After a mad dash to the airport we managed to land safely at our new destination, Cebu.
We were heading to the island of Bohol to meet with our new partners, Leaders for Change, with the hopes of establishing a Volunteer Program in order to aid them with funding for their projects. We had one small problem though, we seemed to have lost complete contact with the organisation and its Director, Paul Hopcroft.
This was unusual as Paul was usually very punctual and had been extremely enthusiastic about our arrival. We decided we would make our way to the Pier in order to catch the Ferry and hope for either a phone call or an email in the process, which fortunately we recived enroute.
We had instructions to catch the ferry to Tagbilaran then a bus or a taxi for the 3 hour drive to the most eastern point of the island, Anda.
At the Pier we encountered a group from the Cebu Blind Foundation, they train the blind to massage and then offer them jobs at Piers, Airports and other major transit hubs.
A sucker for a good massage Rotana couldn’t resist and killed the hours wait loosening all that tension which had build up over our week in Manila.
We survived the 2 hour ferry ride to Tagbilaran, Bohol with no sea sickness thankfully.
When we arrived we were presented with the dilemma of what form of transport to take to the other side of the island, always up for adventure Rotana wanted to take the Bus. Having spent many hours on Indian public transport, that combined with the fact it was going to get dark and being the only white female within a vast proximity I thought it wiser to grab a Taxi. We had no idea where we were going and spending 3 hours heading into nowhere did not seem like a good idea without an escort.
In the end the Taxi only took 2 hours so we arrived in Anda just in time for dinner. We were greeted by Paul and his wife, Orchille. Over dinner we were introduced to Joyce, Orchilles cousin who had recently joined the Leaders for Change team to help manage their social media and who we would be liaising with for the volunteer program.
The team at Leaders for Change had been incredibly busy having turned their accommodation into a Resort in order to help fund their programs, and what a great job they have done. A beautiful set of bungalows situated looking over Anda Cove.
Unfortunately for us this meant that they were quite preoccupied with guests, so Rotana and I retired to our rooms for a hot shower (you don’t get many of those in the Philippines) and a restful night’s sleep, ready to work in the morning.
Unfortunately for Rotana the dreaded gastro hit back. So the next day he was on strict orders to rest, on the beach. Naturally he didn’t argue.
We quickly jotted down ideas and issues which we would need to discuss with the Leaders for Change team to get them in the mindframe of dealing with foreign volunteers.
In the meantime I worked on the Application forms and started on a General Manual for them to use as a guideline for interns and volunteer groups outlining, policies, procedures, exempt of liability, evacuation procedures and much much more. Fun stuff really.
Unfortunately when you are looking at setting up these kind of programs you always need to look at the worst case scenario first, make sure you as an organisation are covered, that your participants are safe, then from there you can work back and get into the fun stuff.
Hosting volunteers is particularly challenging but exceptionally rewarding. When you get any group of strangers together in a high stress environment, overseas, you tend to experience unique situations that you would never have considered had they been in their own countries. As a result of this it is important to have an adequate screening process, a system that outlines the rules, information about what is expected of them and what they are to expect, and more importantly what to do in an emergency should one occur.
Unfortunately the facilities did not have the internet up and running yet so we were struggling to get what we needed done and were quickly running out of things to do. We had a list of things to check out for the groups, visits to health centres, make contact with community groups, visit the traditional healers (Hilliots) of Bohol, as well as the touristy stuff like visit Chocolate Hills, the Tarsier Foundation and the Mangrove Walk.
Rotana was only going to be able to have two nights at Anda before making his way back to Cebu in order to fly to Cambodia. We felt a bit like sitting duck, so we had a quick meeting at lunch with Paul, Orchille and Joyce to go over what we had been doing and what we still needed to do.
That afternoon we visited a community centre called Andakidz which was the brain child of Aunty Anna, a pioneering and absolutely extraordinary women. She has developed a completely self sustainable environment for her family and the community around her. She has developed a permaculture system which would make any environmentalist jealous, she has created a local income by producing her own brand of chips, including delicious chocolate corn chips, and with the help of the Estonian government and other local NGO’s she donated some of her land for the AndaKidz Community Centre. AndaKidz is made entirely from recycled materials and is disaster resilient, a safe haven during Typhoons and earthquakes.
