The Philippines’ economy has begun to grow in recent years due in part to a large expat community infusing the economy with earnings from abroad, the growth of outsourcing, particularly call centers, and from a developing infrastructure that has been faring better as political corruption is decreasing. However, this new economic tiger in Asia still has one of the largest populations in the world living below the poverty line. Millions of families live at the mercy of urbanization, continuing to expand the social welfare needs of the nation’s capital city, Manila. These complicated social issues and unique political arena create a multitude of opportunities for volunteering in Manila.
Projects & Placements
Homeless families and squatters in Manila generally struggle to meet the daily needs of their families on minimal, unstable incomes. This disadvantaged social and economic situation of the lower classes in the nation’s mega-city has created an enormous need for international volunteer programs in Manila.
Community Development & Education. While public education is free, often additional expenses, like uniforms and project fees, are enough to keep many children from attending school. By volunteering to teach in local schools, international volunteers will provide the school with a free teacher as well as the student’s with access to a plethora of information and knowledge previously unattainable. The familial obligation to contribute to the household income, also leads to additional pressure to neglect to pursue a proper education. By contributing to community programs, such as street children projects or micro-lending programs, that help develop the economy of the city, volunteers will indirectly be encouraging students to attend school while minimizing their family’s need for an additional source of income.
Health Care & Education. Lack of access to health care as well as an overall lack of nutritional education has created a need for every Barangay (Neighborhood) to have their own health clinic. Until recently birth control was not widely available and even today in many communities it is not available. Combined with prevailing traditional Catholic beliefs, many families, particularly low-income families are increasingly large. These health centers serve as great places to launch health education programs, distribute resources, and provide healthcare for international volunteer programs.
Environment. Social ills are much more obvious and perhaps easier to address than environmental issues, but environmental placements in Manila nonetheless do exist. Flooding, typhoons and mudslides all contribute to a compounded disadvantage for farmers and those that live off the natural resources of the country. Through sustainable farming and tree planting projects volunteers will be able to help counter this disadvantage for families living on the outskirts of the nation’s capital.
Life in Manila
Manila, because of its ideal bay, became the center of administration for the Spanish rulers for nearly four centuries. Poor city planning over the decades, a polluted bay, and a post colonial political system, in which paying bribes gets you what you want, are some of the colonial legacies that have left Manila behind its Southeast Asian counterparts.
Manila is one of those chaotic mega cities that can be exhausting, discouraging and exhilarating. A huge metropolis, hustle and bustle will greet you when you arrive to volunteer in Manila. Shantytowns exist alongside gated villages and modern skyscrapers and malls. Sports cars line some neighborhoods, while millions live in makeshift homes not much bigger than a box, and in some cases children actually live in a box. The massive garbage that comes from a city the size on Manila exemplifies the contradictions in this city. One of the dumpsites, called Smoky Hill, is home to thousands of families and children who live on the edge of hell eating from the garbage, recycling plastic for pesos a day, and living in constant danger and disease.
While there is truth to pictures painted of poverty-stricken neighborhoods, seedier areas, and higher than average crime rates, there is more to Manila than just the bad rep attached to it. The city is teeming with restaurants, bars, galleries, and other recreational facilities frequented by creative, progressive, fun-loving, and laidback souls. The economic and political center of the Philippines, Manila also serves as a key hub for politically inclined individuals looking to effect social change for the nation.
Transport in the city is easy to find, with plenty of options available at noon or night. The list f public transportation vehicles includes tricycles, jeepneys, buses, taxis, and urban rail transits. Public transportation in Manila can be rife with chaos, and occasional crimes, so a sense of adventure and constant vigilance are necessary for pleasant and uneventful navigation around the city. It will take some getting used to.
After the Spanish left the Philippines, the Americans came into power, with a brief occupation by Japan as well. As a result of their colonial rule of the past, the Filipino people are fiercely independent and have a proud national attitude. Hints of the colonial days are ever present throughout the country, the Spanish left the Kuratsa, the Americans left basketball, yet everything has a distinctive Pinoy flavor.
Tagalog, the national dialect, is the city’s medium of communication along with the Philippines’ second national language, English. Tagalog also known as Filipino is heavily influenced by the Spanish language.
Costs & Affordability
The Philippines is among the most affordable countries to volunteer abroad in the world. Manila’s prices range from the most expensive shopping malls and restaurants of Makati with Western prices to match their foreign feel to local food stalls and small makeshift restaurants or local markets where meals can be had for less than $1. In general, goods are cheap in the Philippines.
Volunteer work in Manila usually comes along with a program fee that helps the organization run its daily operations and fund the programs which volunteers contribute to. The remaining program fees cover the costs of hosting a volunteer, such as in-country support and accommodation. There are numerous ways to find funding for volunteer programs in Manila, such as creating a campaign on fundmytravel.com.
Accommodation & Visas
Most volunteers arrive in the Philippines with a free 28 day tourist visa, and then extend their visa at a local immigration office for a small fee.
Accommodations offered depends on the volunteer organization or the NGO where you volunteer in Manila. Typically volunteer groups stay in shared accommodation in the community in which they are completing volunteer work. Some volunteer programs in Manila place volunteers with local homestay families, which provide a great opportunity for cultural immersion, a greater connection to the local community, and a better understanding of the local culture, not to mention home-cooked Filipino food is beyond delicious.
Benefits & Challenges
Many individuals who decide to volunteer in Manila experience serious culture shock in part because of unrealistic expectations. The Philippines is a poor country as a whole, but Manila possesses some of the most shocking income gaps in the country, which can be difficult for volunteers to witness daily. Not to mention the communities where most organizations place volunteers are those facing the greatest challenges. Volunteers should be prepared for the actual circumstances in which they will be carrying out volunteer work in Manila, they should prepare for basic living conditions and be aware of common transmittable diseases, like TB. The Philippines is very hot, which takes many volunteers by surprise, and Manila has among the worst traffic issues of any city in the world, so volunteers should expect to be a bit uncomfortable and patient at times.
Manila is a massive city, which faces all the same issues that most large cities around the world do, especially those in developing countries, so volunteers should be cautious and prepared. Petty theft is more common than in most capital cities in Southeast Asia, as well as crime overall.
International volunteers and gap year service travelers all agree that the best part of volunteering in Manila, and the Philippines as a whole, is the opportunity to develop relationships with the local people. Filipinos, or Pinoys, are incredibly warm, gracious, and generous. Volunteering in Manila will be an incredibly rewarding experience and Filipinos will make sure you know how thankful they are for your contributions to their lives and their country.