Volunteer Name: Samantha Pietarinen
Project Location: Philippines, Ormoc
Volunteered at: Children Center
How would you describe/rate your experience working with the ABV staff in the USA? I found that the stuff in the USA was very patient and understanding. I often had many questions about what to expect, what to bring, and many miscellaneous questions that sometimes were due to the lack of thoroughly reading the materials provided and the staff was always patient and prompt in answering my questions in due time.
How was the local ABV Director and the support provided in-country? Marlene – the ABV contact person in my region (Philippines) was so kind and helpful throughout the duration of my trip. She was very easy to get along with and outgoing. Marlene was always available for support on a daily basis. She was kind to bring me to understand the transportation services and guide me through the city and tell me how much transportation costs were from each location. Ate Marlene was also available and took time to have lunch with me and bring me through the city to find souvenirs to bring home to my family. Ester – the contact person in the main office in Tacloban was helpful and friendly when I needed her, though I was not stationed in Tacloban so the majority of my contact was with the ABV contact person in Ormoc.
What was your favorite memory of this trip? My favorite memory from this trip would be during my lunch I would go to the river across from the fishing dock and sit. The scenery was quite beautiful, though it was the attention I got as a foreigner from the children in the area that was the fond memory. On two separate occasions I was looking for sea shells and the first time three boys walked beside me and picked up tons of sea shells and said “heposa” which means “keep”. Though often they were looking for money I would smile and offer them something to eat. On the other occasion I was sitting by the river and about 7-10 children came up and sat beside me, I tried to explain to the oldest child in Cebuano that I found “otso seashells while I was down here, the big ones” and so he went out searching in the waters and found a big seashell for me, though he handed it to a younger child who had presented it to me to keep. It is hard to say what my favorite memory on this trip because all of it has made a major impact on my life and will stay with me forever.
What was the most difficult thing you experienced? The most difficult thing I experienced was seeing the poverty and how the children lived in the centre. I was introduced to the children in padlock (holding/detainment) on my first day and was taken back, I was unsure of what the Boys Holding Centre was because it seemed that it was a variety of institutions in one. My first reaction was that the children were not taken care of in this facility and needed more than what was being provided, because in a centre of 24 children (at the time) but can hold up to 30-40 of course not all of the needs of the children can be met. As time progressed on my stay there I came to realize that in their own way and in their own culture they were provided for and had much to be thankful for in this centre. It was a matter for me of understanding the cultural differences that make my home and their home different, yet the same in so many ways. It was however emotional in my first week of work because I have a big heart, but soon came to understand that it may be a different setup but it is the same Canada for many children as well, but still very unfortunate. Another situation I encountered was the expectation that I would pay for outings for the children at the centre with the assumption that because I was there from a western community I had money. I addressed this matter but was taken aback by both the assumption and expectation.
What was the one thing you wished you were better prepared for? I don’t think it matters how much you prepare for something like this. There is always going to be a curve ball, something unexpected that will happen. I prepared for this trip as best I could with the support I had. Each volunteer is different and unique in their own way and needs to prepare for their individual selves. I do not believe there was anything more I could had done to prepare for this trip that would had made any surprise easier nor any positive reward more beneficial. I believe that in any other light I would had gone in with expectations and it is extremely important to walk into these experiences with no expectations. Though I suppose if there was one thing I could had been better prepared for it would had been the language. Originally I thought I was speaking Tagalog, which I was later informed no it was waray-waray. When I reached my destination in Ormoc I was informed that the language in that region was Cebuano or Bisyan, which was not explained in any of the information provided prior to the trip.
Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations, sightseeing etc) 1. Bug spray with 30% DEET (Repel is the brand) I have found this to be the best type of bug spray to purchase for such adventures. 2. Umbrella not just for the rain but for the hot days of walking in the sun. 3. A mini first aid kid, or at least some rubbing alcohol, band-aids, and polysporn. 4. Gel aloe vera for sun burn, as you will not find this in the Philippines.
Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial): I thoroughly enjoyed my involvement in ABV programs in Ormoc City, Philippines. I often heard from those who are actively involved in the management of the program in Ormoc that most volunteers change their mind about their placement at Boys Centre in Ormoc when they find that 95% of volunteers choose to volunteer in Tacloban. It did not bother me that I was the only volunteer in my region as the kids touched my heart deeply, loved deeply, laughed deeply, learned deeply and also taught me. I found that being submersed in the culture was one of the most life changing experiences that has helped me learn so much about myself. To me it was about the kids not about me, so it not matter where I was, as long as I was accomplishing something outside of myself. I met so many people, more so than if I was not the only volunteer in my region. At no time did I ever feel threatened or unsafe. For anyone considering Ormoc city for their placement I would say “Yes, most definitely. You will experience the culture and lifestyle full force and it is something to be enjoyed and experienced in such a safe environment”. Thank you ABV for the powerful and life changing experience!
Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers? Yes I am willing to talk to potential volunteers.