I set off on my trip with Mum and Nicola from Taunton on Monday 21st July and travelled to Heathrow where we caught our flight to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The trip was a pretty tiring and lengthy one, having spent a large amount of the time just waiting for our flights which totalled about 17 hours but the flights were fine (the food was pretty decent too and the films even better) and we arrived Wednesday morning at the airport where we were met by my grandparents and my uncle and his family. One of the things I remember most from my last trip was the heat stepping off of the plane and coming into land the humidity was pretty clear from the windows which started to steam up outside. For the first week were to stay with my grandparents in Paranaque, a district not too far from the airport but still pretty central of the city. It has been 5 days now since I arrived and in the past week we have just been settling into life over here and getting used to the heat! We’re 8 hours ahead of the UK and despite my best efforts I haven’t managed to kick my afternoon nap habit, I’ve probably suffered the worst from jetlag! We have spent the last few days within the city and haven’t really ventured any further due to the weather, which has been quite honestly depressing although not surprising since it’s right in the middle of the rainy season! However we’ve been able to explore the surrounding area a great deal. Yesterday we went to the local market to see my gran in full market sales mode. Despite her age she still gets up at 3am every morning to buy fish from a local wholesaler which she sells at the market, not finishing until midday…and I thought getting up at 7am was bad enough! The local market here is a hive of activity and noise, there’s rows of stalls selling everything freshly prepared from coconuts to cockerels (which can be used for cock-fighting, a sport which is enjoyed by many people here including my granddad!). I’ve also managed to get in 2 trips to Mall of Asia, a massive shopping mall which has been built by the bay and is about 3 times the size of Cribbs causeway!! It’s incredible to think that something so huge and of such enormous expense can be built in a district where people nearby are living in slum environments.
Instead of travelling by bus the local people use two main modes of transport: tricycles, which are motorbikes with a side car attachment and my favourite: jeepneys, which are ex-army trucks converted into people carriers and are amazingly decorated on the outside. The people here aren’t bothered about taking a comfortable ride and don’t mind cramming 15 people into a jeepney in one go!! The other aspect of living I have had to adjust to is the lack of flushes and toilet seats. I still don’t understand why but you are hard pressed to find a toilet with a seat on it! I have maintained my routine of showering in the morning however this time it’s using a bowl and a bucket of water…not the quickest of methods but still does the job! As a result of this I decided to get my hair cut in a local salon, in an attempt to reduce the amount of time I have to spend washing it! It cost less than a pound to do so, which is lovely when you’re used to having to fork out 30 quid back home for the same thing. Tomorrow we are going to visit my aunty and cousins who live in a district known as Laguna, about an hour or so out of the city. We will be staying there for a few days and I am looking forward to having a break from the city since the pollution and smell are quite intense at times!
We have spent four days in Laguna now and it’s been a great chance for us to see some more sights outside of Manila. On the Monday we left Manila early and went via Cavite to visit some of our other cousins (there are quite a few seeing as my Mum has four brothers) before heading onto Calamba in Laguna. We had a great first evening, starting off with a massive meal and buko salad (coconut salad-currently my favourite) for dessert followed by some karaoke.
Despite the rain’s persistence we’ve managed to make the most of our stay. On Wednesday we got up super early and made a trip out to Tagaytay, a massive lake about an hour and half’s drive from Laguna. The lake is famous for the volcano, Taal, which is located in the centre and is still active. The setting was absolutely stunning and we were lucky enough to have a few hours sunshine whilst we made a trip out to the volcano by boat. Upon reaching the volcano Nix and I decided to take the trek up to the crater by pony, something which I had wanted to do for ages!! It was an exciting trek up, the paths weren’t exactly laid out and there were some bumpy bits but the view at the top was definitely worth having a sore bum! After that we went to Calaca in the district of Batangas further south of Tagaytay to visit some of my Mum’s friends. So far we haven’t been to any beaches, so after a bit of pestering we went down to the local beach. I think we were both a bit disappointed to find the beach was not only located about half a mile away from a power plant but was completely littered, so we couldn’t go swimming! Throughout our stay Nix and I have been keen to check out some of the beaches the island has to offer, however our plans have not been as straight foward as we’d originally hoped. The typhoon Frank, which hit the country a few weeks before we arrived, has caused a lot of disruption to many areas making it difficult to access them and has affected our travelling plans. We have however managed to book tickets to go to Boracay island for next week, which I am really excited about so hopefully the weather will hold for it!!
