Our Volunteering in Humanitarian aid Project officer, Aine’s experiences from the Philippines:
Within my first few hours of arriving in the Philippines, I found myself being introduced to the Filipino term Bayanihan, which is a common word used to refer to the spirit of unity and volunteerism in the community. The term cropped up in a PowerPoint presentation given by our partners at the Philippine Red Cross as part of our visit for the Volunteering in Humanitarian Aid (VolinHA) project under the EU Aid Volunteer initiative. The presentation also outlined other aspects of Filipino culture and norms including a laundry list of behavioural ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ during our stay in the country.
I did not have to go far to experience the concept of Bayanihan. It is palpable from meeting the Red Cross volunteers, hearing stories about their work and seeing the unquestionable dedication and commitment, they show within their communities.
It is understandable, in a way, why the concept of Bayanihan is so inherently interwoven into the fabric of life in the Philippines, as it is the second highest natural disaster prone country in the world, affected by earthquakes, typhoons, floods and storm surges each year. As a result, communities come together in solidarity of their shared suffering and work to alleviate that. This was most evident in the aftermath of typhoon Hayan that hit the Philippines on November 8th 2013, when more than 6,000 people lost their lives, and roughly 16 million were affected.
The people, then, after experiencing numerous devastating catastrophes, are resilient, ready and alert. As the community is at the heart of every response operation, they are the first to take action when faced with a disaster. This is why the Red Cross works with a network of over 300,000 volunteers nationwide, who are trained in life saving first aid, search and rescue, and work within and for their community.
It was only a short week of travelling and meeting with staff and volunteers and the aim was to understand local volunteering structures of the Red Cross Volunteers, how they are mobilised during a humanitarian crisis and looking into the potential links to engaging EU Aid volunteers alongside local volunteers in the future.
I left with an immense appreciation of the operational difficulty and challenges that volunteer’s face there, and not only a greater understanding of the essence of Bayanihan, but a genuine feeling of it.
For more information about Comhlámh’s work as part of the EU Aid Volunteer initiative, check out: