Philippines: BEZO Initiatives "Boholunteer"
(San Francisco, CA, USA)
Tarsier monkey, Bohol
I recently had the opportunity to volunteer in Baclayon, Bohol with the BEZO Initiatives Program as a "Boholunteer." Hearing about it, I jumped at this chance.
Travel to the Philippines gets a bad rep for being “unsafe” for Americans. This does have a hint of truth behind it, if you go to certain remote areas, but Baclayon (Bohol) is NOT one of these places. In fact, I feel pity for those so naive to skip travel to the Philippines due to safety concerns. However, those of you smart enough to travel to Manila...if you’re going to travel to the Philippines, you may as well fork out that extra hundred bucks and book a ticket to Baclayon, Bohol – airport code “TAG.” You won't regret it.
Through the Boholunteer program I was able to see the local flora, fauna and, the beauty and simplicity of the local lifestyle. On our way to the lake (in the awesome offroad buggies) for our assignments, the local children and adults were very friendly, always making us feel welcome with their warm smiles and hellos.
I love Hawaii and Tahiti, but for those of you that have traveled there, you know the locals don't always want the outsiders exploring their islands. I never felt intimidated or threatened during my stay. Obviously, you should use common sense anytime you're traveling but Baclayon isn't a place you have to worry about island bullies, gypsies or pick-pockets. And for those people that fear "getting kidnapped in the Philippines" ...that does not happen in Bohol!
The volunteer group leaders were very knowledgeable with the scientific and local names of the local flora, fauna and marine life. Their passion for the natural environment is an excellent representation of what BEZO Initiatives is committed to working toward and what it stands for. I never, once, questioned my safety with our volunteer leaders and guides. In addition, these guys were extremely patient with me, i.e. my slower pace of walking, my slower pace adjusting underwater when scuba diving, etc. All in all, they not only look out for the environment but they are also lookin’ out for you, making sure you’re comfortable and safe, which in turn, enables you a very enjoyable (and meaningful!) experience volunteering. Due to my responsibilities at work back home, I was only able to stay a week in Baclayon…this was my only regret with my Boholunteer experience.
Even if you’re not scuba certified, I highly recommend taking the day trip with BEZO to Pamilacan Island. You can make your reservations through the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO) in Baclayon. Pamilacan Island is a piece of goodness, it looks like someone took a bright blue highlighter around it, the water is that blue! We had lunch at Pamilacan Island, prepared by the locals, soooo good, you can taste the freshness of the food. At night, there is local BBQ for sale just outside the MTO in Baclayon, this BBQ consists of items such as chicken, pork and FRESH local seafood. After traveling to Baclayon and Pamilican, seafood at home in California will never be the same. All the more reason for me to return to Bacalyon!
Other facts important to me regarding Baclayon:
Last year, my first trip day trip to Bohol was booked through my hotel in Cebu, which included seeing the tarsiers. However, that tour brought me to tarsiers in a small enclosure and, I believe the tarsiers were tied to a tree. Asian tourists were petting them and it seemed like no one gave a crap (touching the endangered tarsiers is forbidden, it causes them stress which leads to their death). The tarsiers looked miserable and had the same expression, a very drunk person that's about to pass out would have on their face. On my second trip to Bohol this past February, I booked with BEZO and they took me to see the tarsiers at the tarsier sanctuary (my hotel tour did not offer this option!). The tarsiers looked so much healthier, were not tied to branches and just looked so much happier! I recommend booking directly through BEZO for your day tours so you don't get brought to the caged tarsiers like I did before I knew about BEZO.
BTW, if you're already traveling to Cebu, there are ferries you can take from Cebu to Tagbilaran (Bohol) for about $20 US dollars. It's about a 2 hour ride (with free wi-fi), called the OceanJet and Supercat.