We were both excited to welcome Aunty Anna into our Volunteer Program in the hopes she would inspire our participants as she had done us.
Our next stop was a visit to the Lamanoc Mangrove Walk. A government incentive orchestrated to protect the mangroves and educate local and international visitors about the value of these beautiful wetlands. A bamboo boardwalk that takes you over the Mangrove trees and out to a platform beyond the shore.
The next day we still had no access to the internet so I made the decision to accompany Rotana back to Tagbilaran and stay the night, get up early to visit the Tarsier Foundation, then take the Ferry to Cebu, drop Rotana off at the airport then carry on to a hotel with internet in order to get the rest of my work done.
We said our farewells to the Leaders for Change group and headed off for the 2 hour Taxi journey to Tagbilaran. Our Taxi driver John-Ray ended up being the most informed person we had met since coming to Bohol. His local knowledge was exceptional, that topped off with the fact he was an Anda local. Rotana and I were kicking ourselves that we hadn’t meet him on the first day. None the less he has agreed to help us out with our Volunteer Program and is very excited he can be involved in bringing something so worthwhile to his own community.
He even told us about a little restaurant to go to in Tagbilaran called Garden Cafe. A restaurant dedicated to the employment and benefit of the Deaf community of Bohol, all the the waitresses and chefs are Deaf and have been trained by this organisation in order for them to earn an income and support their local communities. A fantastic little place which we were excited to have ticked off our list.
The next day we woke up bright and early to head to Corella where the Tarsier Foundation is situated. Tarsiers are these little bushbaby like creature which share a striking resemblance to the Gremlins. There are said to be only 1000 left and only found on Bohol Island, so this was a very special treat.
After we had finished out short tour we were busy writing down facts and taking photos of the exhibitions when Rotana came up to me and pointed to a gentleman taking people tickets as said he thought it was the Tarsier Man, Carlito Pizarras. It was.
Carlito is a very humble, soft spoken individual who began his conservation work in 1966. Although the concept was completely foreign back then he has dedicated his life to the Tarsiers and has in the process established a brilliant foundation.
We left Bohol for Cebu feeling a great sense of accomplishment and another event to add to our Volunteer Program.
Once Rotana and I had said our goodbyes at the airport I carried on to my hotel. I was exhausted and wasn’t feeling 100% but decided to push on anyway. I finished up my work for the day and headed to the restaurant for dinner.
Again, it seemed to me that I was the only white face within a fair stretch so I was pleasantly surprised when I heard a voice say in English, “where are you from?”. New Zealand, I said with a smile. It turns out my new friend, Willy was from Belgium and was affiliated with a very new organisation called New Hope Cebu. The organisation started during the last Typhoon when three men from Belgium came to visit and witnessed first hand the struggles of the Northern Cebu people. As I began asking more and more questions he became suspicious of me. I introduced myself formally and explained what Hands on Health was all about. He got in contact with his associate and we agreed to meet the following morning to discuss the matter further.
The next day was my birthday and I had been up most of the morning vomiting. I crawled out of bed feeling like death and made it downstairs where I met Willy and his associate Christophe. We had a great conversation and I was able to give them things to think about in regards to health and the local community. I am still in contact with the two and hope to help them further with establishing New Hope Cebu as a registered NGO, producing a website and hopefully find ways to develop their funding, at the moment they are using their own hard earned cash to provide food and clothes for the children in isolated villages. A truly selfless act by some genuinely nice guys.
I often have moments when I wonder if I am doing the right thing. As a volunteer people don’t often understand the things you do and why on earth you would do them, then you meet people such as Aunty Anna, Paul and the Leaders for Change group, Carlito, Willy and Christophe and you realise that you may only be a drop in the ocean, but there are plenty more like you and that gives me hope.
The following day as I packed my bags and headed to the airport bound for India, I had a strange sensation I was heading home.