The Philippines is culturally rich, with a diverse mixture of Spanish and American influences along with the traditional native culture. The people are genuinely optimistic and friendly, especially to foreigners. The limited social development of the Philippines, gives volunteers the ability to work in a vast array of placements from rural health clinics to orphanages to construction sites. Working in a local community or living with a host family, gives any visitor priceless exposure to day to day life in the Philippines and the locals welcome visitors with excitedly open arms. Someone looking for an adventure should rest assured in booking a trip to the Philippines, as it is sure to present radically new experiences with each passing day.
Location and Demographics
The Philippines is a string of over 7,000 islands, the exact number varies with the tide, filled with over 90 million people. For the most part, it is an untouched paradise, with many islands left completely uninhabited. The country is divided into three regions, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Luzon is the northernmost region, best known as the location of the nation’s capital city Manila. Manila is also home to the Mall of Asia, where locals and foreigners alike can get lost in the plethora of stores; a place that easily takes more than day to fully explore, but only a few hours to get lost. The middle region, the Visayas, is home to the nation’s second largest city of Cebu. This city is just an island hop away from the infamous wonder of the world, the Chocolate Hills. Located in Bohol these natural limestone wonders attract tourists at all times of the year. The southern region of Mindanao hosts over 20 million Filipinos on its largest island, where a great majority of agricultural products are grown. Since 2000, Mindanao has experienced increased violence related to religious conflict and poverty, so it is typically suggested that foreigners avoid travel to the region.
Foreigners from countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, or Russia, which experience bitter cold, sunless winters, should be prepared to sweat more than they ever have before when traveling to the Philippines. On almost any day the humidity is near one hundred percent and hardly a day goes by without blazing sunshine. Individuals traveling the Philippines should keep in mind the hot climate when packing, but also mind the modesty that is generally widespread across the Philippines in clothing choices. Filipinos casually wear pants and t-shirts, but foreigners can still feel comfortable in shorts and tank tops as long as they are church-worthy cuts.
If visiting in July, travelers should always bring a raincoat or umbrella with them whenever they leave the house. July is considered the nation’s rainy season and unexpected downpours are likely on any day. February is normally the coolest month, where at night the fans are turned off and an extra sheet is thrown on the bed. However, temperatures don’t usually drop below 75 degrees fahrenheit during the day at any point throughout the year. April until June are considered the summer months, where temperatures breech the hundred degree mark regularly when humidity is factored in.
Language & Currency
The Philippines is very easy to navigate for English speakers, as English has become the second official national language. Even children as young as four years old can be heard spouting full sentences of English, and by eight they can often understand English better than their parents. Regional dialects vary across the Philippines, encompassing more than 150 dialects.
The currency in the Philippines is called the Philippine Peso, one US or Canadian dollar is currently equivalent to about 40 Philippine Pesos while one Euro is worth just over 50 Philippine Pesos. Individuals from developed nations typically find the Philippines to be an extremely cheap place to live; volunteers can easily afford daily transportation and meals for under $200 US dollars a month.
Food, Culture, & Activities
Foreigners will constantly have the opportunity to taste local Filipino cuisines because Filipinos love to eat! Rice is the main food group of all Filipinos, and it is routinely paired with fresh meat and vegetable dishes made from scratch. The main ingredients of nearly every dish are garlic, onion, and soy sauce, which create an enticing aroma in Filipino kitchens.
Traditional Filipino dishes are often served from small food stalls or shops almost anywhere for about one US dollar per meal. Delicious tropical fruits, like pineapples, mangoes, and papaya, are also widely available at markets and roadsides at a minimal cost. Fruit tends to be extraordinarily sweet in the Philippines as well.
Filipinos are extremely welcoming and particularly enjoy getting to know people from other countries. They are open and curious so one shouldn’t be surprised if they ask a lot of questions. Filipinos usually live with various extended family members, with multiple generations of parents and children all residing in one home. They are greatly influenced by the strong prevalence of Catholicism in the Philippines, and many are very devout practicing Catholics. Filipinos value family greatly and believe in sharing the responsibilities of expenses and child rearing, which leads to quite traditional roles in the family. Fiestas occur on almost every single day of the year, in at least one city or community across the Philippines. Filipinos love to celebrate Fiestas with food, dancing, singing, and friends, while celebrating the patron saint of the community or city. These traditional events are a "must attend" for all visitors to the Philippines.
There are thousands of beautiful islands to visit during any stay in the Philippines, along with many other natural wonders, like waterfalls, volcanoes, and even extensive caves. Getting from place to place in the Philippines is relatively affordable, a weekend getaway can cost as little as 20 US dollars. Filipinos really know how to make travel convenient too, they have developed multiple forms of public transportation which help people easily get anywhere they want to go. Domestic flight carriers also frequently have promotional fares for as low as one Philippine Peso each way, giving visitors the opportunity to explore and even greater area of the Philippines.
Volunteering Abroad in The Philippines
Choosing to volunteer in the Philippines presents individuals with numerous options; with unequal distribution of wealth and resources to the millions of citizens spread over thousands of islands, there are plenty of people who need help in very diverse ways. The island geography makes it difficult for those in rural areas or those on very remote islands to get the help they need. So volunteers willing to explore uncharted waters and truly dive in with an open mind will have unlimited opportunities to help improve the lives of families and communities. Most programs end up being quite affordable because of the exchange rates and cost of living in the Philippines, in comparison to volunteers home countries.
Volunteer programs usually set up home stays for volunteers, in which volunteers are provided daily meals and accommodation while staying with a local host family. Finding alternative accommodation is usually not too difficult either, since Filipino families frequently accept short term boarders in their homes. Almost any volunteer can enter the Philippines on a free tourist visa for an initial stay of 21 days. After 21 days the cost gradually rises every month for a visa extension, but in general if you visit the nearest immigration office or embassy punctually then extending is a relatively straightforward process.
Placements cover a wide range of specialties and interests: understaffed health clinics, overpopulated orphanages, nutirition projects for malnourished communities, centers for disadvantaged youth and adults conducting special activities and events, teaching in rural schools or with children with disabilities, and construction of homes, schools, and other structures.
Dive in to the Philippines and you will surely have your eyes opened to world of tropical wonder, and you’ll leave the islands with handfuls of humbling experiences.