Volunteering in the Philippines
Discover volunteering opportunities in the Philippines. Spanning over 7000 islands, the culture and landscape of the Philippines are as diverse as the assignments on offer in this beautiful country.
About the Philippines
More than 110 million people live throughout the volcanic archipelago of the Philippines, with a total land area just larger than the state of Victoria.
The Philippines is unique in many ways. From the incredible marine biodiversity, to getting around in ‘jeepneys’, to the strong Hispanic and American cultural influences, there is so much to learn and enjoy in the Philippines.
According to the World Bank, more than 100 scientists have declared the Philippines as the world’s ‘centre of marine biodiversity’ because of its vast species of marine and coastal resources. The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle – the epicenter for marine biodiversity and what is known as the Amazon of the Sea. It is an area with more species of fish and corals than any other marine environment on earth.
The Philippines was first colonised by the Spanish, and then the USA. As a result of the Spanish rule, you will notice words like fiesta (party), siesta (afternoon rest), regalo (gift), and many others commonly used in the Filipino language. Many old buildings and institutions, especially in Manila and Cebu, are heavily influenced by American and Spanish architecture.
‘Jeepneys’ are a unique mode of transportation in many parts of the Philippines originating from thousands of army jeeps that the US military left after World War II. Filipinos extended the cabs to accommodate more passengers, and they vary widely from region to region.
The current economic outlook in the Philippines is positive — the World Bank recorded a healthy GDP growth rate in 2018, and a decrease in overall poverty has been steady. However, the country’s GDP per capita ranks the Philippines at just 129th worldwide. Socio-economic conditions for many Filipinos are difficult, and there continues to be a growing disparity between rich and poor. Additionally, much of the country’s economic development and infrastructure projects are disproportionally focused in urban centres such as Manila.
Australian volunteers in the Philippines
Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of partner organisations in the Philippines since 2000. They have volunteered in Manila, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Camarines Sur, Negros Occidental and Cebu. The Australian Volunteers Program works closely with the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA).
Volunteering opportunities in the Philippines support communities across a range of development priorities, including:
- economic growth
- good governance
- social inclusion and protection
- disaster risk reduction
- gender equality and women’s empowerment
Australian-Filipino volunteers connect to culture on assignment
Life as a volunteer in the Philippines
Culture, religion and language
Big urban cities such as Manila, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, and Bacolod are multi-cultural with many foreigners and expatriates living there. The best way to behave at both business meetings and in the community is with good humour, courtesy, and a willingness to smile, and by generally demonstrating a calm and relaxed attitude. The Philippines is unique among its neighbours in the South East Asian region with the majority of Filipinos identifying as Christian (more than 92%).
More than 52 million Filipinos speak English, making it the fifth largest English-speaking nation behind the US, India, Pakistan, and the UK. Filipino (Tagalog) and English are the two official languages but there are a 170 spoken languages across the Philippines. As with any country, fluency depends on the education, socio-economic background, and employment but many Filipinos (especially in urban areas) are fluent in English. You will often hear Filipinos “code switch” or combine Tagalog or Bisaya and English while speaking (Taglish or Bislish).
The Philippines has a tropical and maritime climate. It is characterised by relatively high temperatures, high humidity and abundant rainfall. It is similar in many respects to the climate of the countries of Central America. Rainy season is usually from June to November and dry season is from December to May. The country experiences an average of 20 typhoons each year.
It is generally easy to find food in the Philippines. Groceries are easier to find in bigger cities, but each town has a "Palengke" – a marketplace where you can buy everyday goods such as vegetables, fruits, meats, condiments and snacks. Dietary restrictions are not very common in most rural areas, so the terms vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or gluten-free might be new to rural communities.
Restaurants are mostly found in major cities. "Carinderia/Karinderya" or local food stalls with seats are also very popular. They are found in the Palengke or the roadsides.
When one of Australian volunteer Rowan's colleagues discovered that Rowan shared a love of seafood, he insisted on making this dish for him using fresh fish, lemon, ginger and chilli.
Download the recipe for Kilawin
Accommodation and transport
There are different types of accommodation available including a small room attached to a landlord’s home or a whole house usually with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Condominiums and apartments are more difficult to find in rural areas. Your program country team or local colleagues can help you source suitable accommodation.
A common mode of transportation in the Philippines is the "Jeepney," which were originally made from US military jeeps left over from World War II. You can take a Jeepney to get to the next town or the nearby city, unlike the tricycles which are widely used to get around one city/municipality. Buses are commonly used for inter-provincial travels. As an archipelagic country, some provinces may be accessible only by plane or using ferry systems.
Internet speeds and mobile signals are more accessible in urban areas and less in rural and remote provinces. Most households, offices and public establishments in cities have Wi-Fi.
As with anywhere in the world, crime exists in the Philippines. Risks can be reduced by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally are less likely to steal from their neighbours.
Tourist attractions in large towns are favourite sites for pickpockets. The following are safety concerns in the Philippines to be aware of: theft, robbery, and mugging; crimes related to illegal drugs; natural calamities such as volcanic eruptions, typhoons, and earthquakes; and transportation-related accidents, including boats, vehicles and bicycles.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in the Philippines, please do some further research on living in the Philippines and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.
Discover how COVID-19 has impacted the work and communities of our Filipino team, and how yoga, motorbikes and cooking are helping them stay positive.
Meet Nathan, Myles and Ingrid