Having been to Hawaii, the Florida Keys and Tahiti (again, I love these places), the main thing that stands out about Baclayon Biyahe and Pamilican island is the culture. Yes, Hawaii, Florida and Tahiti have culture but Baclayon and Pamilican have not been taken over by large, hospitality corporations/hotel chains. The cultures of Baclayon and Pamilican are still full of origin, history and alive today...not what hotels/resorts like Intercontinental or Hilton are portraying/selling it to tourists as. In Baclayon and Pamilacan, you can actually meet, greet and interact with the locals who have been there for generations. Through specialized programs, BEZO Initiatives is working hard to maintain the culture and the natural beauty of Baclayon and Pamilican.
There are local ancestral homes in Baclayon available for lodging, at a great rate, also something BEZO can provide you with more information on. Another option is the Coconut Palms Resort that has reasonable accommodations (simple, but beats the US or European hostels). If you prefer fancy, there is the Peacock Garden that sits on a hill, with room views overlooking the sea. Peacock Garden makes you feel like you're in the South of France yet the warm, friendly staff is a reminder you are on this terrific island. The best way to embrace the local culture is to stay in the ancestral homes with a local family, also most economical.
People in Baclayon speak the local dialect, Visayan but it seems everyone also speaks Tagalog. Even better, it seems EVERYONE speaks ENGLISH! So unlike other countries, there is no language barrier!
Note: To volunteer or for more information, contact BEZO directly through their website at www.braabo.com.
Charity Farm in England
When I was a teenager on a break from college I travelled to the United Kingdom to stay with my grandmother. She lived outside of London in the county of Essex. I did lots of the usual sightseeing and visiting family while in the UK but I also wanted to do something more productive and interesting with my time.
About half an hour away from my grandmother’s house was a petting farm run by a local charity. I decided to volunteer to help out around the farm. It was a wonderful place which organised groups of disadvantaged and disabled children to visit and meet with the various animals. It was an extremely therapeutic experience for them and the children loved to stroke and meet the various animals – cows, sheep, ducks, horses, donkeys – the full farmyard variety!
One activity which was particularly popular was feeding the baby lambs - the children were given baby bottles filled with formula and they could actually feed the lambs themselves – they loved it! It was such a rewarding time for me and I spent many weeks working on the farm – taking the children on guided tours, feeding and mucking out animals and generally trying to be useful.
It was made even more rewarding to know I was volunteering rather than being paid to help out. I would definitely recommend volunteering to people of all ages, but particularly younger people as I believe it teaches some important values such as hard work, selflessness and a dedication to helping others.
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'Color me Red' in Bangladesh
(currently on the road)
I worked with Hands-on Disaster Response (hodr.org) in Bangladesh earlier this year.
It was an impulsive decision, I couldn't make it to the project in Peru, so decided to start my extended trip with volunteering.
We built houses, playgrounds, schools - everything. We lived, worked with the community without the luxury of AC SUVs (the bigger NGOs seem to have a lot of those) or even fans in the bedrooms.
Work was hard, six days a week of mostly construction but then, once in while, there were fun side-projects as well like distributing photos in the villages, which essentially means 4 hours of celebrity status :)
It was the single most rewarding and moving experience of my life and I wanted to share it with you all!
Volunteering in Vietnam with a local NGO
I spent the first three months of 2010 volunteering in Hanoi, Vietnam for a small NGO. My principal task was to research and identify possible sources of international funding, and then write and submit proposals. It was an extremely valuable learning experience, and I loved learning about Vietnamese culture and exploring the country.
Unfortunately, I didn't make as much progress as I would have liked during my time there, but I now realize that it's all part of the learning curve. Every day I faced numerous language and cultural barriers and I had to think of innovative ways to get around these problems.
Hand gestures and sketches quickly became a standard form of communication in the office, and Google translator was my favorite online tool. I quickly learned that it's unacceptable to show anger or irritation; keeping a smile on my face - no matter how I felt inside - always produced the quickest results.
When I left, I was proud of what I accomplished for the NGO, but in reality I think I gained the most from the experience - namely, how to adapt to any set of circumstances and succeed.
Elephant Nature Foundation, Thailand
I volunteered at Elephant Nature Foundation in Changmai, Thailand in April 2007. It was an awesome experience that I will never forget. I got to travel to Thailand, live in a hut in the elephant preserve, and see how rural Thai people live. I met all kinds of interesting people from all over the world and learned so much about elephants.