We ended up staying for an extra few days in Calamba and in that time we were able to sneak in a trip to a resort called Hidden Valley springs, which was well and truly hidden in the middle of a rainforest in Alaminos. The resort is a popular spot with tourists and visitors from Manila, but we were lucky enough to pick a quiet day and were able to enjoy the resort’s numerous spring water pools without the masses. The location had a vast array of plants and trees including coffee plants, papaya trees and cocoa plants, which we were able to sample thanks to the help of a very kind gardener! We also decided to take the hike to the hidden valley waterfall which was about 15 minutes away from the main resort and required overcoming some slippery pathway and rock hopping. It was supposedly too risky for tourists to swim in this particular waterfall, the height of which was about 30m but there was a queue of local kids gathered at the top waiting for their turn to jump off…rather them than me! We travelled back to Manila for one night before heading out on our long awaited trip to Boracay. We caught a flight from the Domestic airport and in 50 minutes we arrived in the sun filled town of Caticlan. We decided to book a package holiday as the trip was so last minute and although the price was rather steep the experience was worth every penny and it was nice not having to worry about booking everything ourselves. The island itself is only 5 miles by 2miles, so pretty small but already a massive tourist hotspot thanks to its beaches and great diving. It was incredibly beautiful, with amazing stretches of white sand and crystal blue water and although we only had a short stay of 3 days we managed to experience plenty of the island’s goodies in that time, including island hopping on the second day which would prove to be one experience I’d keep with me for longer than desired! We set out early with a group of about 26 people and went by boat to different beaches and islands where we got the chance to do some cave swimming and snorkelling. It was my first time snorkelling and the shallow water was perfect for it, there were fish of all shapes and sizes, urchins, starfish and I even spotted a couple of sea snakes! After a day of swimming Nix and I decided to give the banana boat ride a go, so after gathering another 8 people from our group all 10 of us set out on the ride…big mistake! We seemed little tight for space with 10 people but it started out fine until the lads decided to bounce up and down and soon enough we fell off in one fell swoop. However in the process I managed to collide with another guy and got a lovely great lump on my forehead…ouch. We were taken straight back to land and both went to the local hospital but luckily we didn’t have anything serious and just went home with some painkillers. The rest of my evening was spent with a bucket of ice in bed, not the best of endings to an otherwise perfect day! I was fine by the next day and we decided to check up on my poor counterpart to make sure he’d made it through the night and luckily he was fine too. We had to go back on Friday, which came around much faster after the accident and I went home with some great purchases and the best souvenir I could ask for: a black eye!! It is now 4 days since we got back from Boracay and after returning to Manila I spent my last couple of days there with my cousins making the most of our time together…which included watching a ridiculous amount of Hannah Montana, a Disney channel show that my younger cousins absolutely adore! I was sad to leave Manila again, the time having gone so quickly however it was great to have spent that time with my family catching up with them again and making up for all the lost time. I was definitely ready for the next leg of the trip: Cebu. It took less than an hour’s flight from terminal 3 before I arrived in Cebu International airport, even though I’m quite used to travelling by myself I was still quite nervous. But I had no reason to be as I had an incredibly warm welcome at the airport where I was met by Brother Carlo, Dahlia and Naoko. As with visiting new places my first trip to the provincial house was an opportunity for me to take in all the new sights of the surrounding area and start to familiarise myself with what would be my home for the next 5 and half weeks. The provincial house where I have been staying for the past two days is located in area away from Pasil and usually volunteers would stay for a week to settle in however since I have already spent 3 weeks in the country I’m going to be moving to Pasil community tomorrow and will get stuck in with work straight away . Today I was given my first insight into the work of the Salesians in Cebu and much to my surprise their presence here is far greater than I had thought. I visited a Boys’ home set up in Liloan which is currently hosting over 100 boys some of whom are orphans and those who are from broken families and underprivileged backgrounds. The boys here are given accommodation, food and the care