When I arrived in Bliss I already began to have second thoughts about spending some time here. Not because I was culture shocked, or home sick- in fact I’d just spent 5 weeks travelling around the Philippines, so I was accustomed to their culture, cuisine and lifestyle already.
As well as this, being my fourth time in Asia (and on a 8 month trip around Asia and my 5th month in) I love to embrace their way of life. But no, that wasn’t the thing that was niggling me and making me lose sleep at night. I was more worried about the authenticity and the legitimacy of the work which Volunteer For Visayans does and if I would be contributing to the notion of “volunteer tourism”, meaning to focus on a more personal experience such as “helping tigers in Chang Mai” rather than focusing on the work with the environment, or in my case, the community itself.
I decided to wait and make a decision after meeting VFV, and I am glad I did. After my orientation and much interrogation on my part, believe me- I found out all of the projects and the work that VFV does. With a number of projects scattered around the outskirts of Tacloban City, one can see the scope and effort that VFV puts into affecting each and every area they possibly can. Each project varies in target audience, from children working on dumpsites to vulnerable women placed in women shelters for their own safety.
Each program has well established aims and is put in place by VFV and only continuously run by funding from volunteers, or donations. After finding out where exactly my money went- demonstrated by the volunteer program coordinator- it further dissipated my worries about being a “tourist volunteer”, and emphasized to me that every donation counts towards the work of VFV.
I have volunteered with other companies both national and international before, however with companies I have paid to work with, I have found working with them can be hit and miss. For example, with organizations that offer work with orphanages, for one day or so for a visiting tourist, this actually produces a negative effect on the children rather than positive- because the tourist builds relationships and then quickly ends them, creating mistrust in the future towards volunteers and children in the orphanage. However with VFV, it is a different story, the NGO workers engrain their philosophy of social care and development in all that they do, focusing on impact and sustainability, rather than “a experience for tourists”, like some other organizations do. The Bliss community is a tight knit community and is easy to become comfortable with.
Following the endless maze of paths leading to houses, passing stores selling every need possible and answering to a simple word of “opo”, walking past neatly dressed children in their uniforms on their way to school chasing butterflies, and passing the basketball court that centers the community where teenagers slide and pass along the space, you reach the place of VFV. I’ve adjusted pretty quickly to the house I am staying in, with my “nanay” and “tatay”, as well as my bucket showers that are seen as a liberty here. The people are kind and welcoming, happy to hear you are helping and gracious of your presence.
Working as a media intern has allowed me to meet and integrate with the community much further by interviewing many of the “nanays” that put up the homes for home stays within Bliss. I have been in a number of houses, all furnished completely different but all donning pictures of their loved ones on the walls and crosses hung up in pride on the walls.
Each “nanay” talks about how happy they are to serve and meet volunteers from all over the world, and are so incredibly thankful for the work VFV does and continues to do. Making such a large positive impact on the community can be challenging and tough at times, but the determination and perseverance of VFV is inspiring and already a few days into my placement as a media intern, I am proud to be associated with such an amazing company.
Written by Vicky Carter