My volunteering journey with the Badjao tribe in the Philippines

Conor Bradley

“No matter how much you prepare and plan for stepping into the unknown the unexpected will always occur at some point.”

After spending four weeks in the Philippines, carrying out a wide variety of work on behalf of SERVE, it appears that my final task of summing up my experience into a few paragraphs is a challenging one. The whole experience was a journey with many ups and downs and twists and turns. Also, like any journey that you have not made before, the expectation often differs from what you experience. No matter how much you prepare and plan for stepping into the unknown, the unexpected occurs at some point. Things often do not go to plan and in these situations, being adaptable and capable of using your initiative is necessary. In a way, though, this is one of the beauties of the journey.
Putting into words my emotions felt during my time with the Badjao currently seems impossible. I will try to sum it up as best I can.

Conor Bradley speaking at the Solidarity Night

My experience with the Badjao community

On my first day of meeting the Badjao community, I was slightly nervous. I did not know what to expect in the slightest. It is only now I see how irrational these feelings were. The welcome we experienced was like none I ever had. The people were so warm, open, and friendly; I learned so much from them. The Badjao live an ordinary and simple life. Although they were undoubtedly trapped and restricted in ways, there was also a strong sense of freedom present through the simplicity of their lifestyle. Never have I seen people with so little so happy. The hours of entertainment the children got out of playing with a large puddle of water were endless. The Badjao are remarkable people, content with what they have and bursting with love, life and joy. The only pain I ever felt with the Badjao was the day I had to leave them. The week spent in Tacloban for me was harrowing but worthwhile. We did not meet the same laughs, songs and welcome as we did with the Badjao. However, that is not to say that everyone did not keep a smile on their faces. From listening to the stories of the survivors, witnessing the destruction of Typhoon Yolanda, which was still present and uncomfortably visiting a mass grave, I felt very out of place and almost useless on my first day in Tacloban. As the week went by, I learned what I could do to help and become more confident. From playing soccer with a group of children every night to mixing cement for builders and teaching an entire community how to make bracelets, we offered help and spread some joy. Although it did not seem like much, hopefully, it was a lift to the people of Tacloban burdened with the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

Working with SERVE volunteers

I talked a lot about the people we met during our overseas volunteering experience and the impact they all had on my life. 

Another group of people who changed my life are the SERVE volunteers. Our SERVE group of 11 volunteers started as a bunch of people who barely said a word to each other at the SERVE training days, but over just a month here in the Philippines, I would regard all of them as some of my closest friends. The laughs I shared with every person in the SERVE group I would not trade for the world. We went through so much together and shared many ups and downs. We looked out for one another. In a way, my SERVE group feels like a family to me.

I feel so privileged to have worked with such a caring, funny, easy-going and genuinely good bunch of people. It saddens me to think that by tomorrow our journey together will come to an end. I know that I will count down the days until the SERVE Next Step Weekend in Glendalough in October when I get to be reunited with them all once again.

My time in the Philippines was life-changing. I gained so much and learned so much from many different people. Although going home to Ireland will be good to meet family and friends, it will hurt me to leave the Philippines. I once heard home described as a place where you are: surrounded by people who will always accept you and show you, love.
From this, I will always consider the Philippines and especially the Badjao Tribe a home for me.

The SERVE Philippines group 2014
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