A Volunteer’s Adventurous Journey

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by: E. Cheng

Do you want to travel with a purpose? Do you have a passion for volunteering? Are you ready to lend a hand for a cause? If so, help out in our mission to make learning Science fun by helping to educate teachers in developing countries and brace yourself for a memorable and satisfying experience!

As a volunteer enthusiast, searching for an international opportunity whose mission meets both my expectations and goals has always been imperative.  Joining Pueblo Science’s 2012 mission to the Philippines fulfilled my first volunteer dream trip abroad.  Pueblo Science mission is to make teaching science fun by conducting workshops to local school teachers. With my passion in social, humanitarian, and education, this trip was an obvious choice for me.

When I first heard about this organization, I got interested right away.  I was almost immediately on board after seeing the tentative itinerary for the trip which includes boating in one of the new seven wonders of the world (in an underground river in Palawan), walking in a jungle with monkeys, swimming with whale sharks, hiking up an active volcano, zip lining, and scuba diving in one of the hottest coral reefs in the world! This two-week exotic trip in April 2012 not only turned out to be one of my dream adventure trips, the experience was beyond I have ever imagined! The fond memories made are definitely something that I would savour from time to time.

I arrived in the capital of the Philippines, Manila, after about 20 long hours of travelling. There, some volunteers met up with our trip leader and other volunteer scientists who are locals in the region.  Shortly before our first leg of travel from Manila to Masbate Island, I saw a magnificent sunrise on the airport horizon. In that moment I knew this trip was going to be fun and memorable. Truly, that was the beginning of my incredible adventure!  I flew my first propeller-run plane and passed over countless stretches of beaches surrounding mini islands.  Upon landing, there was the simplest airport I have ever seen – one modestly built roof housing a tiny space and men manually carrying passengers’ luggage. Ironically, this simple airport was contrasted by an elegant waterfront resort surrounded by intricately hand-crafted and nicely decorated bamboo and straw huts, which was where we stayed.
Pueblo-Blog-Photo-1-150x150The first two days of science camp were just wonderful.  The camps were situated at a local secondary school, where volunteer-scientists delivered well-organized workshops, encompassing the realms of biology, chemistry, and physics. Among the experiments taught to the local school teachers include making a simple microscope, an ice-cream from scratch, a hot-air balloon, a simple motor, and an oven (that we eventually used to roast or toast marshmallows). The remarkable thing is that all of the materials used for the experiments are locally found, simple everyday materials.  I assisted in the biology division throughout the science camp by distributing materials to other divisions and helping out in any way I could.

The hosts in both regions where the science camps were held were very warm and welcoming – typical Filipino traits that I come to witness.  In Masbate, the hosts showed us around the province on their educational department truck. We saw a man-made pool surrounded by artful ceramic pieces that connects to a river, drove around the island filled with coconut trees, and ended up at a beach resort where we could island hop. Before the science camp, we also got to meet the head of the department of education in Masbate.

In some nights, we had Filipino dinners which are usually accompanied by karaoke – a typical gathering for locals and among friends. One of those nights, I remember seeing some of the biggest night stars of my life while walking along the shore lined with mangroves. On one evening, we walked through a people’s public park which was literally filled with people, along with some art hanging on trees made with bases of plastic litre bottles. And one weekend evening, we walked by a public night market filled with local agricultural products such as corn, bananas, vegetables, and clothes.

After Masbate, we took a boat ride to a nearby island where Legazpi and Sorsogon are located. In that island, we swam with whale sharks and spent a night at the base of an active volcano that last erupted 3 years ago! We also took the first jeepney ride of our trip – a local form of public transportation comparable to a bus ride. That night, we went to a 2 month summer festival where a drag pageant was featured. The festival was filled with a public craft market, music stages, open-air restaurants, and even sculptures of Filipino children books’ monsters. Here, I learned more about the Filipino culture.

