I've done some voluntary work in the past and was keen to do some as part of my travels this year. Volunteering with Projects Abroad had always appealed to me, as everything I’ve heard about them has been very positive and the reviews I read online sounded great. I had been looking at the Public Health programme in Ghana, however, when a similar project started in the Philippines, I jumped at the chance to go there instead. In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the country and hit Cebu (where the project is based) hard, so when the opportunity arose to help out, I went for it.
When I landed at Mactan Cebu airport, I was greeted by a smiling Achilles, a Projects Abroad staff member who instantly made me feel at ease. This friendly nature is something I saw in all Filipino people and it is always the first thing that I tell people about when they ask about my time in the Philippines. Everybody in the Philippines wanted to say hello and help me out if they could, and made me feel so welcome in their community.
Volunteering on the Public Health Project
Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, are rife in the Philippines as a result of unhealthy diets, smoking and alcohol. The Public Health programme focused mostly on a healthy lifestyles campaign while I was there, which suited me perfectly as I had studied a lot of this area at university.
The first week saw the volunteers going round to houses in the local community and conducting surveys on smoking and alcohol and measuring blood pressure. It was amazing to see how well people responded! We also seemed to draw huge crowds, mostly children, wherever we went. The children were curious and wanted to see the equipment and how we used it.
At the end of this section of the programme, we held a presentation on the dangers of smoking and alcohol abuse and presented our findings from the survey. Speaking to a room of people who didn't understand most of what I was saying was an interesting experience, but luckily Gab, my project advisor, was on hand to translate.
The second section of the programme mainly focused on diet and exercise and followed a similar pattern to the first section: we conducted surveys at people's houses and we also learned how to measure blood glucose and cholesterol levels. As well as conducting the surveys for the programme, I was also able to help out at different events across the community including vaccination clinics for babies and small children. At these clinics I measured the length and weight of the babies and was also allowed to give oral polio vaccinations to those who needed it. I really enjoyed this experience as it made me feel like I had come away having done something effective and lasting for the community!
Working at a Medical Outreach
I also got the chance to help out at a medical outreach one day, which was an awesome experience. It was described to me as a 'one stop shop' for all health needs and that's exactly what it was. People were able to see a GP, and they got their height, weight, blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels measured. They were also able to see a dentist or an optometrist if needed. In addition, they could get a haircut or a foot massage, as well as receive food packages.
This was quite an experience and I really enjoyed helping out. Gab was great at making sure I was busy with different activities and he was keen to let me try new things too. He was also interested to hear volunteers’ opinions and suggestions. The project really is doing great things by raising awareness on health and I am looking forward to seeing it progress and grow!
Staying with a Host Family
During my month in the Philippines I stayed with a local family, which made my whole experience even better. Living in a Filipino house made the whole experience incredibly authentic and gave me an insight into the Filipino culture. My host mum, Laila, made the most amazing food, so meal times were always exciting. The rest of the family included dad Elbert, sons Elcind and Mitch and daughter Shika, who all made me feel welcome.
I was often invited to family events and days at the beach, so I didn't feel like just a tenant in their house. I was made to feel like part of the family. I was also staying with another volunteer, Camille from France, who had been there for a while before I arrived. She helped me settle in and got me involved with the activities the other volunteers were doing. Before I arrived in the Philippines I was a bit nervous about living in a family home with people I didn't know, but looking back I wouldn't have done it any other way!
Socialising and Travelling in the Philippines
Evenings and weekends were free for the volunteers to go and visit other islands or do as we wished. During my month there I visited Bohol, Cebu City and Bantayan Islands and had a great time getting to know the volunteers and seeing more of this beautiful country.
In the evenings the volunteers would meet up at BBQ Plaza, a place where street food vendors sell their food and there are lots of tables to sit and enjoy spending time together. Every Thursday evening, Projects Abroad would organise an activity for the volunteers to take part in. This varied from playing traditional Filipino games to learning some traditional dance and even Zumba! These socials were always good fun and another chance to get to know the staff and the other volunteers.
Since leaving the Philippines, I often look back to all the things I did there and the memories I made. I've been travelling round other parts of South East Asia for a couple of months now and am still telling the people I meet about my time in the Philippines. It was an experience that I will treasure and I certainly learned a lot, both about myself and the country. I've made some great friends through my time there and memories which I will keep with me forever. Thank you, Projects Abroad!