event for children with medical attention and needs financial aid. We did it for the first time last February 2013 for Baby Rusver who was suffering from an opened abdominal cavity. The second was on November 3, 2013 for Baby CM who has hydrocephalus and badly in need of a shunt operation. The recent event happened on November 9th, this time, for the earthquake victims of Bohol.

4. What motivates you and your teammates to do these “Trek and Treat” events?

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.

5. What are some of the challenges that you have experienced with this project? Can you share the details with us? ex: challenges with locations, finances, weather conditions, etc.

Usually, we pay our own travel expenses and sometimes a group collection is needed for unexpected transportation fees on our large bags and boxes. These include bus, jeeps, local motorcycles and during long hours of hike, we hire local porters. We ride on local motorcycles and travel an almost never-ending bumpy ride. Some unpaved roads reveal mud and large rocks due to erosion, almost impassable that we need to unload our packs and hike instead.

We crossed rivers with cautious especially if it’s possible to rain. When it’s raining, sometimes we need stepped on the mud while walking on a muddy trail in the middle of a forest. Rain dampens our backpacks, making it heavier for us to carry especially to those volunteers who aren’t used in carrying heavy loads for hours. We make sure we hired enough porters to assist us in carrying the items while keeping our volunteers safe and comfortable. But sometimes, if there were fewer porters available, we pull out some of our own loads and divide it among us. Sometimes, weather and transportation delays cause us to hike late and reached the community almost or passed sunset.

Military Operations
One time we had to postpone an outreach because the area was on RED ALERT and civilians are discouraged to enter the area.

6. What communities/charities are you helping with this project?

  • Tiboli students in T’bolok, South Cotabato
  • SULADS, a school of Lumad students (students from different tribes in Mindanao) located in the mountains of Quezon, Bukidnon
  • Talaandig students in Lantapan, Bukidnon
  • Higaonon students in Kamansi (Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental)
  • Matigsalog students in Simsimon (Claveria, Misamis Oriental)
  • Manobo Students in San Fernando, Bukidnon

7. How is ROTA doing now? Can you say that you have experienced success with it?

ROTA is still growing because of its supportive and active members. Recent events were successful and are still planning for more. As long as we get to see the children’s genuine smiles, eat together with the food we prepared for them, having fun with parents and almost the entire community making it memorable for everyone of us, giving us contentment and joy.

8. Do you have actual stories from specific members of the community that you’ve helped regarding how ROTA has helped them firsthand?

Several but the usual collective response are that they are thankful for all the gifts they’ve received. A datu, or tribe chieftain, delivered his speech in front of us, thankful for the effort we showed despite the distance, rough trails and terrains that leads to their small community.

Some children had their very first spaghetti and Rotazcaldo (our very own arrozcaldo).
Children who have been waiting for us since morning cheered for us, relieving us from a whole day hike while approaching to their school when it’s getting dark already. By next day, as we bid goodbye, they left us with words hoping that we’ll be able to meet and have fun again.
Baby Rusver’s and Baby CM’s family, have thanked ROTA profusely ending us photo with a thank-you note.

Baby Rusver is doing well now. Baby CM will be undergoing her operation soon.

9. How did you learn about Smart’s PayITForward project? How did you join?

We learned it from a friend; he saw the project on the net and decided to join for an opportunity help more. We gathered and poured all our ideas. During an event, we carefully go over the plans for documentation, enough for us to tell what ROTA is, in a short video.

10. How did it feel when you were chosen as one of the 10 winners of Smart’s PayITForward? How do projects like this help social advocacy groups, like yours?

All the members of the group, including their families, and friends who were always giving their support and prayer for ROTA were very happy and full of excitement as we were chosen to be one of the 10 winners.

Through projects like “Smart’s PayITForward” the group will now be able to extend more help not just in Mindanao, but throughout the country.

11. What are your future plans for ROTA? Do you want to eventually make this project available to more communities, even outside Mindanao?

We are planning to visit more schools especially to those children in remote areas by giving them school kits, feeding program activities, and basic medical supplies. We are not limiting our area of coverage in giving smiles, inspiration and hope to every child. While we still can, we will continue what the group has started. We will continue to encourage more individuals to be part of the experience and appreciate the beauty of life especially when shared

12. Tell us about yourself! And your teammates, if you have any:

ROTA is predominantly composed of young and old professionals from different department/offices and sectors in Northern Mindanao. Some are connected in the Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, and Court of Appeals. Some are working in private companies as call center agents, website developer, sales representative, managers and supervisors while some are still in colleges.The age of its members ranges from 20 years old to 50 years old.Hobbies of the members include mountain biking, mountain climbing, river trekking, spelunking, scuba diving, hiking, anything related to outdoor activities.

Different characters, different personalities, age differences, but united in helping those in need.