Emma Elias, Happiness and Cheerfulness in the Philippines

It is Reledev’s goal to provide opportunities for young Australians to get involved in poverty alleviation activities. Reledev promotes volunteer work in an effort to raise awareness among young adults about the world’s poverty related issues. In this way they become the future advocates for developmental change.

Emma Elias, a first year USYD Bachelor of Arts student shares her experience of joining a service project to the Philippines with Tangara School for Girls in 2017. Emma, like many young volunteers highlights how the trip was an unforgettable experience.

Tell us a little bit about your service project to the Philippines.

In December 2017, I was able to go on a service project organised by my school to Batangas, Philippines. We stayed in a small farm school where we taught the students necessary skills such as first aid. Over the course of the two weeks we also re-painted a local public school, visited hospitals, orphanages and nursing homes, delivered hampers throughout the waterside slums, and ran activities for young kids receiving treatment for cancer. Overall, the experience was unforgettable for all of us involved and I am definitely hoping to go back on another service project in the future.

What were some of your expectations of the service project?

I have had my siblings go on very similar service projects. My sister had even been to the same area the year before, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I was ready for a very different environment to what I was used to, some yummy Filipino food, physical labour and hard work, and I was prepared to be on the lookout for any blood sucking lizards that may be lurking around the place we were staying. Of course I was also expecting to have my worldview changed but I didn’t realise just how much it would.

Could you share some of your highlights of the trip?

I could write pages and pages about my highlights. I can’t share the details of some of the most profound moments (due to privacy reasons) but over the course of the trip I was able to meet and talk to people in circumstances far different from my own. They were so open with me and shared their stories, no matter how horrible or traumatic. Seeing how truly happy they were despite their situation made a resounding impact on me.

I can’t not mention the cheerfulness of all the people I came across and culture I got to experience. Everywhere we went we were welcomed wholeheartedly with a joy that was infectious.

I celebrated my seventeenth birthday on the trip and I can honestly say I have never had “Happy Birthday” sung to me so many times in one day and harmonised so well. And of course there was witnessing the difference we were all able to make and knowing that we could make a real positive impact on these people’s lives.

What were some of your fears before the trip?

To be honest I was quite reluctant in the months before the trip. I knew I would be going far outside my comfort zone and I wasn’t too thrilled to get on a plane again after a pretty “exciting” experience earlier that year. As stupid as it sounds that was probably my biggest fear in the lead up to the project.

Can you share some of the valuable lessons learned on the service project?

I think anyone who goes on one of these service projects and sees true poverty face to face learns a humbling lesson about gratitude and to be especially grateful for the things we usually take for granted; hot water, or more importantly access to a good education.

I witnessed our whole group learn that giving of ourselves is far more rewarding than superficial means of happiness as we made the unanimous decision to return to the orphanage rather than go out shopping during our allocated time for leisure activities. And perhaps the biggest change I noticed in myself was the increase in my ability to love, I witnessed my heart grow over those two weeks as I grew to genuinely grew to care about these people and value my ability to make a difference.

Any final thoughts about the experience?

In future I would definitely like to stay longer! At the end of the trip I found myself wishing there were more days to do more things.

We need your support as so many others can benefit from Reledev’s projects. You can also volunteer like Emma on a service project locally or overseas. You can help by donating to the Reledev cause. A little goes a long way. 

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