Here’s a chance to really help the people of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, beyond sending money for relief aid.
Projects Abroad, which offers volunteer tourism opportunities in countries around the globe, is putting out a special call for volunteers to help in the wake of the disaster that struck the Philippines last week and left thousands of survivors homeless and communities lying in ruins.
Projects Abroad’s Disaster Relief project will focus on areas in the northern part of Cebu Island including Bogo City, Tabogan and San Remigio, all hit hard by the typhoon.
Volunteers are needed to help restore schools and childcare centers and look after local children while their parents are working to clean up the rubble left behind. Government aid may not arrive for weeks, so volunteer help is critical to bridge the gap until it does.
Volunteers can join the relief effort at any time and stay as long as they can — the relief efforts are expected to take months — but it must be for a minimum of two weeks. It’s best to arrive on a weekend so that new teams can start to work on Monday mornings.
That’s the kind of time that retired baby boomers, especially, might be able to afford.
As with all Projects Abroad programs, volunteers will be housed with host families in safe and secure environments. They will have the support of local full-time Project Abroad employees while in the Philippines.
If you haven’t heard about Projects Abroad, this is a good time to find out. Since 1992, they’ve welcomed volunteers in many fields to help in some 20 destinations in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, Eastern Europe and the Pacific — volunteers who have put in nine million service hours in total.
You get to choose the project you work on — it might involve teaching, building, care-giving, law, journalism, or other fields. No prior experience is necessary, just a willingness to devote at least two weeks to helping out where it’s needed.
Projects Abroad, whose motto is “help, learn, explore,” offers a full range of pre-departure advice and assistance and will pick you up at the airport when you arrive, take you to your host family, then offer the help you need on site to adapt to a new culture and fulfill your chosen tasks.
The Philippines disaster is a special situation, but in more normal times Projects Abroad invites “voluntourists” to benefit by exploring new cultures and learning new languages along with helping others.
I’ll talk more about voluntourism in a later blog post.
And while now may not be the time to extol the virtues of regular tourism to the Philippines, we shouldn’t forget that this beautiful country depends on tourism for a good part of its economy. It will be essential in the coming months for travelers not to cancel planned visits to areas not affected by the typhoon.
Meanwhile, I would encourage everyone to read this blog post by my friend Nila Do, who married into a Filipino family. It lays out the reasons why she believes the Philippines will recover from this disaster — mainly because of the hard work, resilience and community spirit of the Filipino people.
But they can still use all the help we can give them.
UPDATE: The Philippine Department of Tourism has issued an appeal to foreign tourists to continue visiting the country in the wake of the typhoon. Departing travelers are receiving gifts of special bookmarks at the Manila and Cebu airports as a way of thanking them for coming.
Tourism is an important sector of the Philippines’ economy, with receipts from foreign visitors expected to reach nearly $5 billion this year. Without those receipts, the massive rebuilding process will be further delayed.
Most tourist activities and establishments are still open and operating in the country, except for the areas hardest hit by the typhoon.
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