“Volunteering with SERVE was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I am proud of the cookbook that we produced, which not only contains plenty of tasty recipes but also displays the amazing work that each volunteer has done around the world.”
The first thing that I remember arriving in Cebu was the wonderful smells and aromas that wafted around the city and of course, the heat! All around were street vendors selling an array of local delicacies, smoke coming from different stalls dotted around the city, with Jeepneys flying past blowing their horns. After a long flight, we had finally arrived in the hustle and bustle of Cebu, the second-largest city in the Philippines after Manilla.
I did not realise upon arriving how much of our volunteering experience would revolve around food! Food is the substance of life; we need it for energy. However, what we forget sometimes is just how much we as humans connect over food. Having previously worked as a chef, food is something that I have always been passionate about. When we think of culture, food plays a massive role in it, and people are usually proud to teach others about dishes that originated from their country or culture.
SERVE’s work with the Badjao
In Cebu, SERVE work alongside the Badjao tribe through their partnership with the Presentation Sisters. Lack of education, clean water, housing, and unemployment are just a few of the issues facing the Badjao people, a nomadic tribe of fishermen, who face discrimination every day in the Philippines. However, spending time with the Badjao, you would never realise the issues they face daily.
Every person you came across, would connect with you through a friendly smile to make you feel welcome and comfortable. Playing with the children in the schoolyard at break time was always a great experience, as they ran around playing games, happily singing and shouting, without a care in the world!
My Fondest memories
One of the things I loved about volunteering in the Philippines and working with the Badjao people was to see how the children were encouraged to come into school every day by getting a meal. The daily hot meal that the children received when they went into school meant that their parents knew that their child was getting fed a nutritious meal that day. It also meant that the children could spend the day learning instead of fishing or working.
Some of the happiest memories I have whilst volunteering was of helping my host family and the teachers in the school to cook some traditional dishes. After a morning of volunteering, the teachers in the school would come together with the volunteers to prepare lunch. Everyone played their part in chopping, peeling, cooking, and cleaning. We used every bit of food, and nothing went to waste. I remember the first time the teachers taught us to make Crema de Mango (mango float), how they gave us pieces of the freshest succulent mango you’ve ever tasted, and how proud they were of the delicious tasting Mangos they produce in the Philippines (one of their most produced crops). I remember the Wok dancing in flames in my host family’s house as we all waited at the table for Bam-I noodles to be served. Reading the SERVE cookbook brought back so many great memories of sharing stories over food and learning so much from amazingly kind and warm people.
On our final day at the Redemptorists, where we had stayed for the first and last week of our volunteering, all the host families came together, and we shared the traditional dish of Lechon (a whole roasted pig). We laughed about the great times we had spent together. We shared stories of culture, learning from each other as we discussed things over our delicious feast.
That is the best thing about food. It brings people together, and when people from different cultures come together to talk and learn from each other, it can only lead to a better world.
My final thoughts
Aside from my experience, volunteering with SERVE taught me to:
- respect other cultures
- always try and learn from others
- be grateful for how lucky we are
- give back whenever we can
Sometimes in the madness of life, we can lose track of how lucky we are to have what we sometimes consider ‘basic luxuries’ like food in the fridge, running water, or a roof over our heads.
Volunteering with SERVE was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I am proud of the cookbook that we produced, which not only contains plenty of tasty recipes but also displays the amazing work that each volunteer has done around the world. The smell or flavour of food can bring you back to an exact time and place in your life. Every time I make something from this cookbook, I know I will be transported back to the time I had volunteering in the Philippines with SERVE.
The recipes for Mango Float and the Lumpia (Philippines Spring Rolls) in our SERVE’d Up Cookbook are sponsored by Temple Café, Galway City, owned by Seb Taylor, a SERVE volunteer who spent a month working in the Badjao tribe in 2013.
Temple Café is a ‘Social Business’, meaning they give back to the local community. Their aim is that, by coming in and supporting their local business, you are also supporting local suppliers and, in turn, local charities. They pride themselves on using fresh, organic, and local ingredients wherever possible.
Feed the mind, fuel the body, free the soul! To find out more, visit cafetemple.com