I apologise for my very delayed report to the group. It has been such a wonderful a whirlwind of Christmas holiday, New Year, weddings, anniversaries and festivities this is the first time I have had time to get my thoughts together.
First of all, we want to thank Dr. Serafin Ngohayon and his Team namely, Director of Student Services and Development, Ms. Christine Dinagtuan and her staff, Mr. Julio Pugong Jr. for the well-organised, thoughtful and personalised Balik-Ili program.
It was a wonderful, international affair! While participant turnout was low – 15 participants from U.K and Australia; other participants from and in the Philippines had reserved to come, but we were not able to come in the end – we still had an unforgettable experience.
Early on Sunday morning (December 14), we were collected by the IFSU (Ifugao State University) van in Baguio. After a long day of travel from Baguio to Ifugao, we arrived to a warm welcome by IFSU and ICBE scholar Davonee Hangdaan. We rested overnight in IFSU accommodation.
The next day we began with a breath-taking scenic tour of the Banaue rice terraces and local village. Later that day we returned from our tour and enjoyed a cultural exchange evening hosted and presented by IFSU. The socialisation between our group and the students and staff of IFSU led to a lively exchange of cultures. The IFSU dance troupe was also superb in their dancing. They even encouraged the group (especially newbies) to participate in the dancing and gangsa. So, the group danced into the night!
On the second day, we were able to participate in a well-organised tree planting progam. During the planting of seedlings, participants were also allowed to hand mark each seedling planted in honour of a dignitary of our choice. It was a heart-warming occasion. Upon returning from the reforestation program, the group was once again graciously welcomed and invited to join IFSU’s staff Christmas party. During the Christmas party, IFSU scholar Davonee Hangdaan gave a heart-warming speech acknowledging her thanks to ICBE for her scholarship. She also prepared a card, which she handed to me. I promised I would bring her “Thank you” card to the next ICBE conference in Austria. The ICBE Balik Ili group also donated 30,000 Php to the ICBE scholarship fund.
On a personal note, the Balik Ili trip to IFSU in Ifugao was a memorable experience. The camaraderie and intimacy of the group together with the hospitable generosity shown by Dr Serafin, his team and IFSU aided to the unique experience. For me the sight of the rice terraces will never grow old. By looking out to nature's awesome wonder I was able to trace the stairways to the sky and renew of bonds of friendship both old and new! It was such special time.
(Letter sent to the ICBE Forum on 28 December 2014)