My Reflection of RYM/SERVE Solidarity Programme in the Philippines

By Niamh Harrington

In July 2019 a group of 11 young people from Ireland travelled to Cebu City in the Philippines to work alongside Redemptorist Youth Ministry Cebu and Tacloban and the Badjao Tribe in the Nano Nagle Early Learning Centre. I was lucky to be part of this incredibly diverse and talented team where we learnt to collaborate with each other to achieve the best experiences for ourselves and all the people we met on this journey.

October 2018 began fundraising plans and thanks to the kindness of the Irish public, in addition to a quiz night and donations from local businesses I was able to attain my fundraising target making this project possible. The funding we gathered went towards our flights, accommodation, and the remainder was put towards SERVE’s funding of projects in the Badjao Community. Upon returning we learnt that our funding will be used to fix the gates to the Badjao School and its surrounding community as well as making improvements to stairs of houses that were built in Site B with the help of SERVE’s previous volunteers.

We had two training weekends before embarking on the project where we discussed what we hoped to learn and what skills we planned to share during our time in the Philippines. As I am involved in Scala on a voluntary basis working on the Meitheal Youth Leadership Programme, a programme I myself graduated from I felt confident in working on our planned Redemptorist Youth Ministry retreat. Another thing that filled me with confidence about this trip was my experience as a preschool teacher here in Ireland. I was delighted hearing that we would be working in the Nano Nagle Early Learning Centre and particularly in the Montessori classes made me feel super at ease with the project we had ahead of us.

Looking back on this who experience I have come to realise that this project was truly faith in action. Throughout my Religious Education studies in Leaving Certificate, I read about the concept Jesus shared of the Kingdom of God not being a place or a thing but a way of life. Until reflecting on this experience I did not really understand this concept. The warmth and welcoming nature of the Cebuano’s and Badjao that we got to talk to portrayed this nature of acceptance which we often lack here at home in our fast-paced lives. Every person I interacted with had a smile to share and kindness to offer no matter what life situation they were facing. The appreciation these people showed for the little things in life warmed my heart. The Prophet Micah’s vision of Justice, Compassion and Humility are the central theme of the Meitheal programme and are values I try to live my life by, but as humans we often struggle to achieve theses. Personally, humility is a concept I not only struggled to understand but up until now was a value that I felt I could never achieve.

To be humble in what we do and not look for praise or thanks is difficult because as people we often feel we need this appraisal to feel accomplished. Upon returning from this project many people were praising me for my courage to take on this “challenge and work in these upsetting conditions” an idea which really upset me because having been there and having experienced these interactions I came to realise that everyone including myself benefitted from this collaboration. While the cultural experience was diverse from the one of home, I could not call it upsetting because the incredible people we met live exceptional lives that they are proud and grateful for. Yes, I may have shared some skills I have learnt through my role as a youth ministry volunteer or from my career as a preschool teacher but unknowns to myself I gained a lot more from this project that I contributed. I now refuse to accept praise for experiencing this opportunity not because I feel it’s the humble thing to do but because for me these moments are something I was privileged to experience.

During our two weeks in the Philippines we spent time with Redemptorist Youth Ministry Cebu, sharing games, dances, friendships and a three-day retreat which allowed us to share our individual concepts of faith in action.  The use of creativity through music, dance and art by the Cebuano’s was something that enhanced my understanding of faith to no end. I personally gained so much from working with these youths as they were so open and willing to share their thoughts, practice and culture. I was delighted to learn some everyday Cebuano words, games and songs all of which I have began sharing in my classroom this year. Not only did our work with RYM Cebu include elements of faith but we also focused on Sustainability and the differences and similarity between Ireland and the Philippines. Stewardship of the planet is central in all walks of life and the climate change crisis is something that we all strive to help decrease.

A visit to the Leprosarium was also something we got to experience. The empathy shown towards the people staying in the leprosarium was something that opened my eyes to the world that we live so far away from. The prejudice we are conditioned to have in the Western World is something I was completely unaware of until it came to us walking into the Cottages. Apprehensive is an understatement of how we felt but I soon realised when I saw the RYM Cebu youth interacting with the residences that my society had programmed me to treat these people a certain way when in fact there was no reason to fear anything.

