The following testimonial is by Diane Valera, who volunteered for one month as a media intern in March 2012. Her stay with Volunteer for the Visayans produced some of the best photographs of our projects in recent years.
“I was born in the Philippines but moved to the United States at a very young age. Most of what I remember about my time there was drawn out from family photos and stories. Volunteer for the Visayans gave me an opportunity to put use my media education, meet people from all over the world, and explore parts of the country I had not seen yet.
You never really know what to expect once you step off that plane. Thoughts along the lines of “what am I doing?” came to mind as I waited for my baggage in the small airport along with one other volunteer. A member of the VFV staff was there to meet us and take us to our homestay. Once I walked through that “arch” (which every volunteer will come to know so well during their stay) I knew there was no turning back. Immediately, we were greeted with charismatic smiles and excited neighborhood children. You will come to realize that Tacloban and its surrounding towns are some of the most welcoming communities you will probably ever come across.
Being VFV’s first Media Intern definitely had its benefits and my only disadvantage was time. With the help of the very supportive staff, I had a chance to help shape the Media Intern Program for future volunteers and I only wish I had more time to carry out ideas to help spread the word of VFV’s social welfare projects. The hardest part of my job was coming off unnoticeable while lugging around a camera. You will not have a difficult time getting someone to smile and pose for a photo, but telling them to ignore you and the camera is a different story because most people want know more about you and make you feel comfortable. My main priority was to shadow other volunteers and staff at the various placements, capture their daily activities, and lend a helping hand wherever they needed me. Having said that, I got to do what many other volunteers did not: visit and help out the other programs. Just because you are assigned to a specific placement does not mean you are restricted from volunteering in the other programs, but because of time constraints, you often do not have a chance to do so. For four weeks I saw firsthand the impact the VFV staff and volunteers had on people and the change they were creating in their communities. Each program is different but every one of them is valuable and significant to the people there.
My volunteer experience would not be complete without mentioning the unforgettable people I encountered and the friendships I formed with them during my time there. My homestay family always went out of their way to make sure I felt right at home right from the moment I had arrived. It was amazing to meet volunteers from various places and learn about their lives back home as well as have them nearby whenever I felt homesick or adventurous. Some of us even traveled to other cities and islands together, but several of my fondest memories involve us just hanging out in Bliss along with our local friends.
If it is your first time volunteering overseas, like it was for me, forget every pre-conceived notion you have and just experience it for yourself. Your time with VFV really is what you make of it and I received one of the most eye-opening and humbling experiences of my life.”