As beautiful as the Philippine Islands are, there is no way around the poverty—especially when you’re in the capital.
If you’ve been to a developing country before, chances are you’ve felt that inner turmoil when a street kid taps your arm and gesture for money to buy food.
You wonder what the money you could give will be spent on, not to mention if it will be spent by the kids themselves. You could, of course, buy some food and give it to them instead but the truth is that most of the time we simply have to shake our heads and say “walang”.
Of course you want to give them something—a few pesos is nothing to you—but you know if you do you’ll be swarmed by more kids who want more money and how can you possibly help them all?
Indeed, the ever-present plight of poverty in a metropolis like Manila quickly overwhelms. In light of such insurmountable problems, it’s easy to think they’re simply too big to make trying to help worthwhile. It’s similarly easy to feel this way about the environment but every time one of us gives up and turns a blind eye, the problem grows.
You can’t embrace life in Manila, or anywhere in the Philippines, however short or long your stay, without coming to terms with the poor and misfortunate.
You can try to ignore it, going from your hotel straight into a tinted ride and ignoring what’s outside your window, or you can find a way to engage.
I’m not talking about voluntourism. I’m talking about stepping into life in some of those dark and dirty. Talking with people, bringing what you have to share: a smiling face, a listening ear, a talent or skill, or even resources.
To understand what is wrong with volunteerism and figure out how to volunteer effectively, let’s uncover three volunteering myths:
3 Volunteering Myths
I first came to the Philippines as a volunteer, 18 years old and fresh out of high school (see featured photo). In a way, it was already in my blood. As a child, I lived in Africa for a number of years and often participated in various projects, from tutoring and organizing activities for kids in our village to bagging multivitamins at medical camps.
I grew up alongside the kids we were helping: they’d come to our house and we’d go to theirs. We’d climb trees and play soccer together.
At the same time, we’d occasionally hang out with kids whose parents owned mansions. Growing up in such varied social circles, you find out that you’re not really above or below any class.
Myth: Our solutions are better than theirs
Though outside perspectives can be helpful, the best solutions often come from those in the middle of the problem.
Colonialism has spread many things around the world—trade, resources, but also disease, pollution, and unsustainable practices.
If your friend is working on a project and asks for your help, chances are they don’t want you to come and tell them what to do. They’re simply asking you to support them by sharing your skills and expertise.
Foreign volunteers should not come in to give solutions but to share tools.
Myth: The people we help are different from us
When you’re on the outside looking in, it’s hard to imagine how a slum dweller can be just like you. But beyond all the surface elements, such as living in different circumstances and speaking a different language, we all share the same human traits: pride, joy, sadness, a love of play, a desire to be loved, an addiction to the Moana song.
Of course we’re all unique: each of us possesses more or less of certain traits and we have our own traditions and customs, likes and dislikes, as well. Ultimately, however, whether raised in a castle or a cave, we are all equally human.
Myth: People need our money
Back to the street kids: do they need your money?
What will a few pesos give them? At best a single bite to eat. More pesos will give them more bites but when it runs out they’re left with nothing. Perhaps, instead of your money, they need something else from you. Perhaps they need your time and attention or whatever it is you can share to help them build up their lives.
If you’re interested in volunteering with local charities that are having a concerted and positive impact, send me a message. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on volunteering!