Lessons Learnt from Volunteering in the Philippines

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” -Brian Tracy, Professional Coach, Entrepreneur and Success Expert

Experiences that challenge us and make us feel uneasy are often the same experiences that change us. We are never the same persons after we are stretched beyond our comfort zones. It’s not the amount of time we spend doing something ‘awkward’ but it is the depth of that experience that impacts our consciousness.

Such was the experience of young Aussies Yen Bao, Matthew Dellosa and Bradley Jackson, all from Melbourne, who were the pioneer volunteers of Pushpin Movement. For two weeks in July this year, the three volunteered in remote and impoverished communities in the Philippines.

During their stay in Quezon City, Metro Manila and Bohol, they took on new challenges that allowed them to step out of the easy and the familiar, such as:

  • doing manual labour and helping build houses that included mixing sand and cement, shovelling and hammering nails
  • doing manual laundry without washing machines (ie, using their hands and a brush)
  • taking a bath and manually rinsing using the tabo (pail) in the absence of showers
  • working in humid weather

It might make some people wonder: What do you get for doing all these things? What do you get from volunteering?

At the end of their volunteering stint, Pushpin asked Yen, Matthew and Bradley how their experience went. Here are a few of the lessons they learnt:

Bradley teaching Filipino kids. Photo by Wellington Andersen Co. Bradley teaching Filipino kids. Photo by Wellington Andersen Co.

  1. You can communicate despite the language barrier.

Bradley says, “It doesn’t matter how little Tagalog/Visayan/local language you can understand, the kids are always interested in attempting to converse and play games with you.”

Even if it may be challenging for you to speak the local language or even if locals do not speak a lot of English, conversations are bound to happen in between meals, work hours and random encounters. In fact, deep connections can even occur!

“A heartwarming experience for me was when one of the beneficiaries asked me to be a ninong (godfather) to her beautiful daughter. I was truly honoured that she chose me even though I have only known her for a couple of weeks,” Matthew shares.

  1. Joy is part of a Filipino’s life, and can be part of ours.

Aside from laughing with fellow volunteers, having fun with the locals was also a constant part of the volunteers’ experience through dancing and singing. Whilst there, the volunteers learned the latest dance hits: Whip, Nae-Nae, and Twerking it Like Miley.

The three volunteers agree that Filipinos love to sing and dance. Yen muses, “Filos really do have a good reputation for basketball, singing and dancing.” Matthew says, “Get ready to do these daily, possibly several times a day.”

Bradley suggests, “If you don’t sing and/or dance, at least make the attempt as a gesture of goodwill. Filipinos would appreciate the effort.”

The community can become extended family.

  1. Family can extend beyond blood relations.

The volunteers were also able to experience the world-reknowned hospitality of the Filipinos. “Filo hospitality regarding eating says put others before yourself like no other culture I’ve seen,” Yen reminisces. To think, eating occurs several times throughout the day!

Bradley agrees, “When we lived as guests, it felt as though we became part of their family. It was heartwarming to see how welcoming and friendly everyone was to us – and it is what made this trip so special.”

Perhaps this is what they mean when they say, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

  1. Be grateful everyday.

At the end of his experience, Matthew reflects that he should be appreciative of what he already has. Some Filipinos don’t have a lot but they make the most of what they have. For Matthew, it’s not about the material things. “What really matters is what you have done, the people you have met and the memories you have created,” he says.

Volunteers pitch in with the finishing touches to a Filipino home.

Pushpin Movement is a social enterprise that connects the world’s volunteers to local projects and communities in the Philippines. For more information on volunteering opportunities in the Philippines with Pushpin Movement, check out their website.

This article was written by Cheenee Otarra and was reprinted from Pushpin Movement’s website.


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