Itwas 10 am. 4 pm in reality. Two stewardesses thanked me with a smile as I was leaving the plane. After following the airbridge, I came across the large windows of the hall. Suddenly, I realized it actually happened. I was at the other end of the world, in the Philippines. The beginning of a new adventure.
Sometime earlier, I was writing my thesis while reflecting on the coming future. The classical next move would be to find a job, a good one if possible, and to start my career. Yet, it didn’t feel like the time for commutes, ties, and coffee machines had come. Rather, it seemed to be a perfect time to try something different. To go out there and challenge myself a bit, to see if I was able to get out of my comfort zone as we say.
Hence, the idea of volunteering popped up. Living the reality of people in need, being able to help them. This kind of life experience attracted me a lot. I thus started my hunt for a volunteering opportunity. My three criteria were to find a place out of Europe, where I would be useful, and that I could afford it.
After some research, I came across a call for applications from the small NGO Kaloob that suited me perfectly. They are located in the Philippines and we're looking for a young graduate in the communication and marketing field. A few days later, after writing a cover letter and having a short Skype interview, my plane ticket was on my desk.
The Philippines is a unique Asian yet very occidental country. Being immersed in this still different culture, 10 000 km away from mine, broadened my horizon. I discovered another vision of the world, another climate, another gastronomy. It was also the discovery of poverty, corruption, opulence, injustice. And of people who challenge this situation by helping out and denouncing these situations. I noticed how easy it is to judge a situation without understanding it, just because it’s different.
It’s easier to see the problems of a completely different society than our own. Do not judge too fast, try to understand first.
My experience as a volunteer started through people, by having long individual conversations with some stakeholders. Not only did we start a relationship, but I could picture myself the situation and understand the unspoken topics. Personalities, motivations, frustrations, opinions about the project, or the team. We also discussed the main issues that Kaloob was facing, mainly the struggle to involve more Filipino donators, to clarify the communication, and to smoothen the transition after the departure of the volunteers.
Aside from meeting all the people from Kaloob, I had the chance to encounter very nice people in different places. People from Adveniat, the students and teachers from the ALC college, religious brothers and sisters, the Arago family, people from Marytown, from the embassy, from the Y4UW — even a Belgian friend from high school who happened to be there too, surprises of life. Soon enough, I realize that these people are the ones through which this experience is becoming something meaningful to me.
Most of my time at Kaloob was dedicated to fixing broken assets and to forming and training a small communication team. This together with Clémentine, a French volunteer and now a friend. The idea was to put Kaloob back on track and to make sure it would stay on track long after our departure.
The team was keen to learn and I learned from them too. On the human side but on a communication side as well. They made me realize that Facebook Messenger greatly outpaced emails in the Philippines. Based on that, we put together an automated Messenger version of our newsletter. Also, the website was broken and outdated because no one understood WordPress. We thus migrated to a simple Google Sites configuration, way easier to manage.
In a nutshell, we tried to simplify and reduce communication work while making it more efficient. Together with managing administrative processes, facilitating donations transfers, signing partnerships with Handicap International, bringing some order in the archives, etc.
The best moment of this experience was part of what we named “the Cow Project”. A cattle-raising program that was aimed to bring a fair livelihood to its beneficiaries. To prepare the launch of the project, Clémentine and I went on the field, in the mountains of Valencia, Negros Oriental, 650km south of Manila.
We spent two days and one night with the people residing in that region. Most of them were farmers surviving more than living, with all the consequences of this distress. Yet, they were smiling and welcoming us with everything they had. This night spent with them is unforgettable. Sleeping on the ground, tired from the trip, the heat of the day and the cold of the night. But feeling so happy to live the reality of these very nice people together with them.
Volunteering taught me a lot about being at the service. It seems obvious, yet it’s easy to impose a way of doing without trying to understand much. Which isn’t being at the service anymore.
Imposing a way of helping probably isn't of great help.
I also learned a lot about the world of course, the value of life, the importance of setting people at the core of everything. The best to summarize this experience is to encourage you to experience it yourself. If you’re hesitating, do it — hesitation too often leads to regrets.
Hope to see you back soon. Until then, wishing you a great day!