Have you ever had one of those experiences where you feel like you can’t possibly do it any longer only to miss it more, once you’ve left?
That’s how we felt about our week volunteering through IVHQ in Tigman Village, a small village 1.5 hours south of Puerto Princessa on the Island of Palawan, Philippines.
What is IVHQ?
IVHQ is the world’s leading volunteer travel company with placements in over 30 countries worldwide. They offer one of the most affordable volunteer programs out there, with the opportunity to work from as little as 1 week (what we did) for as long as 3 months.
There are 150+ programs on offer depending on the country with placements ranging from education to community development, orphanage work, environmental projects, wildlife & animal care, construction and renovation, sports, healthcare… you get the drift. It’d be hard not to find something that interests you.
In each country, there are local organisations that take care of you, as well as IVHQ on your placement. In the Philippines, Green Lion handled us.
You can see all the program fees worldwide on their website.
How did we come about volunteering?
Volunteering is rewarding in so many ways. It’s the perfect way to experience the local culture and give back by helping out much-needed villages, towns & schools. Not only that, you have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, from all different backgrounds and ages, races and religions. It brings people together more than you can imagine. It’s an experience that’s unique, fun, rewarding and one that you’ll (hopefully) never forget.
Wait. You have to pay to volunteer?
A lot of people wonder why you have to pay to give up your free time. The reason for is simple. Organisations need money to run their programs.
The program fees not only help support you through your program, they cover the cost of your accommodation, whether it is a local homestay or shared accommodation in dorm style rooms with fellow volunteers. You’re also provided with 3 meals a day, drinking water and transport to and from the airport. Working through a program keeps you safe, allows you to have someone to go to if there are any issues and gives you the opportunity to meet people from all around the world.
During our particular week, the funds we paid also went towards supplies for our construction project, entrance fees, transport and activities during the “cultural week”. Still not quite sure about this? It’s explained in much greater detail here.
The first week of our placement was an introduction week into the Philippino culture, lifestyle, cuisine, etiquette & rules. Considering we were only here for a week, we combined our volunteering with the culture week and got to experience the best of both worlds.
Miko, our local program manager, taught us how to cook banana fritters (so much goodness). We learned the local language (attempted to) and felt as though we were back at school. We became superstars at Estrella Falls with an outrageous amount of photographs taken of us, as well as a much needed fresh water swim. Bargained for fruit at Narra Markets, walking away with a KILO of mangoes for only $1.40 USD (AMAZING!) and our favourite experience of them all?
Our morning at the sandbar.
A small patch of sand, in the middle of the ocean with nothing else surrounding it. Sounds pretty awesome right? It was up until we got caught in a torrential storm on the way home. I wish we had a photo to show for this trip home, but believe me when I tell you it was some of the heaviest rain we’ve ever been outdoors in.
The type of rain that you can’t open your eyes without being blinded by pelting bullets, the lightning that brightens the sky and thunder that shudders you. The locals, however, had a merry old time driving through it. I guess it wasn’t new to them.
The camp was basic but it worked. There was a shared common area, kitchen, indoor seating area, a clothes area to do hand washing and plenty of space to relax and chill. We had 5 rooms with dorm beds. No mixed dorms were allowed, therefore Jacob and I were separated for the week. Each room contained an ensuite bathroom, air conditioning, blanket and pillows. Towels, however, were not provided.
A Week in Tigman Village
There was no sleeping in at Tigman Village. Most rooms were up and moving by 7:00 am and if the roosters did not wake you, the dogs or the heat did.
Before breakfast, volunteers were exercising, hand washing their clothes or reading a book in the hammock. Brekky was served at 8:00 am and we were given eggs alongside something different each morning. Coffee, hot chocolate, pancakes, fresh fruit and unlimited oatmeal. By the way, have you ever tried oatmeal with Nutella? Ooh, you should. Where has this been all our lives?
Volunteer placements took place between 9:00am – 11:00 am and 2:00pm – 4:00 pm. If you do the math, that still allows for a lot of downtime in the day. With no access to the internet, apart from a very slow Facebook connection, we were “forced” or encouraged to interact with one another, exchange stories, travel plans & experiences. It was a blessing in disguise to be disconnected from the outside world for just one week and to be honest, rather invigorating.
Lunch was served every day at 12:00 pm in the common area and consisted of chicken, rice, vegetables and fruits. I think we’ve come to realise, chicken (on the bone) and rice are the #1 staple food in the Philippines and no meal is really complete without it.
For the rest of our break, we spent time on the beach getting eaten alive by sandflies, reading books, walking around the village, chatting with other volunteers, assisting the teachers with their lesson plans, playing basketball, volleyball, card games, waiting for the ice cream man to appear (shown below) and of course, the occasional nap.
Although the beach was directly at our doorstep, unfortunately, there was an increasing amount of jellyfish present and anyone who knows me knows I will attract anything that stings, bites or hurts so it was only ever a quick swim in the sea. Nevertheless, the scenery was beautiful, palm trees surrounded the bay and local fishing boats came and went.
If you haven’t seen already, we have accumulated one more toy to our electronic collection. The DJI Mavic Pro drone (highly recommended). Boy did Jacob have one heck of a time flying it over the village. The children (& adults!) came running to see this mysterious sounding machine. The smiles and laughter from them was purely contagious.
???? Chasing kids with a drone in a remote village of the Philippines and hearing their laughter is a moment I won’t forget! It was the first time they had ever seen one! #justglobetrotting @justglobetrotting . . . . #drone #aerial #droneoftheday #dronephotography #viewfromabove #view #djimavicpro #flyinghigh #dji #dronevideo #dronechase #laughter #filipino #philippines #palawan
Please don’t come to this camp and expect luxury, you won’t get it. The water pressure was non-existent & “showers” at the end of the day were from a bucket shared between 3-6 roommates and only if the water was running. And the basin? Forget it, there was no water coming from there. This was one of the only things that made living in the camp a little difficult.
It took a few days of getting used too but my attitude changed when we saw seeing an entire family, showering at the well nearby our construction site, I knew it was time to zip it and quit the bitching. We were living like this for only 7 days and it took that moment for me to realise that this is the life of a lot of people out there and the luxuries we take for granted are inaccessible to so many people worldwide.
Neither Jacob nor I have ever cemented a wall before, let alone created piles of cement! If you’d asked us 2 years ago, we wouldn’t have imagined learning this, let alone in the Philippines. This is another positive aspect of volunteering; it can bring you out of your comfort zone and teach you skills you may never have learnt before.
During our placement, our task was to complete a small community centre office for the nearby school. This project involved a 4 step process:
Wheelbarrow bucket loads of sand from A – B, sift the sand with a makeshift sifter hanging from a tree or basketball hoop (it continues to amaze me how resourceful some people can be), mix the sand and cement together, add the water and boom you have your cement.
Once we covered the entire outside of the centre, we moved to the sweltering hot inside before finishing the building off with a brightly colour coat of orange-red paint!
We had such fun with our group, the music was playing loud, the energy was amazing, the conversations flowed all day and the locals loved to watch us (& join in!) to build up their community.
Update: This is what the centre looks like now after 2 more weeks of work since we left.
One Word of Advice
Lower your expectations, open your mind, embrace the lifestyle and you’ll enjoy your time there a whole lot more. Whilst I disliked every ounce of the bucket showers and every itch of the sand flies, I realised you can still live with these annoyances and get on with life with one happy smile!
Volunteering in the Philippines was eye-opening, enjoyable, hot and an experience we won’t forget. Now, if anyone needs a house built, you know who to call… 😉
Married Days Survived: 787