We also got to work alongside the teachers in the Nano Nagle Early Learning Centre and the Badjao Youth Council. My passion for working with children was strengthened even more when I saw the children of the Badjao Tribe running to school with a look of extreme excitement on their faces. The appreciation the community have for the teachers Edwina, Pau, Janice, Venerva, Tommy and the Presentation sisters in addition to the pride of place the school holds in the community was something that melted my heart as a teacher.

The smiles on the faces of the young children, their families and the Chiefs of the Tribe were something that made the whole experience worthwhile. A day that will stick out in my head forever will be the day the Dentist came to visit the Montessori Children. The smiles on these childrens faces and the excitement about this new experience filled me with positivity. We also ran some workshops on bullying, human rights and the future of the Badjao with the Badjao Youth Council a group of 16-20-year olds who are a voice for the youth of the Tribe. Hearing from these incredible youths who everyday challenge the stereotypes about their Tribe set by the Filipino Population. Each of these students attends either High School or College outside of the community and are faced with adversities and discrimination for identifying as Badjao. While these obstacles continue to present themselves, the spirit and passion this Tribe have has encouraged these young people to rise above the hate and prove their value in this world through their successes as college graduates and educated members of the Filipino workforce.

SERVE work in partnership with the Badjao Tribe each year and ensure that each project has the needs of the Badjao at the core of the planning. The funding SERVE provides to this community gives the School opportunities to provide education for preschool children right through to adulthood. The school co-ordinated by Sr. Mildred and Edwina have fought to keep the youth of the Badjao in school while also valuing their Tribes believes and practices. The school also offers incentives for the children to attend Montessori classes, providing a hot meal for the children to take home after morning classes. Without the funding raised by SERVE volunteers SERVE would not be able to continuously support these incredible communities.

Solidarity is when a group work in harmony to support each other on their personal journeys. My experience in the Philippines has opened my eyes to a world of happiness and joy where people walk with each other in unity supporting individual difference. It has made me think about the way we look at life in a glass half empty manner when we should take a leaf out of these incredible peoples lives and see the world as a good place full of potential and opportunity. Without the kindness and support of everyone who donated, I would not have been able to pass that kindness forward through this experience. By passing kindness forward we are not only giving a little love but we are also getting a little love of our own. “Love your neighbour as yourself” Matthew 22:39. Thank you for your support and for taking the time to read my reflection on this solidarity project.

I am forever grateful for this experience,


Graduation Day in Mavambo

The Dublin Province of the Redemptorists (DPR), with funding support from Misean Cara, have been long term supporters of Mavambo Trust who work with orphaned and vulnerable children, and their caregivers, in the communities of Mabvuku and Tafara in Zimbabwe. SERVE manages the implementation of this project for the DPR.

On 4th December, 41 students (aged 8 to 12) graduated from Mavambo Learning Centre (MLC) and their Accelerated Literacy and Numeracy Programme. The event brought together students, teachers, parents, grandparents, siblings and representatives of the local government and ministry of education, who were all there to congratulate and celebrate the fantastic achievement of these young learners.

MLC’s Accelerated Literacy and Numeracy Programme gives children, who have never been to school before, an opportunity to catch up, learn and grow in a safe environment so they can join the formal education system once passed. The programme not only focuses on their academic skills but also fosters creative learning, drama, music and life skills.

SERVE’s Regional Monitoring & Evaluation Officer, Julia Haimlinger, represented the Dublin Province of the Redemptorists at the graduation and was present to witness the fruits of these skills. The graduates performed a play showcasing what children rights mean to them, sang, danced and read out some of their own poems. Julia was delighted to be there and witness all the joy and laughter. It was particularly beautiful to watch the proud mothers, fathers or grandparents embrace the children once they received their certificates. The official ceremony was followed by a big party with lots of food and dancing.

The DPR are proud to see the importance and impact of this long term partnership and wish all the graduates and their families the best as they move to formal schools.

