Last Friday, September 26, the Mindanao Development Authority spearheaded Treevolution, a tree planting event seeking to break the Guinness record for the most number of trees planted in an hour. While the record was apparently broken with over 2 million trees planted, many Ateneans were unhappy with the experience. Most were not even able to plant a sapling.
On the day of Treevolution, I reached school before 4 am and waited for my classmates to arrive. Our class was assigned at Bus # 2 which luckily was airconditioned. The two-hour trip to Marilog was definitely comfortable. We were also provided with a Jollibee breakfast meal and a cup of hot choco.
We arrived at Marilog at around 7:15 am and had to wait a little longer in the bus. After 10 minutes, my teacher came back and told us that we had to walk 12 kilometers to reach the planting site. My classmates and I were totally shocked when we heard the announcement; we did not expect that the hike would be that long. In the letter it was stated that we would be provided a jeep or a dump truck so we would be able to reach the site. We had no choice but to leave the bus and start walking since we needed to rush because of the time limit.
I don’t know how long we hiked under the sun on concrete, rock and muddy paths. The roads kept on getting higher and steeper. Most of us were really catching our breaths and getting really thirsty since we were not provided any water to drink. While walking up the path we saw an Arrupe volunteer and asked her how much further until the site. Her words broke me. “Honestly, you’re just 1/4 on the way there. You still have a long way to go.” We were exhausted but we kept on walking anyway. We had to. At that moment, I understood how Jesus felt.
We had to trek through two villages before we even got near the planting site. Luckily, they sold water and had bathrooms so we were able to relieve ourselves. To our surprise, we saw a lot of students from UIC walking back. We asked them what happened and they told us that they were no longer allowed to plant because of the cut off time so they were simply asked to go back to their buses. We were outraged by what the students said; we walked all this way for nothing? Some of my classmates decided to give up and head back because they were exhausted and couldn’t take it anymore. So a few of us were left and decided to continue moving on.
While we were walking, we saw our teacher near a nipa hut while talking to another participant. She said that they needed a few students to plant some trees at an alternative planting site. So the nine of us, including my teacher, took the opportunity and immediately went on the move. We had an easy time hiking until we reached a long downward slope. We had a hard time maintaining our balance since the slope was slippery. My other classmate went ahead of the group and helped each of us go down safely.
We continued hiking down a forest-like path and were constantly slipping, getting bitten by random bugs and stepping into either mud or streams of water. We were on our own getting to the planting site. It came to a point that we reached a two-way path. It was a good thing my teacher knew where to go or else we’d be even more lost. The possibility of going missing would definitely be very high. During the Treevolution orientation they promised that there would be marshals to guide us to where we needed to go. That was mostly a lie.
After making it out of the forest we finally reached an open space and we were so overjoyed to finally find people on the far side of the site. Of course our happiness was short lived because we still had a long way to hike up the hill and it wasn’t just any cute hill that you hear in nursery rhymes. It was a gigantic monument that looked dangerous and unsafe but we decided to climb it anyway. The soil was so slippery and had a clay-like texture that made it extremely difficult to climb.
Imagine us, holding on to dear life with nothing but the dirt and roots that we could latch on to. We filed in a line, grasping whatever we could. We were almost like dominoes. One wrong step on soft dirt and we could all fall down the very high hill and severely injure ourselves.
We all helped each other make it up the hill. It was really risky because we were supporting both our weight and the other person’s weight and the soil was very unforgiving.
Our classmate had a near death experience when he fell around 3 or 4 feet down the hill. It was like a scene from a movie: my teacher was shouting my classmate’s name on the top of her lungs and my classmate was holding on to whatever he could find. I’m sure he was scared but all he did was shout a very loud and enthusiastic “Whoo!” as he landed and we knew he was okay and that he was alive.
It came to a point when I took out my little shovel for planting and started literally stabbing the soil in order to get a hold of the dirt and pull myself up. It gave us so much pressure because people from above were shouting “30 minutes left!” and we were still halfway up the hill. I took out my little pink whistle and started blowing on it really loud, asking for help from the stewards but instead of helping us they simply laughed and didn’t mind us at all. We continued climbing and helping each other up and luckily we made it but again we were faced with more bad news; a teacher from another school told us that all the seedlings were planted already. So we had no choice but to climb higher grounds.
While climbing up again, my other classmates and I were able to find a few seedlings on the way, so we were so happy all our hard work and struggles were worth it. We gladly planted them and felt a sense of achievement that finally, we served our purpose. We ended up climbing so high that we finally made it to the top most part of the hill. We were rewarded by a very beautiful view of the lush green hills of Marilog. We were tired and very exhausted but we didn’t feel it because the feeling of conquering something that seemed impossible was actually possible if you only had the will to do it.
After experiencing all that beauty, we had to face the reality of going down again, so that means we had to walk another twelve kilometers going back. It was unbearable torture for all of us but again, we had no choice.
When we finally made it out of the forest (but still far away from where we started), we were all exhausted so we sat on the ground and that’s when we came across a few of the people from Ecotenista. I asked them if they were able to plant any trees but they had a disappointed look on their face, saying they were told that they couldn’t plant anymore but were given lugaw to compensate for their efforts. In fact, my colleague who was helping us document the event told me that there were a lot of wasted seedlings just put on the side.
A few of my classmates and I were lucky enough to hitch a ride in a black pick-up truck with the Arrupe volunteers. My other classmates and a lot of students were forced to walk back another twelve kilometers. On the ride going back to the bus site, I saw different people: soldiers, volunteers and students and they were all begging for food, water or transportation going back. These people had nothing with them and just like us they were very stressed and fatigued.
I was so relieved to be back at the bus because I felt safe. I grabbed a leftover breakfast meal and ate. I was so hungry and while I was eating, that was the only time I realized that I was shaking. My other classmates who went back early were sleeping heavily on their seats. Again, I couldn’t express how thankful I was to be in the airconditioned bus with food and water. After talking to my other classmates about our experience, I simply collapsed on the back of the chair and fell asleep.
I don’t know how long I fell asleep but I started hearing voices of my other classmates who were with us earlier and those who made it to the main planting site. Others were lucky to hitch a ride while the rest had to walk all the way back again. Apparently, only the nine of us were lucky enough to have planted seedlings because the others weren’t able to. They told us that people were collapsing left and right and again begging for food and water. My other classmate witnessed a girl who was crying so hard while begging for a ride back to the bus site. My classmates described Treevolution as the real life Hunger Games. It was truly an experience of the survival of the fittest during the event.
When we were finally complete, the bus left and we were making our way going back to Davao City proper. My seatmate started singing along to the Bob Marley song, “Everything’s gonna be alright” and somehow I knew that it was over and we were going home into the arms of our families.