ROTA turns climb activities into outreach programs for Mindanao communities

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

WHEN William Caderao Semorlan II and his Mindanao-based mountaineer friends formed Rebirth Outdoor Trekkers (ROTA), their initial focus were nature-nurturing activities like tree planting.

Within three years of climbing mountains though – from far-flung areas in Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, to Southern Mindanao like Cotabato, and Ozamiz on the West – the goal of the group eventually expanded.

“We’d always come across indigenous Filipinos whenever we climb mountains,” says Semorlan. It was then that they got to talk to school children from these mountains about their struggles to go to school, let alone stay in school.

“Most of them have to walk miles barefoot to get to school, with very little or no food at all. Many of them have no notebooks, pencils, paper, and other school materials to be used in the classroom so that their interest in school is affected,” Semorlan explains.

‘Treak and treat’

This was when Semorlan and the other founders of ROTA turned their tree-planting climbs into outreach activities – bringing school supplies, shoes, slippers, food and medical supplies to school children in far-flung mountains. These tribes are located in places that can only be accessed by trekking, and are not easily reached by vehicles. They eventually called the activity “Trek and Treat.”

Semorlan shares how each Trek and Treat activity comes into play. “We encourage our members to suggest and research about an impoverished school that they know for an outreach project. A lead member 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.”

Members then solicit the goods that they need from companies, organizations and individuals. “We monitor the solicitations and check what items are already complete or still lacking, making sure to meet the target number of items. Members would go as far as pledging and buying items and foods from their own pockets,” Semorlan says.


Trek and Treat activities also include fundraiser for children with medical attention who need financial aid. The first was in February this year for Baby Rusver who was suffering from an opened abdominal cavity. The second was just in November for Baby CM who had hydrocephalus and badly needed an operation. ROTA also partnered with an organization named “Climb Against Cancer” for fund-raising trekking events. Recently, ROTA also had a Trek and Treat activity to help the earthquake victims of Bohol.

“Our Trek and Treat activities can get very tiring, but they are also very rewarding,” shares Semorlan. “The tribes that we have served are always thankful of our efforts.”

“After a whole day of hiking long distances and rough trails, sometimes even reaching towns when it’s already dark, carrying all the goods for each outreach activity... the hearty cheers and genuine smiles that we get once we arrive make it all worth all while,” he explains.

Aside from being thanked by the communities that they serve, Semorlan and his teammates also appreciate being acknowledged by the mountaineering community and their members’ supportive families and friends. “ROTA continues to grow because of them.”


Recently, ROTA was recognized as one of the 10 projects that stood out among over a hundred entries that were submitted to Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) during the first round of its newest social development initiative, PayITfwd.

Participants like ROTA submitted their entries on video, demonstrating the nature of their respective projects, how they’re helping their beneficiary communities, and how Smart’s technology package and grant can help to further scale up the good deed.

The telco leader has rewarded each of the 10 community-based projects with 5 tablets and a technology grant of P50,000. Smart Bro also enabled connectivity to the devices with a Smart Pocket Wi-Fi, and P3,000 worth of load credit.

“Technology can help increase efficiency in operations and expand the reach of these community-based projects. More often than not, these social good deeds are done by volunteers with limited resources. With Smart’s technology solutions, we hope to help spread social good to keep the ‘good’ going,” says Ramon Isberto, head of Smart Public Affairs.

“With the technology grant, we are able to boost the funds for our Trek and Treat activities,” says Semorlan. He explains that while they are able to solicit goods for outreach activities, the team members still use personal money for expenses such as transportation, excess baggage fees and emergency lodging when necessary.

More importantly, winning Smart’s PayITfwd will enable ROTA to help communities not just in Mindanao, but throughout the country. “We are planning to visit more schools around the Philippines and help more children by continuing to give school kits, hold feeding program activities, and provide basic medical supplies. We are not limiting our area of coverage in giving smiles, inspiration and hope to every child.”

Smart will be announcing this month the winners for the second round of payITfwd. For more details about the program, check out

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 22, 2013.


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