and support they deserve to help them during their education (from elementary school up to college). The centre also features a welding training centre which is one example of the vocational training centres set up to provide high school graduates a chance to go into a trade if they cannot proceed to higher education. I was also fortunate enough to visit the rehabilitation centre for teenagers after lunch and we made the trip up to the centre, made all the more difficult by the torrential rain which had caused flooding on the roads by this point. The centre here is again hosting about 110 children, mainly boys, who have committed petty crimes but are given the opportunity to better themselves and take up new skills in the form of carpentry and design. This particular trip proved a real eye opener to me since I have never been in a prison before but I am keen to go back and assist in the project if possible. After that I visited the Sto. Nino basillica and musuem in the city centre, which was a great chance for me to find out more about the local tradition and celebration of the Nino procession which traditionally takes place in January and is a huge festival for the locals. I am really looking forward to moving to Pasil tomorrow and to getting hands on with work…I just hope my eye doesn’t scare the kids off! 23/08/08 I have just spent my first week in the Pasil community and it has by far been the most challenging week I have ever had! I arrived in Pasil on Wednesday 13th in the afternoon after completing my orientation during the morning and visiting a few other Salesian sites around the area including the training center and school at Liloan and also the feeding programme run in the nearby Lourdes parish. I was very excited about finally going to Pasil after all the preparation and positive comments I had heard from the members of the Provincial house. All the Priests had given me the same impression: Pasil is one big party! But aside from the lively community spirit there would be plenty of kids to look after and lots of work to be done! I was just hopeful that my few days rest had prepared me well enough.
“Pasil” is a community situated about 15 minutes away from the City center and is home to about 20,000 people. Although the area is called Pasil it is actually made up of two “Barangays” known as Pasil and Suba, adjacent to one another, which would be our equivalent of a small village or sub-division. The housing here is quite primitive, with the exception of a few properties, with corrugated iron rooves and wooden exteriors all within close proximity of each other making fire a common hazard. It is not uncommon to find maybe 8-10 people living in a 4 room house, the family sizes here are on average 6-8 children and in fact one family living close to the Bosco center has 16 children!! So I suddenly switched from the calm and serenity of the provincial house to hustle and bustle of Santo Nino parish Church where I would be staying in a room above the church for the next 5 weeks. The Church is located right in the heart of the Suba community with houses closely surrounding the building, along with narrow streets which remain occupied by tricicads (bikes with sidecars used for transportation), stalls, animals and people-of course! People are always out on the street, the kids play games, the adults either look after their various stalls or play Mahjong and Bingo. The Bosco center is within walking distance of the church about 2 minutes walk in fact and in the evening forms the focal point for the daily activities, when all the children in the area line up outside the gates waiting for the games to begin! I would never have expected my first night to be the way it turned out, as with entering any new situation or community it takes time to get to know people and settle in, especially since I was the only English volunteer at the time. There was one other student staying here from Japan, called Naoko, who would be staying for 2 weeks and she was my next door neighbour for the next week or so. In the evening after I’d unpacked and had some dinner Dahlia, one of workers who was in charge of coordinating my voluntary work, took some of us out to visit her relative for a birthday celebration. We had to make a Jeepney trip followed by a motorbike trip but about 20 minutes into the jeepney trip I had a phone call from my Dad telling me that my Gran had died. It was possibly the most difficult situation I’ve had to face so far, being told on a packed Jeepney with people I’d only just met to comfort me was not ideal! Dealing with the news was the hardest challenge because at that time I just wanted to be home with my family, it was the first time I had lost a close family member. So not the best start to my visit but after some good parental input I decided that it would be better for me to stay. And I am so glad I did! The support that I received from the Priests, members of staff and others was incredible and they were more than willing to give me their time despite having such busy lives!