Meet Omega

By Rory Murphy

As the years go by and the memories fade, I suspect one thing, above all else, will remain with me from my time in Mozambique with SERVE.

It won’t be the incredible people or the stunning vistas. It won’t be the pounding heat or the sensory assaults that accompanied ventures around the town of Beira. It won’t be Vernam’s inimitable laugh or Karina’s endless dramatics. It won’t even be the work we did or the thoughts I had. 

It will be Omega.

I met Omega in an English class one incredible evening in Young Africa Beira. This is his story. 

The first thing Omega will tell you when he meets you is that he’s going to be a dentist. He’ll beam with justified pride as he does so. He’ll tell you that this is how he will support his family. 

His family, however, is not a wife and kids. His family is his siblings, nieces and nephews all of whom he cares for on a daily basis. He leaves them only for one thing. English class. 

You see English class is everything to Omega. That’s the next thing he’ll tell you. He takes a long bus journey to the YA campus for his evening course with August, his unique tutor. Education is not a chore or a hardship for Omega but rather a privilege he does not take lightly.

In order to train and then use his skills as a dentist, he requires a certain level of English. That’s where Young Africa come in. The course provides him with this vital skill that can allow him to flourish and shape his future. It empowers him to provide for his siblings, nieces and nephews. For me, he will always be the face of Young Africa and the reason why I won’t stop working to support them in any way I can. 

Omega sat with me that evening for two hours as he practiced his English pronunciation and told me his story. He taught me Portuguese better than any teacher ever taught me Irish but that’s very much beside the point. He is an extraordinary young man who is more resilient than I could ever hope to be. He needed only the smallest help in order to achieve amazing things and YA, with SERVE’s support, provided that push. 

So, in future, if anyone ever doubts the power of education, the importance of empowerment or the necessity of SERVE and their partner’s work, think of Omega. And tell his story

Volunteering done, now to update my Instagram…

By Aisling Moran


Look! Look! Here’s me, a white girl volunteering in India saving the day one breath at a time! Or would this work better for an Instagram caption: ‘Being here in India has made me lose the 3 stone I always wanted gone, while making a difference to poor kids lives xx <3’.

All sarcasm aside, volunteering has always beIMG_20190725_112419en a complex and conflicting topic for me. ‘Voluntourism’ can easily capture the hearts of naïve volunteers who want to ‘make a difference in the world’ yet wish to remain in their own narcissistic and sheltered bubble. Over 1.6 million people go volunteering while on their travels making it a $2 billion industry. But at what expense does these so-called good acts come at?

Coined by Jorgen Lissner, ‘poverty porn’ is described as an ‘exhibition of the human body and soul… without any respect and piety for the person involved. It puts people’s bodies, their misery, their grief, and their fear on display with all the details and all the indiscretion that a telescopic lens will allow’. It doesn’t take long to think of fundraising campaigns of a near naked sorrow-eyed African child with a bloated belly and flies resting on their face. This unethical image of a famished child sustains the myth that material wealth is the very groundwork of a good quality of life. Yes, the money raised can make a substantial difference, but financial aid gathered with no consideration to what such advertising can do to the mindset, attitudes, behaviour, and politics of their intended audience can do more harm than good.

By portraying malnourished and sick children when they are most vulnerable and exposed counteracts the idea that their dignity is worth as much as the children of our own western countries. This leads to the artificial distinction between “us” – the ingenious and generous agents of change, and “them” – the inert and silent in need of our charity. The ‘white saviour complex’ introduced by Teju Cole explains it as those who support ruthless policies in the morning, creates charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening. Arguably there is an evident colonial outlook whereby we view the developing world as a place to loot, while simultaneously praising ourselves on our humanitarian worry for its people. Privileged folk or dominant companies sending off a handful of volunteers can use developing countries as a space in which white egos can be suitably projected. It is a space where no rules apply when satisfying their emotional needs and yet still be hailed as a God or a national hero. Planting white saviour ‘activism’ under the header of ‘making a difference’ encapsulates all that is wrong with quick, cheap, and cheerful volunteering where the end goal is to boast about it on your Instagram to appear like a hippy cultural God.