We fed and bathed the elephants, prepared their food, harvested crops for the feedings, gathered bamboo and floated it down the river, fixed roads, and did lots of other chores around the sanctuary. I am quite prissy and not used to manual labor, but I really did love every minute of volunteering there. Well, it did take a little getting used to at first -- sleeping on a hard cot in a bamboo hut and taking cold showers. One night there was a bad storm, and when I woke up 2 of the dogs were in bed with me -- they were scared too!
I also made friends with one of the local women -- they come from the village to help out with cooking and some other things. Although none of them spoke English, we taught each other some words and spent time together.
The scenery was beautiful and the food was good too. I wish I could go every year.
Ed. Note: Find out more at surinproject.org and elephantnaturefoundationuk.org.
In 1974 I gave up work as a midwife in the Spanish city of Barcelona. I had always promised myself that when I reached a personal goal of 1,000 babies delivered I would lay down my scrubs for the last time and head out into the world to volunteer in a new and different way.
I have always wanted to give back to the world in thanks for the joy that is has given me. Volunteering has been my way of doing that.
At first it was hard to decide where to go and what to do. However, a good friend of mine had recently returned from a holiday in Israel and suggested that I try working on a kibbutz. The next morning I booked my flights and headed off for the adventure of a lifetime.
I arrived with no idea of what I was going to do. Fortunately, I met a number of other women who had been traveling the region for some time and they pointed me in the direction of a kibbutz in the small town of Kyrat Shimona in northern Israel along the border with southern Lebanon.
When I arrived in what was then something of an outpost I discovered the most welcoming kibbutz leader – John Cohen. He showed me around his avocado plantation at the heart of the kibbutz and I knew, almost at once, that I was destined to volunteer here for the rest of my life.
It has now been over 30 years and I am still picking avocadoes for ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week. What started as blisters have now become integral to my hands. I have become almost one with the earth itself. Volunteering in this way has unleashed a true anchor in my soul and I can’t imagine my life being grounded in any other way. This has been time well spent.
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Painting a School in Belize
Schoolboy in Belize
In May 2007, I went to Belize with a small group of people. The youngest volunteer was 18, and the oldest was 31. I went because I felt that going abroad was something I needed to do. Our group was a work team; our job was to paint a village school.
While we were there, we played games with the children and taught them songs. The best part about the trip was the relationships I made with my fellow team members and the people of Sandhill, Belize.
I was only there for a short week, but that week was the biggest life changing experience for me. I learned so much about myself, my Faith, and life in general. I got to see another part of the world. I got to witness, firsthand, the lives of other women in the world.
Leaving Belize, I thought about how fortunate I was. I have a roof over my head, plenty of food,and I have shoes on my feet. Things I often take for granted, the people of that community worked hard to get. I plan to go back, and I cannot wait until I do! The people, especially the children, touched my heart with every smile and true word of gratitude for my help. My job seemed small to me, but to them it meant someone in the world cared.
(Photo: Tony & Sue, Flickr)
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Orphanage and Elderly in China
by Paige Copper (Brazilian)
In 2001-2002 I joined in a Volunteer Activity Group (created by expat women) assisting in an orphanage in China. Chores included such things as bath, bottlefeed, changing diapers for the little ones living there - mostly girls, because their parents had wished for male babies. They are around 400 baby girls desperate for love, aged between one week and 15 years old. It is a good situation, frankly speaking: both caregivers and care receivers are happy.
With the elderly I volunteered solo and it was more complicated than the above because they were shy and a little suspicious of their carers, especially if they are foreign. I helped clean them with towels, cologne, fragrant water and cut their nails, combed their hair etc. Still they complained about why foreign people were helping them rather than local ones. I went each Tuesday and always hoped I would hear that they had missed me, but no. On the contrary I sometimes heard that one of them had passed away... I was very sad for them, they had no loved ones, but they would not accept me as a person. It was very sad for them.
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