With so much work to be done I was able to get stuck in pretty much straight away, which took my mind off the news and helped me to recover. As my stay is relatively short compared to other volunteers who usually stay a year I was keen to get involved in as much as possible and in any way as I had no specific role to play. I had an itinerary written out for me and I’ve been lucky enough to help out with a variety of activities during the day. I start out by helping at the local clinic held at the Bosco center, which runs every morning from 8 for a couple of hours. There is only one visiting doctor each day who attends to up to 50 patients in just one morning, the locals queue up outside the gate every morning waiting to be seen. I help out in the “dispensary” which also acts as a reception and take patient’s details and deal with their records and prescriptions, which also includes dispensing their medication. The medicines available are very limited because the clinic relies on donations and sponsors to provide the medication since the income from the dispensary is so low. My next job is to assist at the Parish feeding programme which provides food to roughly 75 children every morning, usually in the form of rice, soup or casserole. The children who sign up are all malnourished and the programme aims to help them regain normal weight within 3 months, so the children are weighed regularly and their progress is monitored closely. In the afternoon I get a few hours free before going to a missionaries charity run by sisters which looks after children from underprivileged backgrounds, either the parents can’t afford to bring the children up or they are orphans. My first impression upon visiting the home was just how many children there were with so few adults to look after them, in particular with the babies and toddlers. There are 45 children at the home right now, from a few months old up to 14 years. I have been spending the majority of my time looking after the babies and toddlers, there are about 12 of them in the nursery and some of them are recovering from illnesses such as tuberculosis and pneumonia so they need plenty of tlc! The evenings are dedicated to time with the kids at the Don Bosco Center, first of all I supervise one of the tutorial classes which are held every evening for the scholars giving them time to do their homework. Whilst the tutorial classes are running the center is open for anyone to play so hoards of teenagers turn up to play basketball for an hour. Then afterwards all the scholars gather together to take part in the Rosary which is said every evening whilst walking up and down the playground! It’s a good opportunity to get some exercise! Once we’ve finished the kids have about an hour and a half or free time to play games and relax. There’s plenty of things for the kids to do especially with the opening of the new games room so the rest of the evening is spent playing volleyball, table tennis or videoke (basically karaoke). Since I arrived I’ve been lucky enough to take part in some of the many celebrations held here each year. The parties here are big business and involves a whole community input with lots of food, music and dancing! On my first weekend we celebrated the birthday of Father Andy, one of the resident priests here, who amongst other impressive skills present his Sunday homily as a RAP! Alongside this we celebrated the opening of the Intra-murals, the games season marking the start of the sport competitions held at the youth center for the trainees. We celebrated this with an opening show, where all the trainees performed dances which I had to judge alongside some others…which was very difficult because nearly all the kids here are amazing at dancing and singing!
04/09/08 I have just over two weeks left now before I come back and there is still so much work to be done! I have been sticking to my daily routine of morning clinic and youth center in the evening, however I’m now helping out with some of the office work during the afternoons instead of visiting the Missionaries of Charity. For the past week there has been an influx of volunteers all keen to help out with the children at the missionaries, including a group of 8 Japanese volunteers so I felt it better to have a break from the missionaries whilst they are still there and use my time doing something else. It’s not usually the case here to have too many volunteers, the missionaries have been fortunate enough to receive a real interest from volunteers to help out so they’re happy to accommodate them. It’s been nice to have a different job since spending 3 hours in a room full of babies who more than often are crying can get quite tiring. But working with the kids has been so rewarding and to be able to see them make a recovery from their previous illnesses is really great. Right now I am helping to update the profiles of some of the scholars here, who are sponsored by different organisations throughout their education. It is quite a hefty job to do, since there are over 100 scholars in total!