Okay so now comes the bit where I say, ‘I’m currently writing this while volunteering in India’ and you spit out your Starbucks coffee and goes “ugh what a hypocrite”. However, good news! There is ethical volunteering whereby volunteers work alongside grassroot organizations, offering their skills, expertise, and support in certain areas.

SERVE is an Irish organization where their mission is to work in solidarity, service, and partnership with marginalized and oppressed communities. Every aspect of their work is focused on creating sustainable initiatives with the community and never without them. As much as we are the teacher, we are also very much the student too in every experience. Ethical volunteering is making sure that we utilise our privilege to highlight the great work done by citizens and their communities, making sure not to sit on the throne on behalf of all their hard work.

Lastly, I’m not writing this to exclude myself from this critique. I am aware that even the minerals in my phone is most likely a product of mal-treated workers. But to ignore the privilege the colour of my skin, education, and passport offers would be a gross shame. To be of any help to anyone is better than being stuck in a bubble of luxury and ignorance.

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“Live to love life, and life will love you to live it”

By Michelle Canon

Putting words together hardly gives justice to the experiences I have had in India to date. I am into my second week and already feel settled. I may explain the lifestyle here from my eyes and emotions, but it truly is something that needs to be experienced for oneself.

Before I came to India, I had many fears about what I would encounter, from the food, the weather, my safety, my placement, and the group with whom I would be sharing the next month. As a forty-seven-year-old woman and mother of four, I had concerns about my health and well-being. Was I in over my head leaving home for that long and so far away? What if I got sick?

apd1It all started back in January when I was on Facebook, and saw SERVE’s advertisement: “Would you like to become a volunteer? Tick the box”. So, Michelle ticked the box. Within a day or so, I was back to work as a Health Care Assistant in the community, rushing around and thought no more about it. Until SERVE contacted me and I had an interview. Before I had time to think too much I was on the training days, meeting the rest of the group and leaders and preparing to start fundraising.

I held a Tupperware party, an art exhibition, and an auction, all of which were successful. In total, I raised €4156. The generosity of the people in my community was outstanding, and the support I received was fantastic! People had such admiration for what I was going to do; there was no backing out now, too many people would be let down – including myself.

When the bags were packed and the goodbyes were said, I left home at 3am for Dublin airport to meet the group of people that were to become my new family. We were all in this together to make a difference for someone, even if it was a small one. As Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people then feed just one”. I associated Mother Teresa with Kolkata, India and that was all I knew of India. Mother Teresa known in the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Kolkata. For me, that summed up all I knew of India – until now.

After a two leg, fifteen-hour journey, we arrived in Bangalore at 6am in on Thursday 11th July. In the airport, we changed our Euros to Indian Rupees and switched our phones to a local SIM card. We headed to our destination. We were now in “incredible India”. It was dry, 24 degrees and most pleasant. Taken by taxi, we arrived in Nava Spoorthi Kendra, our home for the next four weeks. All together in one room, we erected mosquito nets, and later ventured out to life in India on a rickshaw.

The roads were busy but safety was not an issue as we weaved in and out of traffic. Being cut off by vehicles and motorbikes gave me a sense of the crazy race on Indian roads. The Irish penalty point system would be gone off the Richter scale in five minutes! While frightening, it worked – even vehicles going in the wrong direction avoided accidents. The visual impact along with the cows, sacred in India, was overwhelming.

On Friday we visited my placement, APD also known as Association for People with Disabilities. Along with Zara and Sile we would work together here for the next month. Monday soon came and we began our journey to APD, led by the leaders who showed us the way. The walk to school was different to say the least, the air, the noise and the sheer volume of vehicles was a big change.

Walking through the school gates, we met smiling children at every turn. They moved in wheelchairs, walkers, with and without shoes, some plodding along on their own, or helped by the other children and helpers called ‘Aunties’. There was a great sense of togetherness. We were introduced to the therapy rooms, occupational, physio, and hydrotherapy – there was plenty happening, and people were moving in all directions. APD even assembles and modifies their own wheelchairs, Ankle Foot Orthotics, and walking supports. There is also a training centre for older children where they get educated in a skill and are guaranteed employment on completion.

