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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Back in Romblon

The Payawpao Orchids

I recently had the opportunity to return to the island of Romblon – where I set up the Filipino arm of Meaningful Volunteer about two years ago.  It was just wonderful to be back!  The Philippines has many problems: a corrupt government, wide spread poverty, an education system in crisis, an underfunded health care system, lack of reproductive rights for women, the list goes on…  But one thing that the Philippines has in its favor is that it is chocker block full of wonderful Filipinos.

Stepping off the tricycle, bleary eyed and travel lagged from a long ferry ride and bumpy Jeepney ride, was like returning back home.  Smiling faces greeted me; locals waved at me from across rice fields, and shy kids mumbled half greeting as they headed to school.

Megin Alvarez – Meaningful Volunteer’s International Coordinator was also along for the trip.  One especially fun thing we got to do was to play Santa.  We had received several donations of school supplies via the Meaningful Shop and got to hand them off to the lucky recipients.  One unexpected complication was actually finding the kids.  The day that we were there, was a school holiday and many of the kids live way up in the area around the imposing Mt. Payawpao.

We also got to spend some time with the wonderful ladies of the Payawpao Orchids craft group and pass on some of the money we raised for them.  The Orchids are just a small group of four women and struggle to bring in a sustainable income via their craft.  It is interesting to compare the problems they face with the other Meaningful Volunteer group in Uganda: Grassroots Uganda.  Grassroots Uganda has been going a lot longer (approx. 4 years), has more women (approx. 100) and last year brought in a whopping $US 40,000 for the group.

A lot of the Grassroots Uganda’s income comes in via ex-volunteers who either a) buy items while volunteering in Uganda, or b) take back home a box of stuff to sell to friends and families.  The Philippines just doesn’t bring in the same volume of volunteers.  Combine this with the isolation of Romblon from major ports, and zero tourists coming through, and it makes it very hard for the Orchids to eek out a living via the craft group.

Meaningful Volunteer is lining up events for both groups via fundraisers in Korea and Canada.  Stay tuned for more details!