Australian volunteers in the Philippines: A unique approach

Since the year 2000, the Australian Volunteers Program has matched more than 500 skilled Australians with Filipino organisations to promote sustainable economic growth, good governance, sustainable livelihoods, social inclusion and protection.

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Marie-Carine Cesar (right) is an Australian volunteer Enterprise Officer with the local government of Lamut in the Ifuago province of the Philippines. Photo: David Aguilar
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View of Barangay Hapid and Tupaya in Lamut, Ifugao, Philippines. Photo: David Aguilar

The Australian Volunteers Program works closely with the Philippine National Volunteer Services Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), the government agency mandated to promote volunteering as a tool for national development.

The Australian Volunteers Program Filipino in-country team works with the PNVSCA to develop the strategic plan for the program in the Philippines, identify Filipino partners and monitor the program’s effectiveness.

PNVSCA plays a vital role in implementing foreign volunteer programs in the country by providing oversight for all of Philippines’ local and foreign volunteer programs. The agency ensures that all partner organisations and volunteer assignments are aligned with Philippine Government priorities, which are laid out in PNVSCA’s National Volunteer Development Framework.

Joselito de Vera, the Director of PNVSCA, says the organisation is proof of the value the Philippine Government places on international volunteering.

“Volunteering – both local and international – is an important part of Filipino society,” he explains.

“In the Philippines we have a word ‘bayanihan’, which means ‘the spirit of volunteering’.”

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Joselito de Vera, Director of the Philippine National Volunteer Services Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA). Photo: David Aguilar

Myles Liquigan, Program Director of the Australian Volunteers Program in the Philippines, agrees.

“The principle of volunteering is at the heart of Filipino culture,” she says. “Voluntary service and community participation play critical roles in ensuring sustainable development in the Philippines.

“The Australian Volunteer Program allows cross-cultural engagement in the community and it promotes the exchange of ideas, skills and capacities which enable communities to be empowered and self-sustaining.”

Joselito says the contribution of Australian volunteers to development in the Philippines throughout the last two decades has been substantial: “Over the years Australian volunteers have played a key role in governance, education, disaster risk management, developing social services and helping improve the lives of people with disabilities.”

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The Australian Volunteers Program team in the Philippines.

Joselito adds that one obstacle international volunteers often face in the Philippines is adjusting to the culture of relationship-building.  

“The volunteers learn they need to first of all build relationships with their counterparts in the Philippines, before they can begin to make technical changes and change people’s mindsets,” he says.

Joselito argues it is usually beneficial to have a succession of volunteers placed with the same partner organisation in the Philippines to ensure changes are sustainable.

He says one of the great benefits about having international volunteers in the Philippines is the cross-cultural exchange that takes place.

“We learn through the experiences of other people,” he says. “Through international volunteers, we learn about other cultures as well as our own.”

Myles says she loves being able to contribute to meaningful development in the Philippines: “My role as Program Manager in the Philippines is my contribution to the development of our Filipino people.”

“It is a wonderful feeling to see change with a sense of ‘I was part of this’, even if it’s just in the background.

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