Volunteering in the Philippines is a great way to explore this lively Southeast Asian destination.
The Philippines, with its more than 7,000 islands, is a tropical country with a diverse landscape. Travelers here look forward to adventures such as zip lining, deep-sea diving, climbing volcanoes, and kitesurfing giant waves, as well as trekking through the rainforests and soaking up the sun on tranquil seashores.
The ways to volunteer are endless. Opportunities include disaster relief projects, hospital assistance, childcare, and environmental volunteer work. But one of the best ways to get to know the country is by volunteering as an English teacher.
What to Expect When Volunteering in the Philippines
The Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia whose inhabitants grew up with English as a second language. It’s also the only predominantly Catholic country in this part of the world. Because of these factors, many Filipinos have a wide English vocabulary. But although they may be familiar with English and study English textbooks at school, those in the remote islands hardly get a chance to practice the language, much less speak it.
That said, the bigger cities like Manila and Cebu have huge English bookstores and English libraries for sourcing resource material. Filipino teens and millennials are also quite up to date with technological advances. The majority love social networking, and there are always city-wide events to attend where you can meet up and make new friends.
Volunteers who travel to the Philippines from English-speaking countries will have an easier time communicating because of this lack of a language barrier. With recent economic development, as well as a huge tourist market, the local communities are keener than ever to help their youth improve English and communication skills.
The country has had difficulty finding native English-speaking teachers, especially in rural areas. So they are very welcoming to volunteers who offer to teach in schools and communities. When you arrive in the Philippines, you’ll immediately notice an incredible warmth and friendliness. The nicknames for strangers are “older brother” (Kuya) and “older sister” (Ate), which you may just find the kids chanting merrily after you.
Other Opportunities to Volunteer
Community Development, public health, environmental awareness, and conservation around the islands are huge needs. Opportunities abound to teach local residents about the current environmental challenges facing the pristine natural setting they call home.
Adequate medical care is also quite limited in the provinces, so there are many volunteer organizations that provide medical clinics, dental camps, and relief services.
Getting a Visa and Getting Around the Philippines
It’s pretty straightforward: all foreigners are automatically granted a free 30-day tourist visa upon arrival. After the 30 days, you can extend that visa for a small fee at the local immigration office.
The further you travel in the Philippines, the fewer commercial luxuries you’ll find. Rural areas often lack infrastructure, and the public roads system is largely underdeveloped.
Don’t let this deter you from traveling, however. You’ll have plenty of adventures to write home about–crossing islands via ferry boats, ships or even the local “banka” boats made of sturdy bamboo. Flights are relatively cheap around the country as well, so be prepared for lots of exploring.
Also, be prepared to sweat like crazy! The Philippines has a tropical, humid climate, so dress in loose, comfortable clothing and if you’re hitting the beach for a day of fun with other volunteers, don’t forget sunscreen and skin-protective clothing.
Reactions from Previous Volunteers
International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ) can also arrange placements for you in the Philippines. They are one of the most affordable options for volunteering. You’ll get to teach in kindergartens, or do other work in construction and environmental programs. They currently have projects based in the Aborlan District, on the island of Palawan, an otherworldly destination.
“I will definitely miss taking bucket showers, eating traditional food, playing find the word, exploring the place, talking Bisaya or Tagalog, seeing smiling places every day and having conversations with Kim–one of the local coordinators,” recalls Greta, a volunteer from Lithuania who worked with IVHQ.
“This experience really opened my eyes and my heart, made me appreciate and tolerate different people, culture and way of living. I will for unique come back to the Philippines one day!”
Philip Power, a deaf volunteer who spent time teaching in the Philippines with Projects Abroad, reflects,
“I chose to go to the Philippines because it was the only Asian country offering placements with deaf children. I went to Bohol, Camotes Island and Cebu City with them and all were marvelous. 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. I didn’t regret my choice to spend the summer in the beautiful country everyone calls the Philippines.”
Ready to Travel?
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Nikki Martinez · Guest Writer
Nikki Martinez was born to missionary parents who did full-time volunteer work in the Philippines, India and Thailand. She spent many years working with various charities in the Philippines--in orphanages, hospitals, disaster sites and the country's maximum security prison.