Volunteering in the Philippines not only gives individuals the chance to explore the world and experience a new culture, it gives them the opportunity to expand their world perspective and gain an understanding of poverty that may not be conceivable without firsthand experience. The Philippines is culturally rich, with a diverse mixture of Spanish and American influences along with the traditional native culture. The limited social development along with common economic hardships among the nation's people provides international volunteers with a vast array of opportunities for volunteer work in the Philippines, from placements in rural health clinics to orphanages to construction sites.
Geography & Demographics
The Philippines is a string of over 7,000 islands, the exact number varies with the tide, filled with over 93 million people. Though the nation is slowly becoming a tourist hot spot, for the most part the Philippines remains and untouched paradise. 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 the Philippines, 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.
International volunteers 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. Volunteers 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 volunteers can still feel comfortable in shorts and tank tops as long as they are church-worthy cuts.
If visiting in July, volunteers 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.
Food & Culture
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 in 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 42 Philippine Pesos while one Euro is worth just over 50 Philippine Pesos. Volunteers from developed nations typically find the Philippines to be an extremely cheap place to live; international volunteers can easily afford daily transportation and meals for under $200 US dollars a month.
Filipinos are extremely welcoming and particularly enjoy getting to know people from other countries. They are open and curious so volunteers 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 indivduals volunteering in the Philippines.
Volunteers 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. Coconut milk is also a frequently used, and extrememly delcious, ingredient in Filipino dishes.
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. Frutis tend to be extraordinarily sweet in the Philippines and the local fruit shakes should definitely be experimented with.
Things to Do
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 while volunteering 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 volunteers in the Philippines the opportunity to explore and even greater area of the country.
Volunteering in the Philippines
Choosing to volunteer in the Philippines presents volunteers 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. Working in a local community or living with a host family, gives any volunteer priceless exposure to day to day life and the locals welcome visitors with excitedly open arms. 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 volunteering programs in the Philippines end up being quite affordable because of exchange rates and the local cost of living, in comparison to volunteers' home countries.
Volunteer Placement Opportunities Include:
- Health clinics
- Understaffed orphanages
- Nutrition and Public Health
- Youth Development and Education
- Women's Empowerment
- Drug and Violence Rehabilitation
- Community Development
- Disaster Relief
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. Program providers ensure the safety of volunteers and always provide 24/7 assistance in case of emergencies or illness.
Almost any visitor, including those who are volunteering, can enter the Philippines on a free tourist visa for an initial stay of 30 days. After 30 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 for volunteers in the Philippines.