Sophie Maucort - 2005 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I had always been interested in travelling and had long wanted to immerse myself in a foreign culture, particularly in Asia. I was quite young when I graduated from high school so I decided to take a year break in-between two academic semesters in college. I was also planning to travel and intern abroad during my studies, and wanted to make sure that living abroad was made for me.

A view of Tacloban City, Philippines

Tacloban City on a hot and humid day

Why did you choose Volunteer for the Visayans? 

I found Volunteer For the Visayans thanks to a Canadian organization offering volunteer abroad programs with partners. I knew I wanted to volunteer in an orphanage in the Philippines, and VFV offered me a structured program with an airport pick-up, a homestay, a community-inspired environment, and full support throughout my stay. As a baby traveller, I felt safe going with them.

What was your favorite part about Tacloban City? 

You mean my favorite "parts"!? Everything, from the feeling of landing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when you arrive to the people greeting you as you walk down the small streets of your barangay. The cool jeepney rides in and outside the city. The weather (I love hot tropical weather, and I adore heavy rains). THE PEOPLE.

What surprised you most about the Philippines?

The community-like spirit.

What characteristics of your program made it unique?

My program was unique in that it was not only volunteer work in a certain place, but also an entire immersion in a local community and non-profit organization. VFV was everywhere, at the orphanage, of course, through other volunteers and me, but also right next door with feeding programs, community center activities, school tutorials, and a child sponsorship program. This made it possible for you as a volunteer to get really involved in the community you were living in (if you wished to), and to explore new aspects of volunteer work, outside of your assigned project.

The staff was open to suggestions and to discussing every aspect of your volunteer abroad experience. You could become a part of something bigger than your own six month program, which was all good to take.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

Not difficult at all, thanks to English!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

They gave me a lot of freedom, so I was actually the one organizing my days and my work. Some feedback sessions were organized from time to time so as to make sure that we were satisfied with our placement, and that the placement's staff was satisfied with us as well. I did not face any difficulty throughout my program.

What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

Leaving the country, and the culture shock when back to France.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have been more open. I remember getting upset sometimes when facing issues due to cultural differences. I could certainly have observed more, and reacted less.

What was your daily schedule like?

  • 6:30 a.m. - Wake-up and have breakfast
  • 7:30 a.m. - Leave for the orphanage
  • 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. - Volunteer work
  • 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. - Lunch
  • 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. - Community activities or another placement
  • After 5 p.m. - Free time!

What did you enjoy doing outside of your placement? 

Spending time with my new local friends and their families.

Children playing in front of Volunteer for the Visayans center in Tacloban City, Philippines

Children play in front of the Volunteer for the Visayans office

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

I was living in a comfortable house with my own bedroom, and a bathroom that I shared with the rest of my host family. What I liked best about it was to feel that my nanay (host mum) was really happy to have me in her home, and would watch after me as she would her own daughter.

Do you have any packing tips for volunteers headed to Tacloban?

Long pants to protect legs from mosquitoes, as well as jeans and tshirts. A good sun protection and sunglasses. An adaptor for using electrical devices, if necessary.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in the Philippines?

I didn’t read anything about the country before leaving, as I wanted to entirely experience the unknown. I wish I had researched more about the history, the political background, and the local culture before coming.

How has volunteering in the Philippines impacted your life?

I came back to the Philippines six times since 2005! I forged very strong bonds with the country. More generally, this experience gave me a sense of responsibility and community that I still value in my professional career and in the choices I make.

Would you recommend Volunteer for the Visayans to others?

Yes, definitely.