We have just received a massive batch of medicines in the clinic which have been donated by one of the resident doctors and her classmates, it’s nice to see the shelves full and to not have to turn patients away. The price of the medicines sold in the clinic are lowered in the hope that patients will be able to afford them. One of the reasons that sickness is so prevalent here is simply because people can’t afford to buy the medication they need despite being given a prescription and a medical check-up. It has been quite difficult and frustrating at times to communicate with the children here so I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to learn the local language. Most of the children can say basic phrases but once you’ve established their name and age it gets a bit tricky to find out any more!
Last week we spent several of our evenings at a memorial chapel, attending masses which were held for the mother of one of the staff members, a lady who was well known to the community here. The way in which death is dealt with differs greatly to our methods back at home, here when a person dies their body is put in a coffin but with their face visible and displayed in a funeral chapel for up to a week allowing for family members to gather and celebrate mass for the family member every night. The funeral and burial then follows a week later and we attended the funeral service on Sunday, but unfortunately for me I managed to faint just before the service started (it was very hot that day) so I spent the duration of the service sat in the car with the ari-con on full to try and recover! Recently I’ve been finding the heat quite hard to cope with, even though it’s not the hottest time of the year we’ve still been getting 37-38 degrees some days and had hardly any rain.
In our free time we’ve had some fantastic trips out. Last Thursday I was able to join the new Austrian volunteers on their trip around the city to make up for mine, which was rained off when I first arrived. We visited a traditional Spanish style house called Casa Gorodo, our equivalent of a national trust property back home, plus Fort San Pedro which is a former stronghold built upon the Spaniards arrival to Cebu in 1564. After a massive lunch of barbeque chicken and Buko-Halo (Halo-Halo in a coconut shell) we went to the Taoist temple, a Chinese temple set on the side of the mountain overlooking the city. There I gave the Buddhist stone throwing ritual a go, where 2 stones are thrown after asking a question to God and the outcome is determined by the way the stones land…a yes for all 3 of my questions! Then on Saturday I went with some of the college scholars to see the prison inmates at the Cebu District prison, a 30 minute drive from Pasil and right next to the Juvenile rehabilitation center I visited a few weeks ago. However we weren’t there as visitors, we were in fact forming part of the audience who were there to watch the inmates perform a 2 hour show of dancing! There are 1500 inmates currently at CBDRC and all of them take part in a dance program which was introduced 4 years ago to help the inmates get fit and to involve them in something constructive during their free time. It was absolutely amazing to watch, about 1000 of the inmates were performing all kitted out in bright orange outfits and they presented 9 different dances. [You can see this here (youtube)]
Aside from that I have also had the chance to try out ballroom dancing for the first time, when on Monday Sarah and I went with one of the staff to waterfront hotel to dance the night away! I had done some fox-trot in the past but had never done ballroom so was keen to learn some new steps. For this weekend Sarah and I have a trip planned to Bohol, an island just a short ferry ride away, to check out the Chocolate Hills and find some tarsiers…cute little monkey like creatures, just hope the rain stays away a bit longer!
13/09/08 As part of our stay here Sarah and I have to complete an assignment which can be used back in England in order to help us share our experience in a way that helps educate other people, in particular children. So for our assignment we’ve been collecting bits and bobs together in order to compile a education pack for school children. We’ve been frantically interviewing kids and collecting poems, drawings, recordings of songs and lots of pictures which will all be used for the pack. It’s been a great way to spend more time with the kids and to listen to their stories, some of which are really moving. The kids also LOVE to have their picture taken, I am constantly asked to take pictures so that they can put them up on their friendster profiles (our facebook equivalent). I’m now into my final week here, I really can’t believe I’ll be leaving next Friday it’s hard to imagine what it’s going to be like going home and starting University a week later.
