I’ve had the privilege of visiting a great deal of diverse countries. When I decided to embark on a volunteer journey, I had certain criteria I wanted to meet whilst planning my trip. My first prerequisite was that I volunteer through a reputable organisation that is what it says it is – full of enthusiasm and allows their volunteers to make a genuine impact on the lives of the people within the disadvantaged areas of a country.
As I had never travelled alone before, my second requirement was that the organisation had a scheme in place for younger travellers that made me feel more secure. My third condition was that I would be able to go to a country within the northern area of Asia as I hoped it would offer a culture unlike anything I’ve experienced before. My short-term two week trip in Philippines went beyond all the expectations I had in mind.
Arriving in Philippines
It was exceptionally hot in the Philippines. I remember thanking myself for packing such light clothing. Before I had time to become anxious at the new environment, I was met by a Projects Abroad staff member and another volunteer who was joining my project. They literally greeted me with open arms. We all went for lunch and headed on a scenic road trip across the island. It was during that journey that it became obvious that Filipino people were as friendly as we’d heard. When I was taken to my host family I was greeted with hugs and smiles and many excited dogs. From that moment on, the family I had become a part of treated me wonderfully.
My Public Health placement
The next day I began my Public Health Project. My favourite activities were family health screenings, where the local people’s blood sugar levels, blood pressure and BMI took were measured and they were given information about their cholesterol. For anyone worried about being unprepared for undergoing these tasks, don’t! The Projects Abroad staff helped us along the way and the local community trusted us.
Often during the afternoon heat, my team would be based in shaded outreach areas and would create vegetable stew and banana pancake concoctions. Many families live without a way of cooling food and so many food items such as milk are not found in their diets. The recipes we demonstrated gave many woman ideas on how to cook healthier for their families. The villages we travelled to were full of life, with children running around playing games, roosters, dogs and cats at an abundance and local women queuing for our assistance.
On other days, our project involved us visiting local schools, encouraging the students to thinking about their own health. Don’t expect to enter a Filipino classroom without smiles and a very loud introduction from everyone in the room. Communication barriers here were difficult at first, so many over exaggerated body expressions will be necessary and bring lots of laughter!
My host family
Staying with my host family was by far what made my trip so special. Evenings spent at home consisted of hours of learning card games, making traditional foods and being a hair model for my host sister to practice doing braids on. I stayed with a family of one grandmother, mother and a son and daughter. I was given my own section of their house and I shared it with two other girls on my project, one from Korea and one from Austria.
Free time in Philippines
Our host family were excellent at helping us organise places to visit, so after our days of community work we would explore the area. I managed to see the beautiful beaches and experience street shops. I even visited a nail salon which left me with beautiful patterned nails for the most of two weeks.
My project had an organised weekend trip to Bantayan Island by ferry and I can say hands down that I have never seen such a beautiful island. We stayed at Anika’s beach resort and as many Filipinos don’t swim, the beach was quiet and very clean. Exploration of the island was high on my mind. A group of different volunteers of varied ages met on trikes and travelled to the oldest church on the island, cafés and bars and lastly Ogtong cave which was quite a wonderful surprise.
My most memorable part of my two weeks in the Philippines was during my second week, where I was allowed to visit a birthing center in the evening. I was intrigued by the birthing, breastfeeding and sleeping rooms. I stayed overnight and was able to follow a lovely woman throughout her labour. She gave birth to a beautiful girl in the morning. I also visited her again later on in the week. Being involved in such a personal experience will always remain in my memory.
Over the two week placement I became very close to the other volunteers in Care, Building, Physiotherapy, Medicine and Public Health, and made several lifelong friends. After many nights of karaoke, we shared a few life-changing experiences as well as having lots of fun along the way including eating local foods at a place called BBQ Plaza and exploring all the local food markets and malls with a cup of coconut milk from a street stall in my hand. Saying goodbye to the Philippines, the volunteers, the staff and my host family was one of the saddest things I have had to do. I would recommend doing a High School Special to anyone, there is so much you are able to achieve in a two week period.