Volunteer stories : Philip P., General Care Projects in Philippines
As a Deaf person who comes from a large Deaf family, you would not be surprised to learn that I went to a school for the Deaf for my entire education. I initially thought that my school may not be up to scratch when compared to mainstream schools, but a few years ago I learnt that there are over 70 million people like me around the world out of which eighty per cent are illiterate. At that point, I realised that I am extremely lucky to have a good school to attend and have all the support from my parents and teachers. Later on, when I finally graduated a few months ago, I suddenly thought how sad it is that not many Deaf people could make it like I did.
Almost immediately, I searched for volunteering opportunities online. Projects Abroad is the only website I found that appealed to me. Since the staff were extremely helpful in providing me all the information I needed to know, within a week I eventually chose to go to the Philippines because it was the only Asian country offering placements with Deaf children.
My first impression
When I finally arrived in Cebu after a very long journey, I admit that I experienced a small culture shock. Almost everything I saw there is different from what I saw in Ireland and, let alone, Europe. Jeepneys, trikes, no speed limit, shacks, eccentric weather, bucket shower, etc. When I was in Bogo City there weren’t many cars in sight and scooters and trikes were common methods of transportation instead. What made me finally settle in were friendly volunteers and staff and my lovely host family. I must say thanks to the staff for organising an interpreter for me to get through my induction and my first social night which happened to be on the same day. Otherwise I would’ve been lost!
The most unforgettable day for me was the day I had my first day at my placement when I encountered a number of children racing towards me trying to introduce themselves to me. Obviously, it took me a while to get all their names right. What actually disturbed me was the age range of the children which was quite large. Some of them are even older than me!
My placement started at eight in the morning and ended at three in the afternoon with a two-hour lunch break. I usually started the day by supervising the children sweeping the lane and watering the plants outside the classroom (apparently it is the norm for schoolchildren to do some chores before class). It was very different to what I am used to seeing back in Ireland as this kind of job is normally taken care of by our school caretaker. What also intrigued me was the daily prayer. Although I only managed to pick up some of what they were saying in their local sign language, I was impressed by how many remembered their prayers.
The teaching curriculum for the class included English, maths, science and sports. Unfortunately the class was only able to learn the most basic of those subjects. Multiplication time-tables, geography and storytelling happened later during the day with the materials I brought from home. It seemed to be successful as the children were hooked to what I taught them and I was glad to see the results.
It was hardly surprising that the awareness for Deaf people around the area is alarmingly low. Many locals looked at me as if I were an alien when I tried to communicate with them. You should have seen their faces, especially parents and guardians when I told them that my parents were Deaf as well, after being asked how I communicate with them.
Weekend trips with volunteers
Originally I planned to go on weekend trips on my own because I wanted to avoid the communication difficulties with other volunteers. It turned out to be that some volunteers invited me to join them on my first weekend trip to Malapasuca Island. I didn’t regret agreeing to go with them because it was truly a paradise and I actually had a great time there. The volunteers were more willing to talk to me through writing than I expected, which was excellent. As a result, they invited me again on each weekend trip I had during my stay.
I went to Bohol, Camotes Island and Cebu City with them and all were marvellous. Indeed, during those trips, I got to know many volunteers — from a Japanese nurse, to a Norwegian biomedical student, to an Australian on a career-break, and even a German banker.
A huge credit must be given to the Projects Abroad staff as they were very accommodating and extremely helpful to me and all other volunteers. Some of them even tried to learn some Filipino sign language so that they could communicate with me and local Deaf people, which was very wonderful. They were always there for those who looked for assistance and advice. A big thank should be given to my host family as well for their best effort in making my stay more comfortable! Overall I didn’t regret my choice to spend the summer in the beautiful country everyone calls the Philippines.
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