Volunteer Programs in the Philippines
Interested in volunteering in the Philippines? Deeply influenced by Malay, Spanish, and American culture, the Philippines is a truly unique blend of Eastern and Western culture. The stone cathedrals, emerald rice fields, bug-eyed tarsiers, uniquely graffitied jeepneys, and smiling people create a scene that is distinctly Filipino. To visit the Philippines is to never be without friends. The Filipino people are known for their happy-go-lucky attitudes and affinity towards foreigners. With volunteer opportunities abound, there becomes little reason not to stay and volunteer in the Philippines.
The tropical islands of the Philippines have made it a popular tourist destination, but economic environmental and social problems have affected that island nation since the beginning of the postcolonial era. Volunteers can find opportunities in Tacloban, Luzon, and Mindanao working in education, healthcare, women's empowerment, and environmental conservation.
This guide will help you navigate the types of volunteer projects in the Philippines, popular destinations, and answer common questions to help you plan your volunteer trip.
Some of the most popular volunteer projects in the Philippines fall under the categories of health, women's rights and empowerment, youth development and education, disaster relief, environmental conservation, and community development -- which really covers a broad area of projects from providing healthy drinking water to rural villages to assisting with after school programs to at risk youth.
For many disadvantaged and poor communities, rural medical clinics serve as the only free source of medical care. These clinics are often understaffed and have to work with very limited resources. There is a great need for volunteers in this sector to support these efforts and organizations like Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children can help get you set up with a project in the Philippines. Volunteers are generally assigned various tasks depending on their qualifications.
These tasks can range from anything from medical diagnosis to educating the local community on nutrition. Health care work is a good opportunity for medical students as they will have the opportunity to observe medical systems and practices in a developing country.
Women’s Rights and Empowerment
The work to empower women in the Philippines can range from education about family planning services to support and counseling for women who have come from abusive backgrounds.
Volunteers are needed for the care and support of young girls, daily operations of centers, and for field research to help coordinate and document family planning methodology success and failures. Volunteers may be asked to educate women one-on-one, or give community talks. Participants with psychology and counseling are especially desired.
Youth Development and Education
There are many volunteer opportunities to work with children in the Philippines. Volunteer responsibilities in programs like IVHQ could range from managing operations at youth centers to teaching basketball (the most popular sport in the Philippines) to teaching basic education in math, English, science, health, and basic computing skills. Usually, volunteer teachers do not make lesson plans, they provide support and assistance to the principal teacher.
Hours are less intensive if you are looking to only teach English. In these programs volunteers work around 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week leaving plenty of free time. Keep in mind that this work will not be available during school holiday seasons like April-May.
This category of volunteerism includes many hands-on opportunities such as the construction of schools, orphanages and homes. Volunteers will repair school buildings paint roofs, walls, and chalkboards, install water pumps and build libraries from donated books. Volunteers can also contribute to community development through local support at community or rehab centers doing performing services such as daycare, teaching job skill courses, and contributing to outreach programs.
The Filipino Mangrove trees are an important part of the Filipino ecosystem. The province of Romblon is subject to large-scale deforestation as the trees are cut for firewood or to clear land for shrimp ponds. Deforestation threatens the stability of the eco-system including the local fish population who needs them to build nests for young fish. Working in environmental conservation usually includes documentation, research, planting trees, as well as educating the local community, and schools about the eco-system. Other programs include helping protect coral reefs in the Philippines with Coral Cay Conservation and Atelier Aquatic.
At times, there's a demand for disaster relief volunteers in the Philippines. As with disaster relief work anywhere, it's best to leave these projects to experienced professionals for the initial relief work. Several months later, there may be ways for lesser experienced volunteers to contribute to the nation's recovery. For example, you can help with Typhoon Haiyan rebuilding efforts -- the natural disaster hit the Philippines in 2013.
With over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, it can be overwhelming to decide where to volunteer abroad. Most times, the location where you decide to volunteer will depend on the program types available and what you want to do in your free time.
A majority of volunteer programs are located on the island of Leyte, the seventh-largest island in the Philippines. Volunteer programs are based in or near the capital Tacloban, giving a unique opportunity to work during the week and explore the city neighborhoods during the weekend. Since it's an urban environment, Tacloban will have more options for volunteer opportunities in health clinics and child care and the environment.
Luzon, the largest island that sits in the northernmost region of the Philippines, has a lot of volunteer opportunities. The capital of the Philippines, Manila, is in Luzon and provides more politically-related opportunities, including education and welfare.
In the Philippines' southernmost region, Mindanao has many volunteer openings across the board. It's been dubbed as 'Land of Promise' because of it's natural riches, which provides ample opportunities to work in environmental conservation.
Questions to Ask: How many people will I be working with? What is an average working day? What amenities are available? Which nearby sites should I visit?
Planning Your Trip
What vaccines do I need before volunteering in the Philippines?
The only required vaccination is for Yellow Fever, however many other vaccinations are recommended by the World Health Organization. It is always best to schedule an appointment with your doctor for a travel consultation before traveling abroad for long periods of time.
What kind of visa do I need to volunteer in the Philippines
You are not required to have a visa if your stay is less than 21 days. If you are staying for 21 days or more you will have to apply for an extension. You need at least 6 months left before the expiration of your passport from the date of entry and present a ticket proving you will leave the country within the 21-day range.
Is it safe to volunteer in the Philippines?
Other than some parts of the South Philippines, the islands are generally safe for travelers. The most common danger for travelers is being scammed. Be aware of an overly friendly stranger offering you food or drink. The two most common scams include being drugged, then robbed, and the sleight of hand of a wily money-changer.
Will I need to learn the language?
While there are over 180 languages spoken across the Philippines, Tagalog is the national language. Additionally, about 65% of the population can speak fluent English and the other 35% can understand in varying degrees. It's estimated that between 80-90% of upper-class Filipinos speak English as their first language.
What should I do in the case of an emergency?
Any good organization will look after its volunteers, and always be on hand to answer questions and provide help whenever required. Your country's' embassy will be based in Manila. You might also consider joining up to an ex-pat forum such as Allo’ Expat to chat to people already living the lifestyle.
If you're from the U.S., it's a good idea to register yourself on the U.S. State Department’s STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). You will receive updates from the State Department about important news in about your country, and it will be easier to assist you if you lose your passport, or contact your family in case of an emergency.
How do I become a volunteer in the Philippines?
There are many volunteer program types in the Philippines that you can apply to. First, narrow down the location you want to volunteer in and how you want to spend your time volunteering. In the Philippines, the most common volunteer programs focus on public health, empowering women, teaching youth, and environmental conservation.
Where can I volunteer in the Philippines?
There are over 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines, however, some of the most popular places to volunteer include the islands of Leyte, Luzon, and Mindanao.