This is not the first time that Isabelle and Philippe have volunteered with VFV to teach in rural schools.
I wanted to find out what motivated them to volunteer, what volunteering with VFV is like and why they returned…
Q: Philippe, when and why did you and Isabelle first volunteer with VFV?
A: My wife Isabelle is a Math teacher in Montreal, she was initially involved in many humanitarian projects through her school in association with a local organization called “Horizon Cosmopolite”. She participated in many cultural trips (2 weeks each) with her high school students in central America between 2008 and today. These cultural trips allowed Montreal students to discover the harsh reality for people in other countries, and allowed them to learn how to help local communities through volunteering in various projects (construction for instance).
After one of these trips, we discussed the possibility of just the two of us going to Asia to visit the world and also do some volunteering work in the Philippines (we always wanted to visit this country). We finally took the decision to go, and started to save money for this new adventure. This would also mean a lot of planning and preparation, including the negotiations with our current employers to allow us take a sabbatical year. Preparing a long trip is not the same as a 3 weeks vacation, and there are a psychological and cultural aspects to consider. This preparation was facilitated by the staff at Horizon Cosmopolite which offered us some guidance. They also referred us to VFV as a partner in the Philippines for a place to do some volunteering. Since Isabelle already knew the professionalism of Horizon Cosmopolite, we trusted that they would have a good and serious partner in the Philippines. From that point on, we communicated with VFV and planned our volunteering experience in the Philippines through them. And we were not disappointed ! 🙂
Q:Why did you decide to return?
A:We decided to go back to VFV because our first experience was so much fun and we felt that we could contribute even more if we could stay longer. Why return to VFV? Because we know first hand that they are a great Filipino organization that really does “make a difference” in the local communities and schools with positive concrete results. The power of this small organization lies in their dedicated, trustworthy and passionate staff that are always available to help and guide people even in difficult conditions. They are always positive, smiling and friendly which makes working with them always enjoyable for both the local communities and the volunteers.
Q:What are the biggest changes you have noticed from your first visit?
A:It is impressive to see how fast the Filipino people were able to recover from such a devastating Typhoon in 2013. Seeing what the city looks like now and how it was rebuilt, it is true that the Filipinos are very resilient. Back in 2011, the first thing that struck us was the fact that the Filipinos were able to find happiness in everything and that their beautiful smile was contagious. Now, even after the disaster of 2013, Filipinos are still enjoying life and have moved on. But now, the thing that changed is that they have learned from the tragedy and they are more attentive to the weather and take the weather alerts on the radio more seriously. They know the weather could be a real threat to their life.
Q:What 3 items can you not live without whilst away from home?
A:We would say that the laptop computer is the first thing that comes to our mind: it is our connection with the world, and the tool which allows us to do so many thing (browse internet, prepare assignments for the kids at school, use skype to talk to our family, buy plane tickets, watch movies, etc.). The second one is a good backpack: it follows us everywhere, and is solid enough to survive any weather conditions. The third thing is a pair of running shoes: my wife is a runner and she cannot leave home without them ! Apart from that, you can find pretty much everything you need in the Philippines.
Q:What advice would you give to anyone thinking of volunteering in the Philippines?
A:If you have never travelled in Asia before, be prepared for a drop in comfort and cleanliness standards. For instance, the open air sewer system in the street is very basic and often runs over capacity which causes a strong odour to be present every where you go. This could be surprising to some people.
Also, resources like water are very rare and expensive: you need to collect tap water in a bucket in your homestay since tap water is not running all day (tap water follows specific schedules and availability varies based on actual demand). This also means that you need to use a bucket for both flushing the toilet and taking a shower. Hopefully, this is not a problem since the weather is usually very hot and humid, with a lot of heavy rain that can strike at any time (bring your umbrella every where you go, otherwise you’ll come back completely soaked!)
You will find a lot of western food in both the grocery stores and restaurants of the Philippines. So, there is no problem regarding eating (just note that the local food is usually salty, fried or sweet).
Work wise, initiative is always welcome, and don’t be shy to propose new activities. Filipinos may be shy at first, but they are very curious and open minded.
Q:What has been the biggest challenge you have faced whilst volunteering?
A:Because Filipinos are so friendly and accommodating, the only challenge that we faced was the fact that we did not speak the native language (WarayWaray). Most Filipinos speak English, but on some occasions speaking WarayWaray would have been helpful to really get the message through, or to fully live in the moment. Speaking their language would be a plus to get even closer to the people, to know them better. That is why the introduction WarayWaray lesson given by VFV is a very good idea, and speaking a bit of WarayWaray can go a long way in a conversation with the locals.
Q:How has volunteering changed you?
A:I think that volunteering allowed us to see the big picture, to see what is really important in life. All problems are relative, and some are bigger than other. It made us realize the chance that we have to live in Canada. But, travelling around the world sometimes made us feel guilty about the comfort and resources that we have access to back at home. But, as one volunteer coordinator from Nicaragua once told us, “we should not feel guilty about it and use this chance to help and give to others”.
Q:Sum up your experience in 3 words!
A: Authentic, Funny, Unforgettable
If Isabelle and Philippe’s experience has inspired you, take a look at VFV’s volunteering projects and find out how you can get involved.
Photos and story by Liz Avery – VFV Media Intern