To be honest, I have always admired volunteer workers but initially did not want to sacrifice the comforts I got used with to actually join an event. In summer last year, I’d finally experience what voluntourism in the Philippines was like. I joined an event in Jomalig Island in Quezon Province and was glad to have finally found the type of volunteering work that I fit into.
Since then, I had been an advocate of voluntourism. I also noticed that more local travelers are doing voluntourism events, to nearby underprivileged communities and extending as far as provinces in Mindanao.
With the surge of voluntourism events the past year, I firmly believe that this is the new travel trend in the Philippines starting this year and the following years to come.
What is voluntourism, exactly?
You may have been wondering what am I babbling about and why voluntourism is spelled as such. Okay, don’t tell me you haven’t wondered about that one.
Basically, voluntourism is a combination of two words – volunteerism and tourism. Here’s how voluntourism in the Philippines works: local travelers organize an outreach or charity program in a selected school or barangay in a province and allot at least a day for this activity. The remaining days of the trip they explore and visit tourist attractions as usual.
Voluntourism events are commonly organized by small non-profit groups or casual backpackers on their free schedule, which is why these are not widely publicized and visually unheard of, unless you have a lot of friends who are frequent travelers.
These events are normally KKB; volunteers who would like to join are expected to shoulder their own expenses, and no amount is collected by the organizer, though deposits may be asked in advance to secure accommodation or transportation.
As far as we know, volunteer work has been going on for the past centuries, so why is this becoming popular? Here are 3 reasons why voluntourism in the Philippines is the new travel trend.
Why you should try voluntourism
1. Travel cheaply
Voluntourism allows you to travel to different places in the Philippines with lower budget than usual. Let me share one of my recent experiences.
Last December, our voluntourism group, which is composed of mostly backpackers, went to a 5-day Cebu-Siargao adventure to give school supplies and hold game and feeding programs to the school kids of a small local community in Siargao. During this trip, we have also toured Oslob in Southern Cebu and the city proper, stayed and island hopped in the lesser-known, still-virginal parts of Siargao, and visited Siargao’s famous tourist attractions General Luna and Magpupungko Pool.
How much did we spend? Only P5500 each, excluding airfare. That’s considering Siargao is one of the more expensive destinations here in the country.
So how are traveler-volunteers able to compress budget in a small amount?
First of all, we travel in a group, so food and accommodation expenses are divided into more people and thus cheaper compared to traveling in one’s or two’s. Occasionally, a fellow volunteer or a good-hearted Samaritan who supports our mission provides free hosting as well.
We also do our best to minimize our budget without compromising the quality of our travels. For instance, we may opt to pitch tents instead of sleeping in inns/hotels for no or minimal fee.
Last summer, we camped in Salibungot Beach in Jomalig, in Quezon Province, a 10-hour land and boat ride away from Manila, to give school supplies, groceries, medicines and other items to a community in a nearby island. We saved expenses with this setup and woke up daily with a pleasant view of the golden beach and pristine waters of Jomalig Island.
This doesn’t mean that we skimp on necessary items, such as food. In fact, we love to eat! Our fellow volunteers who are good cooks help us during feeding programs (and in feeding ourselves).
2. Meet new friends
I often hear about people who would like to travel but don’t have anyone to go with. Well, voluntourism helps in that area. You can join a voluntourism event, granted that it’s open to public, without knowing any of the other volunteers and come home with a new set of long-term friends and travel companions.
What I particularly like about volunteers I’ve worked with is that they are often good-hearted people and some of the most generous individuals I know, regardless of what amount they are earning on their day jobs. I’ve been on trips with people from all walks of life, and from what I’ve noticed, those who give are not the ones who have much but those who knew what it’s like to have so little.
You know you’re never in wrong company with this kind of people.
3. See the world in a different light
As they say, tourists and travelers are different species. During our normal vacations, we visit popular tourist attractions and never find out what life is like for the locals. In contrast, going on a voluntourism trip will let you sink into the culture of the place you’re visiting, at least for a day, and experience or observe first-hand the life outside the comforts of urban community.
Going back in our Siargao outreach… When I told my friends about our outreach event here most of them wondered out loud why we would choose a location that’s frequented by middle-class tourists and foreigners. I explained that not all locals benefit from the tourism and are in fact affected by the increased price of consumer goods brought about by it. In fact, when we were giving out school supplies, some children couldn’t make it to the location because they live in separate islands.
Seeing the world outside of your comfort zone will give you a different perspective on life and, I daresay, help you develop a better personality.
I guarantee you’ll never travel the same way again.
Starting your journey in voluntourism in the Philippines
When people see my photos taken from voluntourism trips, they always tell me they would like to join sometime in the future. Here’s what I have to say about that.
Although fun, voluntourism is by no means a game play. On the contrary, it is a serious commitment.
As with other volunteers, joining one means you are prepared to allot time and resources. You are expected to help with the solicitation and fundraising, pick up donations from donors when able and help with the preparation or packing of donations before transport. During the event, each volunteer is given a role: you can be in the food committee, games committee or registration or assume the role of emcee. We also have photographers to document our events.
In the end, it’s a win-win situation. You can give back to the community, and you also benefit from doing so by being able to travel with friends on a cheaper budget and, if luck permits, see off-the-beaten attractions as well.
You can also be part of a voluntourism event not just by being a volunteer but also by donating. Even small amounts, such as P200 or P500, or items such as boxes of pencils or crayons can go a long way. If the target beneficiaries are victims of a recent calamity we also ask for basic supplies and new or slightly used clothes. Remember that these events are organized by ordinary people, so support is vital in being able to provide donations.
Where should you look for voluntourism events? Well, they are literally everywhere in the Internet. Join travel or volunteer groups in Facebook or forums. For starters, you can check the Facebook page of Volunteer Opportunities – Philippines. Or better yet, you can ask your friends if anyone is interested to organize one for your next get-away.
You can also check out our group Alon ng Pag-asa. We are open for volunteers and continually looking for kind-hearted individuals to provide supplies in our missions or help out in scouting for new beneficiaries and planning our itineraries.
(Update 2020: We are no longer active in this group, as we’re quite busy with our personal commitments. However, you may still get in touch with them for voluntourism events.)
Here’s a video from our very first outreach in Jomalig Island.
If you’re looking for opportunities abroad, there are online websites such as WWOOF which links volunteers to organic farmers and growers.
P.S. Voluntourism is a complex subject. As above, I recommend starting in your local backyard first. If you plan on being a volunteer abroad, it’s best to do your research first and analyze the possible impacts of your voluntourism trip.
What do you think about voluntourism? Please share if you have any experience joining a voluntourism event here in the Philippines!
Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).