Volunteering is not a vacation: A call for social involvement
September 30, 2013 is a date that I will never forget. It was when my participation in the International Citizen Service (ICS) program began.
ICS is a United Kingdom-funded development program that brings together 18 to 25-year-old young people from all backgrounds to fight poverty overseas and in UK communities.
Locally, this program provides a unique platform for Filipino youth volunteers to live, learn, and work alongside British youth volunteers to make a lasting impact in disadvantaged communities here in the Philippines.
Although I was happy to be selected, I admit that I initially had a few doubts and worries.
But I asked myself, “Isn’t this risk worth taking if it is for the benefit of the nation and for the empowerment of my being?”
So I bravely took the first step, and I never looked back.
Unity in diversity
Meeting my fellow Filipino youth volunteers and our British youth counterparts for the first time was unforgettable. As one of the oldest volunteers in our team, I hugely benefited from the fresh ideas and perspectives of the younger volunteers.
I was paired to live with a Scottish lad who just finished his university studies in Illustration, an amazing skill that I wish I could do. I was also paired to work with an 18-year old Londoner, the youngest in our batch, who is only about to start her university studies later this year to study Geography.
I also got to work with a nurse, a tennis coach, a development worker and peace advocate, a nutrition graduate, a couple of youth leaders, and a couple of graduating university students, among others.
Most interestingly, I and my co-Filipino volunteers learned a lot from our British youth counterparts, particularly in the similarities and differences of our culture. Just imagine the ideas and jokes we exchanged!
Despite our diverse personalities and backgrounds, we still managed to bond and work together towards achieving our common goal: to serve in our assigned communities purposefully, mightily, and wholeheartedly.
The ICS program believes in the potential of all youth, regardless of their background, to become agents of positive change.
Up for the challenge
I was made aware from the very start that volunteering with ICS is not a vacation.
As soon as our team finished our trainings and community orientation, we were subdivided into smaller groups and were assigned to do environmental-related work in six Carood Watershed municipalities in Bohol, namely, Alicia, Candijay, Guindulman, Mabini, Pilar, and Ubay.
It was during this time that we got to meet our host parents, the very kind-hearted and warm people wƒho graciously welcomed us into their own homes and treated us as if we were already a part of their families.
Our first few weeks were spent interacting with local government officials, youth leaders, and other local partners so we could make our presence known in the communities and explain our objectives as volunteers.
I and the rest who do not speak the Visayan language willingly faced the challenge of learning its basics so we could build rapport more easily with the locals. Our bouts with homesickness, cultural shocks, and misunderstandings, working style differences, and lack of some modern comforts did not deter us from persevering.
In light of our aim to increase the awareness of the local youth on environmental issues and sustainable management, we were given opportunities to hold training and planning sessions among the local youth leaders on civic participation, fundraising, leadership, and communication.
We also developed resource materials and teaching aids to empower these promising and bright Boholanos to become positive agents who will lead environmental discussions and projects in their respective communities.
Essentially, we just believed in them.
Shaken, but not defeated
On October 15, 2013, just as when our youth engagement activities in our respective communities were already gaining momentum, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the province of Bohol.
Right before our eyes we saw the massive trail of destruction that the earthquake did to the province we considered as our second home.
We were all shaken by what happened, but because of the strength that we had drawn from each other, we decided to stand tall against every aftershock. Despite our fears and worries, we believed that we were far more resilient than this earthquake.
Given that the needs of the earthquake survivors were immense, we regrouped and decided to focus our efforts on bringing relief and hope to those who need them.
We organized a Community Action Day that allowed us to gather relief items from generous families who did not seem to have much but still decided to give. We talked to the locals and asked them how we could best help. We enlightened them on how to best prepare for earthquakes. We played games with the lovely children. We did our best to alleviate their fears.
We made it clear to them that we are one with them in believing that their lives can soar again.
We hoped with them.
We eventually continued our relief efforts in Manila, this time to help the survivors of Yolanda (Haiyan), a category 5 super typhoon that was one of the world’s strongest to date. It hit the Philippines barely a month after the Bohol earthquake happened.
Although the destruction and number of casualties were already too much for us to understand, these disasters were never strong enough to break our spirits. We continued to move, to make online pleas, to do whatever we could do to serve all while carrying in our minds the genuine smiles and inspiring hope of the people around us.
All ICS volunteers who finish the program are required to do action-at-home projects once they return home to encourage continuous engagement in nation-building.
Here’s a video that shows how some returned ICS volunteers are trying to help rebuild a school for the deaf that was destroyed by the Bohol earthquake:
It has already been more than 3 months since I finished the ICS program and parted ways with my co-volunteers, yet up to now I still find it hard to put into words the lifelong positive impact that the program has made in my life.
I believe that in my own little way, despite my weaknesses and shortcomings, I know that I can empower at least one Filipino youth out there.
You simply can.
You may say that you are poor, shy, insecure, and weak-willed. But essentially, you still can. In today’s age when we face a lot of development problems that seem to tower over us like Goliath, this world needs you. You do not really have to be the brightest, bravest, and the best. This nation needs you.
You and the extraordinary exploits you can do. Your unique being and the powerful ripple you can deliver. You, who can take risks, who refuse to back down, who can empower even at least one living soul. You, whose undeniable potential to shake and move things far outweighs all of your fears and weaknesses combined.
If you only take that first step. You are not a mere spectator. You matter. – Rappler.com
Arthur Nielsen Demain, 26,was a VSO-ICS youth volunteer who now works under the Crisis Prevention and Recovery Unit of an intergovernmental organization. He encourages 18-25 year-old Filipino youth to consider applying to the ICS program. Applications are accepted year-round. All inquiries and requests for the application form can be emailed to email@example.com. Interested individuals may also call (02) 654-5793 loc. 18 or 0917-826-3237.