Experience #34 - Philippines



The country is distant from all others, has more than seven thousand islands and it’s where English is more commonly spoken among all others we’ve been to so far. In most schools this is the official language and even the ordinary subjects are taught in English. I’ve never seen this type of methodology (which is used for public schools also) and without any statistical data it’s clear that it’s highly effective. It’s not that everybody speaks English fluently, but we could communicate with most people, what wasn’t even possible in countries where English is one of the official languages.


Manila is as chaotic as São Paulo, with developed and underdeveloped areas in every corner and a heavy traffic jam with their peculiar antique buses. Those factors even diminished a bit of my homesickness… Despite being polite, we faced many situations with people trying to take advantage from us, what a pity. In the last days there we went to Taal volcano and going back to the hotel I felt overloaded of that sensation of being cheated. This is because the motorcycle taxi to the lake, the boat and the horse (which you are forced to use) were all overpriced and even intimidation to pay more was used on the top of the mountain. With the exhausted guide, you have to get off the horse and hear his friend saying “what about a drink for your tired guide?” After paying it all expensive they still demanded a tip, when you feel totally embarrassed and mistreated.



The opportunism of taking more money from others is contaminating everyone and it doesn’t even matter how much of disrespect it might take. Even though, why there are people who are immune to this psychological poison and are still capable of treating others correctly? I always remind that right or wrong is a human instinct. If it’s not a malfunctioned DNA, I still hope it could be a matter of social education, that that goes way beyond school and wealth. I don’t believe there is any correlation between social class, work, gender and age, even because who usually treats us the best way are simple and pure people, not those ones who are “richer of success”.


An intense experience we had was in another city, Tacloban, with the organization called Liter of Light which has the mission of providing affordable and sustainable solar light to people with limited or no access to electricity. The innovation that started it all was a plastic bottle with water and substances to propagate the sunlight through a little opening in the roof into closed and dark places where there is no electricity. This invention works with non-sophisticated elements, with easy access, low cost and disposables. A curiosity we’d never suspect is that it was created by a Brazilian mechanic, Alfredo Moser, inspired to help others and spread the idea with no ambition. We really want to meet him when we get back.



Actually today the organization’s work is made with lighting based on solar energy, as this way it also benefits people during the night. For three days we joined the task force with the army where the objective was to install 500 equipment in houses and streets of a transition camp, New Kawayan and Cabalawan. These villages were built by the government and international aid organizations for the families who lost practically everything in the Haiyan typhoon in 2013. It was a unfortunate natural disaster that killed thousands of people. They use transition in the name because these houses are not permanent, as many others of brickwork are being built to shelter these families definitively. Many of them have already moved to these permanent housing.


Unfortunately, energy, water and sanitation are scarce. Besides requiring solar lighting for the night, they receive a truck of non-potable water three times a week, which is not sufficient for everyone, and use community toilets. Besides the facts that the area is distant, the river beside is totally contaminated and the wells have no much water, the habitants still have to use a transport to buy drinkable water.



Even after having seen this environment in many places throughout the year, particularly there I had a moment I could feel this limitation. Firstly, when the truck arrived I wanted to help carrying the gallons and buckets which form lines in order to collect and transport the water to the houses. After a few walking with ten liters of water in each hand, my body could feel the hard work it is for them just to have water at home. Even because I’m used to choose the temperature and just turn on the tap…


Secondly, after a lot of sweating and getting dirt I wanted to wash my hands and face, but I caught me thinking how could I even use one litter of that precious water? Apart from intimidating to ask for it as a volunteer, it would be absolutely unfair to want to use it as I would have limitless water as soon as I get back to the hostel. It was like feeling the consequences of inequality through an elementary will of washing hands. Despite it could have been a brief moment, it was impactful to feel this way what is to live with dignity.



In the last day volunteers from a beverage’s multinational that supports the organization joined the group to help in the installation process. They work in a plant in the region that uses plastic bottles daily, so they have a broader understanding about this material. Contrary to this bigger responsibility of plastic usage, I witnessed a gesture that frustrated me absurdly. With the comfort of having free mineral water, soda and food the whole day, many volunteers had the courage of actively waste. By the end of lunch, many bottles I saw in the garbage still had a quarter of its liquid.


Then suddenly I got into this nightmare, where I saw that people who claimed to be socially responsible and were representing the industry literally wasting their own beverage. They were physically among a group of people with totally restricted access to water, but seemed not to even care about it. When I woke up I realized that I would be ashamed to be a volunteer if I was part of that group. The underprivileged ones between us could confuse me with one of the embarrassing ones and feel disrespected.



Anyway I’m sufficiently positivist to believe that that day generated a good fruit in somebody’s mind when getting to know that reality and exchanging some experiences with the families. Independently from origin, religion and beliefs I think that all of us agree that wasting any resource is a disrespect to nature and to ourselves, but today the majority forgot it, as it’s too easy not to care. There is no punishment, nobody criticize you, it doesn’t damage your status, neither your success show off. But what about consciousness? The right or wrong? The respect? It’s all very confusing, we need to switch the priorities. Let’s do it!


A special thanks to the volunteer Emma Costa, who kindly coordinated our communication and made this experience possible!



It was worth every minute and we learned a lot from Philippines. The people who live in the countryside were extremely kind and English enabled us to talk a lot. Gabi led the games with the children who couldn’t stop following her and I laughed a lot with the stronger women who wanted to carry their own buckets alone while I carried a hidden one following them. The entire army was very lovely with us, one sergeant who was especially communicative since the beginning even bought ice cream for the children. Pure generosity!


The learning kept was that we must recall the fundamentals and nourish awareness in order to improve what is not going well. Imagine if we were treated “normally” by the people who would not try to take any advantage from us, if we hadn’t seen so much waste and if everyone were really present? This text would be only with good news and would engage everybody to go! But even though the experiences are made by the good people who are part of it and there were many there. It’s not an easy exercise, but besides believing everything has it’s good side, it’s worth carrying only the positive energies from anywhere, this is good for you and for whoever will feel you this way.


Felipe.