Swimming with the whale sharks was a little nerve wrecking. Luckily, whale sharks mostly eat plankton. We did a bit of snorkeling before we spotted a shadow of a whale shark near the surface of the water. After seeing another whale shark, we jumped off the boat and I swam directly above a shark near its tail – getting a good view of the painted white dots all around its body. This was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life! The next morning, we hiked up a small hill right beside our hotel to a church and saw the Mayon volcano – a magnificent and symmetrical coned-shaped volcano. We even took a ride closer to the volcano via a tricycle – a common ride around Philippines in between short distances around town. Upon arrival we saw a few-hundred-year old temple ruin, hiked through trees, walked above a river canyon on a narrow wooden planked suspension bridge, and strolled through a WWII cave where soldiers hid for safety.

Notably, we saw churches throughout our trip, representing Filipino’s strong faith and belief in God. Having seen how they find creative ways of living, the spirit and joy they exude, and sometimes their love and appreciation of their simple lives – makes me more appreciative of mine.

The next leg of our travels brought us to one of the most populated city in the Philippines, Cebu. Some of us went scuba diving. The dive was one of the most amazing experiences I had! About 15-20 minutes on a private boat ride from the shore, we began to see translucent turquoise water. The abundance of life in that underwater world was an otherworldly experience. In that underwater sanctuary were huge variety of schools of fish, including few of the famed “Nemo” featured in the Hollywood movie “Finding Nemo”, and its home – anemone, blue dotted sting rays, exceptional table, soft, and hard corals, and many others. We were glad to have this opportunity to dive in such a diverse coral zone!

The next plane ride brought us to our last stop – Davao – the second most populated city in the Philippines. We were welcomed at the airport by a parent of a member of the organization. The greenery of this city was captivating and the initial vibe was very comfortable. This is usually a sign that the stay would be pretty good. The parents of the member welcomed us into their home like their own family and prepared us a huge feast of brunch. The meal was homemade – my favourite kind! That night we had a nice dinner on top of a mountain overlooking the city.
DSCN2751-150x150During the second set of science camps in Davao, I mainly took photographs of all the activities that took place throughout two days of the camp – starting with an ice-breaker of a bridge building competition among the biology, chemistry, and physics teachers, the experiments, some science project ideas, and a thrilling magic show! Being around those experiments and activities made me want to join in and have some fun with the teachers!

The last three and a half days were extremely fun as well! The first day was another diving trip. Together with the host and our mission leader, we went to a local public fish market at 6 AM to get some fresh live fish. The host then grilled the fresh fish on the boat while most of us went scuba diving. Water snake and a huge barracuda fish were among what we saw besides the abundant underwater life. We had a fantastic lunch on a white sanded beach filled with white coral remnants, surrounded by palm trees and a sunny blue sky. Our picnic lunch included rice – a staple Filipino food, and some fresh fruits from a local fruit market, which the city is known for. The leader mentioned that the day could not get any better, and yes, the tropical paradise moment could not get any better.

The next day included a morning spent at their recreation park, starting with a Zorb plastic ball ride down a hill that fits 2 people, and a plastic ball on a water pond that could be run by a person propelling from the inside like a hamster running inside its wheel. We were then invited to a farewell party hosted by the parents of one of the organization member whose family was to immigrate to Canada in a few days. The parents prepared another fantastic homemade meal including a grilled whole pig – a famous Filipino delicacy for large gatherings. Family, friends, and neighbours all came, as is their custom. As usual, there was karaoke. Most of us also got to share our experiences of immigrating to a new country to the family who were going to immigrate, and we offered our best wishes to them.

The last whole day brought us to zip lining above a jungle/rain forest in the morning, then wake boarding and riding on a board on a man-made tranquil lake with mountain setting as the backdrop in the afternoon. The trip was ended with a huge full moon that was hanging outside the plane window which I was staring at right before the plane took off. Chinese say that a full moon represents wishes being fulfilled, and things are together, complete, and fulfilled.

DSCN3026-150x150The trip overall was one of the most enlightening of my life! Not only have I contributed to a cause – of educating the next generation through educating teachers – that met my goals and expectations, I got to discover, explore, and visit a country that I have never been to. To understand their culture, to interact with local people, to hear their personal stories, and having a guide who was a former local, were all more than I could ever asked for. The experience left me with something that no books, photographs, and documentary videos could teach me. Being involved in such a trip changed my and may change your perspective in life, towards the people around us, and towards anyone’s country. Volunteering for this Pueblo Science mission in the Philippines became an enriching educational and cultural experience and one of the most meaningful adventurous journeys of my life.