Meet 'The Traveling Salakot,' a social science teacher offering free history tours in Manila
History Month may be ending, but The Traveling Salakot's mission to promote, protect, and enrich the country's cultural heritage and collective history is only getting started.
On weekdays, Paul John Hernandez molds the mind of the youth by fulfilling his first love for teaching at a private academic institution in Makati. On weekends, he puts on a different hat by sharing a wide array of knowledge on Philippine culture, arts, and heritage around Manila to anyone who wants to listen.
In an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, Hernandez shared a glimpse into his humble beginnings, difficulties, and the recent recognitions he's received from local and private organizations.
According to the social science teacher, the idea for the project first popped up in his head in 2013 when he was a third-year undergraduate social science student at the Philippine Normal University. His main objective was to travel around the 81 provinces of the Philippines wearing the dome-shaped native Philippine hat known as the salakot.
Around 2014 to 2016, Hernandez and his friends in Bulacan decided to realize this dream. The initiative was to hold a simple heritage walking tour around their locality to enlighten the youth and the community on their local history and evoke a greater appreciation for their culture.
The tour would begin in the Old Train Station, a part of the Spanish era Ferrocarril de Manila-Dagupan, proceed to other heritage sites, and end at the parish church of St. Francis of Assisi. Hernandez noted they partnered with local cultural advocates in their town for the advocacy to come to fruition.
In 2016, he faced the biggest challenge for his project when he opposed the Duterte administration's Build, Build, Build program, which called for restoring the Manila-Dagupan railway system. In exchange, the government would need to destroy Meycauayan's old train station. He clarified that he appreciated the change because it would foster advancement and growth. However, it would also demolish the first spot where the Bulacan walking tour schedule would ordinarily begin.
So, he gathered the support of his fellow cultural and heritage advocates in Meycauayan to lobby for the protection and conservation of the historic structure.
"Old structures are important because it immortalizes important events and historical periods. It carries our collective memories and stories," Hernandez told PhilSTAR L!fe.
Fortunately, his efforts did not end in vain because the government heard his group's plea. Much to his surprise, this petition led Meycauayan's local government unit and the Department of Transportation noticing the historic old train station and eventually converting the area into a local museum.
What he thought was a simple plea was a win for his advocacy and preservation of the country's rich past.
"A victory for us and for our simple advocacy," Hernandez expressed.
As fruitful as it was, Hernandez and his friends had to halt the Meycauayan heritage tour as he would have to devote the majority of his time to being an educator. During this time, the construction of the railway system had already pushed through.
In the last few months of 2017 and early 2020, Hernandez saw an opportunity to revive the heritage walking tour. Although, this time, he thought of conducting it at the National Museum. He titled it Moon Walk: The Life and Works of Juan Luna. Students soon took an interest and joined his tours.
The Traveling Salakot has received several recognitions and awards from the Meycauayan local government. This year, Hernandez announced that his so-called "simple initiative" has gained the acknowledgment of the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) and is now an official partner.
In June this year, the project also received the highly coveted Democracy Grant of the YouthLed by the Asia Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development or USAID.
To mark History month this August, he recently held a tour on Aug. 13 in collaboration with the NPDC which took place at Rizal Park Luneta and Paco Park. With tours normalizing after the pandemic, more students have been signing up and learning more about history and culture.
For those who wish to join and brush up on their history, visit The Traveling Salakot on Facebook and be on the lookout for upcoming tours.