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Tom in Tacloban: Arriving in the Philippines

Hi everyone! My name is Tom and I’m a Placement Advisor here at Kaya Responsible Travel.

I’ve been working for Kaya for just over four months now and I was previously based in our UK office in Manchester for the first four months. However, now, as you may have guessed from the title of this blog entry, I have arrived in the Philippines to start working at Kaya’s Asia office based in Tacloban City for the next 12 months. Having been here for one month now I have experienced lots of different and really cool things, so I thought it was time to write a little blog about it. For those of you who are thinking of volunteering in the Philippines here in Tacloban, and especially to those of you who are have already applied and are going to be volunteering here in the near future, I thought I would share my experiences with you so far. My plan is to post regular updates about my time in the Philippines, so hopefully this is the first of many!

I arrived in Tacloban on Monday April 1st. As I was flying into the city from the capital of the Philippines, Manila, what struck me as I gawped at the amazing views from my window seat is not only how beautiful the Philippines is, but also how diverse it is as a country. Upon take off, as we rose through the skies above Manila there were town ships with glistening tin roofs as far as the eye could see. As we headed further south, huge volcanoes and dramatic, mountainous landscapes started to rise up in amongst a mixture of lush green pastures and beautiful blue seas, whilst tiny islands with deserted white beaches were an extremely common sight throughout the whole journey. Not a surprise really considering that the Philippines is made up of over 7,000 different islands! The flight from Manila to Tacloban was just over an hour and as far as I’m concerned it wasn’t long enough since I was enjoying the views so much!

For the first week, I stayed in a homestay within the local community here in Tacloban where all of the volunteers live during their placements. Personally, I think that staying in a homestay is such an important part of the volunteering experience, as getting to experience the customs and culture of the local people at close encounters is not something you get to see everyday and is a real one-off experience. I lived with a husband and wife called Jerry and Tess. Or, to give them their Filipino names, Ate Tess and Kuya Jerry. Ate and Kuya are titles that are applied to people who are older than you as a sign of respect and Ate and Kuya means older sister and brother respectively.

Both Ate Tess and Kuya Jerry were extremely welcoming and made me feel at ease straight away. Many families in the local community house volunteers, meaning that all of the volunteers are no more than 5 minutes away from each other and this makes it very easy to meet up with fellow volunteers in the evenings and over the weekend to explore the local area, or perhaps go further afield.

My overriding opinion of the people here in Tacloban is great, as everyone has been so nice since I’ve been here. Tacloban isn’t a destination on the itinerary of many tourists, so you will always get people saying hello to you and asking you questions as the locals are very curious about anyone who is new in the city!

Having lived in the local community, over the past three weeks or so I have met lots of volunteers from all different parts of the world, who have come to the Philippines from all parts of the globe, everywhere from Australia to Norway. Volunteering in general is a great way to meet people from different countries and all walks of life and it’s certainly no different here in the Philippines.

Last weekend I also got the chance to go with some of the volunteers to see some of the main sights of north-east Leyte, the island where Tacloban is located, and visit some of the projects to see the superb work that they do, including the Building and Nutrition projects. The people at all the projects I have seen so far have been amazing and love seeing current volunteers and meeting the new ones for the first time. The children at the projects are always super excited to see everyone as well! It is great to see first hand the impact that the projects are having on the local communities they aim to help and, you’ve guessed it, everyone was so nice and welcoming when we visited.

All things considered, it is pretty astonishing to think that the Philippines is still off the radar compared to a lot of other countries in Asia as a travel destination. What’s not to love? Sights, sun, the sea and the friendliest people you could ever wish to meet. For those people who are volunteering with Kaya in Tacloban in the near future, I am sure you are going to have an amazing experience volunteering at some fantastic projects. And for those who are still thinking about whether to volunteer with Kaya in the Philippines, I have one question – What are you waiting for?!