We postponed our trip to Bohol from Saturday until Tuesday, which was a national holiday…again! Since we were only visiting for the day we decided to leave early and caught a midnight ferry to Tubigon port, arriving just after 4am. I managed to sleep the whole way, which was quite impressive considering how uncomfortable the ride was, we had to sleep on wooden benches. In order for us to get the most out of the trip we hired a driver to take us around the island for the day. He came to pick us up from the port a little after 5am and took us to our first stop: the chocolate hills, a group of 1268 hills famous for their perfectly conical shapes and the “chocolate” appearance which is seen during the summer. We spent the rest of the morning deeper inland visiting another region of the chocolate hills as well as a butterfly farm and then got to walk across a bamboo bridge over the loboc river, which was quite unnerving because of the gaps in the bridge. For lunch we ate on a floating restaurant which took us down the loboc river whilst being serenaded and enjoying a nice buffet spread, stopping briefly along the way to watch some local people perform dances and music on ukeleles. After that we went onto Panglao island, an island located south of Bohol which is famous for its pristine beaches and after finding a nice resort we spent the rest of the afternoon lapping up the sun. There we met a priest called Fr. John who strangely enough knew Fr. Andy from the center, it was quite fortunate for us because we had no plans for the evening before getting our ferry back so he invited us back to his parish for dinner in Tagbilaran, where we would be getting the ferry from. We were taken to the port just before 10pm only to find out that the ferry had in fact been cancelled and we would have to go back up to Tubigon, which was 60km away to get a midnight ferry instead. Luckily for us one of Fr. John’s staff offered to take us and we made it onto the ferry and arrived back in Cebu at 2.30am.
The next few days Sarah and I were both feeling the effects of our sleep deprivation, the day before our trip to Bohol we got up at 4.30am to join the procession and mass for the celebration of Mother Mary’s birthday. Unfortunately I’ve managed to get a viral infection and for the past two days have had a high fever, but luckily I’m on the mend again, the medication seems to be kicking in. It’s just incredibly frustrating for me to be ill again in my final week but I’m just thankful that it isn’t anything more serious!
It has been just over a month now since I arrived home from Pasil. I had originally planned on finishing my blog much sooner but since I had Uni starting a week after getting back it’s been tricky to find some free time!
My last week in Pasil was definitely and emotional one, I was excited about going home and seeing my family and friends again but at the same time knowing that I might not be able to come back to Pasil (within the near future) and leaving my friends there made it really difficult to say goodbye. Sarah and I were both given a really lovely send off, the children at the Bosco center put on a farewell/joint birthday show for Sarah with plenty of singing and dancing, Pasil stylee! I left Pasil on 19th September and got a flight back to Manila where I stayed overnight giving me another chance to say goodbye to my relatives there. I then made the long flight back to Heathrow arriving home on the 21st, luckily with just a 5 hour wait at Doha which was fine after my 9 hour stint on the way out!
As soon as I got back Sarah came to meet me at the airport and we both went for a Post-placement de-brief with James, lasting about 3-4 hours. Although the idea of doing the de-brief straight after getting back hadn’t originally appealed to me it was much much better in hindsight and I really felt that I got a lot more out of it. In the de-brief we spent a lot of time talking about our experiences, our expectations of coming back and most importantly what we intend on doing now that we’ve done the placement. It was great to be able to share our stories and it gave us a chance to really focus on the next step and how to go about using our experiences to help benefit others in the long run.
It has been quite a surreal experience arriving home and readjusting to life back here, especially with only a week to prepare myself for the start of Uni, the whole concept of “reverse culture-shock” definitely had an effect on me. My initial thoughts of home were: just how incredibly quiet and uninhabited the streets are here…community living has a whole different meaning! Besides the obvious differences in material wealth I found it quite strange to be back home and not have people calling my name as I walked down the road. It was a beautiful moment being able to experience some good English cooking again after 9 weeks of rice, although 4 weeks on I am now missing the Filipino food!!
For any people who are reading this and are considering doing voluntary work then go go go and do it! My 6 weeks in Pasil were absolutely incredible and I have gained so much more than I could ever have wished for and after speaking to other gap year students about their similar experiences I realise just how fortunate I have been. BOVA were amazing from day one, giving me the support I needed to get the most out of my trip and the drive to get stuck in and look towards planning my next trip!
Abi, BOVA Volunteer and Pass Plus