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. 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.Photo Credits: Rick McCharles.
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. 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 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
Because of the lack of teachers in the Philippines, it is difficult for children to receive quality education. There are many opportunities to work with children in the Philippines. This type of work ranges 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.
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.
At times, there's 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.
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. The deforestation threatens the stability of the eco-system including the local fish population who needs them to build nests for young fish. Work includes documentation, research, planting trees, as well as educating the local community, and schools about the eco-system.
A majority of volunteer programs are located on the island of Leyte, and are based in or near its capital Tacloban. Many of the opportunities mentioned above (including health clinic and orphanage work) will be found here.
Luzon, the northern region of the Philippines plays more of an administrative role. Here, you will find more politically-related opportunities including education and welfare. The southernmost region, the Mindanao is understood as the poorest region in the Philippines, and much volunteer work across the board is needed here.
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?
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 will have to have at leave 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?
About 65% of the population can speak fluent English and the other 35% can understand in varying degrees. 80-90% of Upper-Class Filipinos speak English as a mother 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 embassies will be based in Manila. You might also consider joining up to an expat forum such as @llo’ Expat to chat to people already living the lifestyle.
However, it's always 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.