I was placed in Early Intervention which diagnoses a condition, its severity, and the most appropriate care plan going forward. Its role is to empower parents to care for their children – they are their best advocates. I met with the other therapists, parents and children. The children in APD have varying birth defects and disabilities from autism to cerebral palsy. Their parents all have one goal: to give the child the best quality of life, with the abilities they have. No matter the severity of the condition, hydrotherapy is the preferred form of therapy as the parents find this the most beneficial for their child. There was a great emphasis on the well-being and good health of each individual child, demonstrated by the rapport therapists has with them. The dignity and respect they gave the children was inspirational. It was clear that inclusion was the central ethos in APD.

apd2So often I asked myself before coming to India, what was my purpose in life? There must be more to life than what I am doing every day. I had gotten into such a routine that I couldn’t see beyond it and I felt empty and lonely at times. Since I had time to reflect on my life, and have such a change in a short time, it’s like the saying, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. Yes, I miss my family, partner and friends, but being away from home has made me realise I have everything – and more. I had taken it for granted.

I am embarrassed to say that life is simple, people make it complicated. I was searching for something that was already in my hands. It was right under my nose but too blinded by my busy lifestyle and with no time for myself, I felt an emptiness inside me and a hunger for something more. It was not to be found until I met the parents of the children at APD. They have the same hopes and dreams for themselves and their children as I have. They realised what they had before I had.

Now my motto is “live to love life, and life will love you to live it”

SERVE volunteers promoting disability inclusion

By Fiachra Brennan

SERVE is guided by the vision that every individual, regardless of their ability, should be able to reach their potential and make a meaningful contribution to society. SERVE’s volunteer programme plays a key role in delivering our mission. Volunteers are assigned with the goal of building partner capacity, fostering global solidarity, and facilitating knowledge exchange and cross-cultural learning. In July 2019, 8 volunteers were assigned to our partner projects in Bangalore, India. 6 volunteers worked directly with the Association of People with Disability (APD), a pioneering organisation that strives to promote the rights of people with disability (PWD) through the provision of specialist services and by engaging in effective advocacy and policy formation initiatives.

hVolunteers included Elaine Houlihan, a qualified physiotherapist. Elaine was able to use her specialist knowledge to support the work of the physiotherapy department at APD. This was Elaine’s third time volunteering with APD, and in 2019 her specific objective was to help build the internal capacity of the team working in the hydrotherapy pool. The hydrotherapy pool is newly opened, but the team lacked the specialist knowledge and experience to deliver classes to a high standard.

Elaine took on two roles. Firstly, she facilitated classes with children from APD’s early-intervention unit, working with children with cerebral palsy. These classes were well received, with parents noticing notable changes, commenting that their children were more relaxed and less tense. Secondly, Elaine was asked to facilitate specialist training for the newly formed hydrotherapy team. Over a week, she provided a detailed introduction to both the theoretical and the practical applications of hydrotherapy. Participants were able to practice in the pool in real life situations, substantially enhancing the capacity of the team to deliver their classes.

Elaine found the experience to be beneficial for all involved,

‘Seeing the impact the hydrotherapy had on the children was heart-warming. I really started to notice it when parents said it to me about the improvements they had seen in their children after only one week of sessions’

Elaine’s work with APD demonstrates the clear and measurable impact of a well-organised and targeted short-term volunteer project. Elaine’s placement was only 4 weeks and yet she was able to deliver tangible outcomes for our partner organisation. Children benefitted directly from Elaine’s classes, which can now be continued by a better trained and better equipped team. This approach underlines the importance of partnership – Elaine was invited to help develop the capacity of the team delivering an ongoing project that they had identified as a priority. She did not seek to impose her own solutions. Rather, she worked within the framework of the existing project to deliver tangible and impactful outcome for the participants. Elaine’s contribution builds on SERVE’s development work in India, with volunteerism seen as a core part of achieving our mission.