Humanitarian Aid Work

In February 2014 I arrived in the Philippines expecting to do one month’s volunteer work with an international aid agency in conjunction with CERV Philippines. To be honest I thought I’d have a technology-free 4 weeks and lose a few kilos working on a building site repairing schools damaged by Typhoon Yolanda.

Very soon after arriving in the province of Estancia, Iloilo I did not know how I could leave. I was so overwhelmed by the deeply entrenched poverty that Typhoon Yolanda only exacerbated.

As I worked each day at the Tanza Elementary School (along with 11 other amazing volunteers) I began to develop strong connections with the teachers, staff and parents at the school. In our meal breaks I played guitar, singing to the children, How could I leave?

Sharing music with the kids of Tanza Elementary School, Estancia.
Sharing music with the kids of Tanza Elementary School, Estancia.

In the afternoons and weekends, instead of going out with the other volunteers, I went down to a place called the tent city: a literal city of over 100 tents setup on a school oval. I played guitar, sang and conducted art, craft and music activities. How could I leave?

It was then I became inspired to ask my family and friends to help. I went back online.

I began meeting with people in the community and I moved to a boarding house close to the tent city and spent each day spending donations on medication, building materials, clothes, food, drinking water, shoes, school fees, school uniforms, truck loads of water for a hospital. The list goes on and on. I finally left, exhausted, sick with the flu and with hardly a cent in mid-April.

The children of Tanza sang this song to me during one of my visits. Yay.

Obsessed, I arrived home. To be honest the five and bit weeks I was home is just a blur of selling stuff, raising funds, selling more stuff and raising more funds. I returned on 13 May 2014 and spent another two months in Estancia, Iloilo.

This time I focused the funds towards school blackboards, a women’s co-operative, more medical supplies, doctor’s visits, food, water, school fees, clothes, and even more hospital visits.

Arriving back in Australia to the death of someone I loved, I spent four months reconnecting with relatives I hadn’t seen since childhood. I realised there was no point in helping strangers if you weren’t willing to help your own family. Isn’t this humanitarian aid too?

The next four months I spent with family but in the back of my mind, I knew somehow I would get back to Estancia.

In November 2014 I did just that.

But, when I landed in Iloilo City intending to celebrate Christmas with the people I had come to know and love, I unexpectedly began my third trip with a Typhoon. I spent those first few days helping my host families evacuate in preparation for Typhoon Ruby.

I also travelled to Tacloban City and began giving assistance to families affected by Ruby. I played plenty of guitar.

Back in Australia now, the joyful and generous Filipino people inspire me to keep returning as well as share their beautiful spirits and great need with all of you

Typhoon Yolanda occurred in November 2013 and there are still people living in rubble, under tarpaulins and families are still living in tents. People are still dying from diseases related to their living conditions.

If you can’t help the people in the Philippines that is ok, just help someone.

I am planning a new trip beginning in March 2015 which I will be documenting and telling the stories of the people I meet.

Thanks for stopping by and taking an interest.

I love you.

Mel xx
February 17th, 2015