“I’m going to the Philippines for one month this summer.”
“What!? Which place? Manila?”
“No…to Bohol…It is quite a remote area I guess?”
“So…You are going to a service trip?”
This is the real scenario I encountered several times when I told someone I am going to the Philippines. Strangely, when talking about developing countries, like Cambodia, Vietnam and Philippines, the first thing people can think of is that they need our help. “Help” is a label stigmatised on these developing countries.
There is recently a trend of going overseas for voluntary service. Many people, especially youngsters are keen on that. They go to different places, usually the more exceptional the better, to contribute their time to serve the underprivileged. After coming back, they will usually share their experience on social media or any other platforms you can think of to tell other about their “life-changing” experience (usually talking about the cultural difference, how lucky we are to live in a more developed countries and how happy it is to return to a simple primitive life so that we should all cherish everything we have).
To me, these are no better than reciting the model answer on the question paper. This is simply consuming on the poor people. What I mean is that we are still in the mindset of being a consumer in capitalistic society. We pay and we get the product/outcome, and that differentiates us from other people, and eventually makes ourselves feel good. We go beyond our physical need and begin to consume for the mental fulfilment. But sadly the fact is that we are neither making a difference on them nor ourselves.
Compared to people in developing countries, we are more prosperous and educated. Therefore, many of us can always have the time and surplus to do extra voluntary service. We believe that what we do can truly benefit locals and ourselves. Yes, probably, since they are really receiving something from us. But are we helping them? This is questionable because I don’t think “help” is merely giving our surplus to needy to make us feel good. It is a more serious term.
The conversation continues
“Not really…It is a course offered by FBE. We’re going there to consult for some small local businesses.”
“Oh…What is it actually about? What are you going to do?”
There are two questions keep lingering in my mind: Why I am here? Am I really doing something meaningful to them?
Apparently, I am here to applying my knowledge to help the micro businesses to improve and hopefully thrive, which will then hopefully make a difference in the local community and people in the future. This is the grand and fancy version of the answer.
Bebe, our business partner, once said something that deeply impressed me. She said,
“OK. I will bring my accounting book tomorrow. So you can help me and help the Filipinos.”
This is sarcastic and frustrating. While we are believing we are doing something to help, they apparently did not think so. But this reveals a part og the true picture of their thoughts. Sometimes, we just wishfully believe in our choice and action. But seldom do we reflect on our belief, which drives our action. Therefore, when we are taking ourselves as the saviour or difference maker, we better step back and reflect on our belief first.
During the three weeks of immersion, I did learn something and find out some deficiencies of myself. The most difficult part of the immersion is not to finish the job we think we should do, but how to understand our partners’ need and persuade and convince them as well, especially when they are having different mindset and belief. That is the real challenge and what really making a change. Therefore, the technique of question asking and rephrasing is really important during communication.
As for the homestay, to be honest, until now, I still can’t get used to the weather, salty food and mosquito here. But I can feel that I start to enjoy the communication with local people. And also my Filipino parents, for me, they are the biggest reward in this trip. The end of this trip means the beginning of my final year. Soon, I will be back to Hong Kong, back to the hustle and bustle. But I hope that everything happened and the thoughts and feelings, and most importantly the people, will be long stayed in my mind.
Mario, one of our partnerOur family