By Conor Bradley
“No matter how much you prepare and plan for stepping into the unknown the unexpected will always occur at some point”
After spending four weeks in total in the Philippines, carrying out a wide variety of work on behalf of SERVE it appears that my final task of summing up my experience into a few paragraphs is a challenging one. The whole experience was a journey and just like any journey there were many ups and downs as well as twists and turns. Also like any journey that has not been travelled before, the expectation often differs from what is experienced. No matter how much you prepare and plan for stepping into the unknown the unexpected will always occur at some point. Factors shall lead to things not going to plan and in these situations, being adaptable and capable of using your own initiative is necessary. In a way though, this is one of the beauties of the journey.
Putting into words my emotions felt during my time with the Badjao now currently seems impossible. I will try to sum it up as best I can. On my first day of meeting the Badjao I was slightly nervous. I did not know what to expect in the slightest. It is only now I see how irrational these feelings were. The welcome myself and the SERVE volunteers experienced was like none I have ever had. Never have I met people so warm, so open, and friendly. Before I entered the Badjao I had the mindset that we were going in to help and teach them but I feel almost that I learned far more from them. The Badjao all live a very simple life. Although they were undoubtedly trapped and restricted in ways there was also a strong sense of freedom present through the simplicity of their lifestyle. Never have I seen people with so little so happy. The hours of entertainment the children got out of playing with a large puddle of water were endless. The Badjao are remarkable people, content with what they have and bursting with love, life and joy. The only pain I ever felt with the Badjao was the day I had to leave them.
The week spent in Tacloban for myself was harrowing but worthwhile. We did not meet the same laughs, songs and welcomes as we did with the Badjao. However, that’s not to say that everyone did not keep a smile on their faces. From listening to the stories of the survivors, witnessing the destruction of Typhoon Yolanda, which was still present and uncomfortably visiting a mass grave I felt very out of place and almost useless on my first day in Tacloban. As the week went on however I learned what I could do to help and become more confident. At times it felt like there was little for me to do, so I done all I could. From playing soccer with a group of children every night, to mixing cement for builders and teaching an entire community how to make bracelets, we helped by offering help and spread some joy. At times it doesn’t seem like much but hopefully it was a lift to the people of Tacloban burdened with the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.
I have talked a lot about the people we met during our overseas volunteering experience and the impact they have all had on my life but it would not be fair not to mention another group of people who have changed my life. Our own SERVE group of 11 volunteers started off as a bunch of people who barely said a word to each other at the SERVE training days but over the course of just a month here in the Philippines I would regard all of them as some of my closest friends. The laughs I have shared with every person in the SERVE group I wouldn’t trade for the world. We have all been through so much together. We have all shared ups and downs. We look out for one another. In a way my SERVE group feels like a family to me. I feel so privileged to have been grouped together with such a positive, caring, funny, easy going and genuinely good bunch of people. It saddens me to think that by tomorrow our journey together will come to an end. I know that I will count down the days until the SERVE Next Step Weekend in Glendalough in October, when I get to be reunited with them all once again.
My time in the Philippines was life changing. For something thatwas over in a blink I have gained so much and learned so much from so many different people. My stay in the Philippines has changed me forever. I have grown much attached to it. Although going home to Ireland will be good to meet family and friends, it will hurt me to leave the Philippines. I once heard home being described as ‘a place where you are surrounded by people who will always accept you and show you love’. From this, I will always consider the Philippines and especially the Badjao Tribe a home for me.