On August 10th, 2017 another volunteer and I left Germany to go on a trip of a liftime. After over 24 hours of travelling we arrived in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
One of the first impression I had when I exited the airplane and walked through the airport was how unbelievably crowded it was. It was after midnight, but no matter where you went there were always crowds and crowds of people. I am a fairly well travelled person and I have never experienced anything like this at an airport before.
As we were flying onwards to Naga, we had an amazing view on the nature of the country, which I truly can’t wait to further explore. At the tiny airport in Naga we were picked up by a Swiss who moved to the Philippines over 20 years ago. He drove us to our apartment and explained things about the Filipino culture and Naga City to us on the way. We used that opportunity to ask a lot of questions about the behaviour of Filipinos in different situations. After all neither one of us has ever been to this country nor have we really been encountering Filipinos in Germany.
While driving through the streets of Naga I could not stop staring outside. Everything looked so very different from what I knew. If it is the traffic, which should be worth a completely different report, the way buildings are constructed, the open life on the streets, the smells, or noices. Everything was so very different and new.
The same day we first met our mentor. The three of us got along very well from the beginning and we enjoyed having him show us around Naga. Our mentor explained to us how to ride a Tricycle and any other vehicle that is used for public transportation around here, where to go for grocery shopping and where we would find everything necessary to ’survive out here‘.
Looking back at my first day walking through the streets of the city, it felt pretty scary just crossing the road while hundrets of vehicles are still driving and not stopping for you. It felt almost uncomfortable being starred at, no matter where we went and the busy life on the streets was unknown and foreign. Now, only a couple weeks later, I feel way more comfortable walking around in the city, even without a Filipino companion. I have gotten used to the staring and now just see it as a compliment.
Naga will not be my home for the first two months of my volunteer work. I am currently living and working at the Fatima Center Integraded Farming Schools Inc. (FIFS) close to Iriga, about one hour south of Naga. Fatima Center is home to about 90 orphans and a school to approximaltely 650 children. It focuses on sustainable resources and a healthy living. Living here has been fairly difficult for me. My task here, given to me by sister Itat and the directress of the school, is to observe the lessons, to support the teachers as good as I can and to talk to the students in English after their classes. Finding work here turned out to be way harder than expected. Everone sees me rather as a visitor and guest than as a voluteer and worker. The teachers seem like they would much rather have me observe and play with the children during their many breaks than help them with correcting exams or actually letting me teach. In addition to that did the children have had almost no classes since I got here. The day is filled with unnecessary breaks, which I usually use to teach the students some German, and they have a lot of activities, such as speech competitions, ethnic dance competitions or sport turnaments and preperation for such going on.
Even the daily life chores I am not allowed to do. Trying to wash the dishes after dinner or even pouring myself a glass of water and not letting them do it for me almost turns into a loud discussion or fight. To avoid exactly that I am currently focusing on spending time with the children, who are all more than amazing, caring and just lovable. I was literally welcomed with open arms by all of them and I still am. When we find time to hang out together in between the many prayers, school, studying and dinner we usually sit together and sing international songs, teach each other each others‘ language or play games such as catch, chess, hide and seek or small games that the kids teach me. Unfortunately, my relationship with the sisters and working adults in Fatima Center is not the best, for reasons I don’t know nor understand. Finding friends here is pretty much impossible. I always have to be very careful when I open my mouth, no matter in what situation I am in. Everything I say around here can, and usually will, be used against me in some kind of way. This and the ongoing questioning about my religious believes and private life sure have been a challenge for me but I am learning to deal with it and to just focus on the reason why I went here in the first place, the kids. Another cultural difference I experienced and that is a little bit more difficult for me to deal with is the food, or better, the rice. Rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast we usually have garlic rice with dried fish, for lunch rice with fish or soup and for dinner rice with chicken or fish. I am not a picky eater, so I try everything that is being cooked for me, even if the fish is swimming as a whole in the fishsoup and even if the smell of garlic rice in the morning is already making me feel not so happy about getting up. There is a positive side to the food in Fatima Center tho. Because the Center is focused on farming and agricultural work and they own multiple big properties and all the meals are cooked freshly with their own grown foods. Just walking around the Center, the children and the workers always offer me to try different fruits and they pick them right off the trees for me to try. Something I most definetly enjoy a lot.
On by some pictures of me and the children after school infront of one of their school buildings, the students and I before their ethnic dance competition in their selfmade costumes, and just me during break in class with them.