#32: the Philippines
avid world traveler and person intensely curious about different
jumped at the opportunity to join a volunteer trip to the Philippines
organized by the Japanese school I was attending, the Hiroshima YMCA.
One of my life goals is to visit every
country in the world; another is to become bilingual. This opportunity
was appealing on several
levels. First, I would get to visit the
Philippines and learn about their unique culture, and, second, I would
have the chance to practice my fledgling Japanese
language abilities and learn a bit about Japanese culture from my fellow
I woke up early on the morning of March 14 with an uneasy feeling – nervous at the prospect of traveling halfway around the world with people I hardly knew and could hardly communicate with. I was the last one to meet the group at the train station – right on time, but apparently late by Japanese standards. On the train ride to Fukuoka, as I struggled to hold a conversation with my classmate, I wondered what I had gotten myself in to. As the day passed, and as we made our way to Cebu, I found my fellow participants to be exceptionally patient, kind, and accepting of my halting communication attempts. Throughout the trip, I would continue to be impressed by the gentle and compassionate spirit of my fellow participants.
Several instances in the Philippines reminded me how lucky I am to be from a country full of opportunities. A teenage Filipina woman commented, “Americans are lucky because they don’t have to age.” As our time in the Philippines continued, I found this comment to ring true on many different levels. We have an undoubtedly easy life in America (and in Japan, for that matter). We live in clean cities with little threat of danger, we run to the nearby supermarket to get whatever exotic fruit or meat we want, and we don’t have to work long hours on a farm under the hot sun. I have always heard people say, you’re lucky to be born in America, but it isn’t until you visit a place like the Philippines that you really appreciate what that means.
While the Cebu and Camiguin Islands have some truly beautiful sights to enjoy, the trip wasn't all sightseeing and fun. Several days were devoted to volunteering in the local community with the local YMCA. We helped prepare the Y's weekly feeding program for homeless in Cebu. We also did some demolition and repair at a local house that had been destroyed by fire. The houses are built very close together in Cebu, and when this fire broke out at a neighboring house, several homes were burnt to the ground before the fire department could reach the houses to extinguish the fire.
We also had the opportunity to paint a mural at the Camiguin Island YMCA. Although we only had one day to plan and paint our mural, we quickly came up with a plan for a simple mural that we could execute in the short time-frame.
I feel very lucky and thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in the 2013 YMCA Philippines Work Camp. I am extremely thankful to the YMCA for sponsoring and subsidizing the trip, to our local hosts who generously shared their country with us, to our leaders, Ken and Kazu, who tirelessly guided 17 students, to my fellow classmates who patiently helped me understand everything, and to my Japanese teacher, Aoki, who generously helped me through the process of signing up for the trip.