The most useful part of the training weekend was meeting (most) of the people I am going to spending the next 12 weeks with...and finding out that we all have very similar interests! It quickly became clear that we all like an active challenge- and so when I told people I'd run the marathon, instead of the usual "omg that's crazy!?" and "Why would you ever want to do that", the team response was a resounding "amazing- that's on my 'to-do' list!" So the 7 of us (out of the team of 11) decided that we must be doing something like 'building houses' on our placements because of our group love for sport and the outdoors.
Yet even within the small team our experiences will vary significantly. We will all be assigned a Filipino volunteer and we will live in a host home around the district. These houses could be located anywhere from on the next street, to three hours away from the other UK volunteers. So the realities of training- where we have been eating and sleeping together in close proximity- will not apply abroad. This is to enable us to fully integrate within the community- because even in a small group of 11- we could intimaidate and isolate ourselves from the local community. As volunteers we are here to help the local community and so by spreading ourselves out within district, we will be able to make stronger bonds with the community and have a better understanding of local customs.
Local customs (along with local dialect) are- in my opinion- almost impossible to pick up from a guide book but are what I am most excited to learn about from my host home. I want to discover the little things- the gestures, slang, humour etc..- that characterise the region and it's people. I also don't want to offend anyone (although this is probably unavoidable when forming international friendships!) I know that Filippino's don't like to say "no", particulalrly to foreigners and that causing someone to 'lose face' (to be humiliated or experience public disgrace) is an infraction rarely forgotten! But I think there's going to be ALOT to learn in order to adapt to life in the Philippines...
Our placements will also vary and we could be working as a whole team on one project or have numerous work placements divided up between the group. Yet the repeated advice of the training weekend- "to mangage your expectations"- seems to be key for the success and enjoyment of the programme. When we spoke to a return volunteer who had just got back from Bohol in the Philippines, she mentioned that her placement was comepletely different from what she expected, with the first few weeks feeling confusing and unclear.
So I am going to try to go as a blank canvas.
I think this is even more essential for my programme because we are the first team to set-foot in this region and I imagine the projects will be slow starting. But the ground-work that we carry out (such as creating local relations and contacts) is part of a much bigger programme than our 3 month stint. Atleast 3 more sets of volunteers will follow-on from our work. Therefore, it is important that I remember (when the going gets tough!) that my team is the first 3-month piece of a much larger disaster relief puzzle.
So I am certainly managing my "expectations" as I don't know what to expect. I know I am not going to 'change the world' but I hope to make a small difference.
Okay I have one cheeky little expectation: I want to come home with a tan in time for Christmas!!
The Picture is a map of the Philippines which is made up of 7,107 islands (only 2000 of which are inhabited)....anyone want to go halves and buy one with me?
Apparetly foreigners can't by land in the Philippines. So unfortunately an island mortgage is off the cards.