Trekking up volcanoes and swimming with whale sharks
The Philippines is a Southeast Asian country in the Western Pacific, comprising more than 7,000 islands. The country has a population of more than 100 million people of which one-quarter (26.5 million) of the population fell below the poverty line. The Philippines lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire, which causes the country to have frequent seismic and volcanic activity, Typhoons and Tsunamis. As recent as October 15th 2013, an earthquake in Bohol & Cebu killed 222 people and injured 796 people while causing $4 billion in damage.
To take a group over to meet and interact with the Philippines Red Cross was an incredible privilege. The Red Cross Globally has a mandate to prevent and alleviate suffering where ever it occurs within our community. In the Philippines where the country has such a large number of people living below the poverty line and is also subject to such extreme weather and seismic/volcanic activity the Red Cross is the life blood of the nation. The Philippine Red Cross runs 6 major activities, Blood Service, Disaster Management Services, Safety Services, Health Services, Youth and Volunteer Services.
Visiting the Disaster Command Centre in Manila was a highlight of our first day as we learnt and observed the military style management of surveillance and preparedness in their operation to react immediately when required. They operate through 6 different chapters within Philippines to ensure that they can respond quickly and effectively. Working or volunteering for the Red Cross is such an important role and you could see the pride in the staff and volunteers as we observed them being trained in first aid.
After visiting the head office in Manila we traveled out to one of the Chapter offices in Batangas province to be able to learn how the Red Cross operates and interacts in a more local community. We were surprised to see the volunteers learning Surf Life Saving training techniques and learning how to operate “rubber duckie” boats and training as lifeguards.
However it made sense, when a service is not available in an area, the Red Cross will provide that service to ensure they “prevent and alleviate suffering”. We later learnt the Red Cross also provides the ambulance service and fire brigade services in many Chapters as these services are not offered by the government or other organisations. The hospitality offered by our Red Cross hosts was incredible and we got to experience and witness many local traditions and enjoy scrumptious meals together.
Outside of our time with the Red Cross we also got to travel to some amazing destinations throughout the Philippines including trekking to the top of a Volcano at Taal, visited the Hill Tribes in northern Luzon to meet the Ifugao people and stay overnight with a panoramic view of the Banaue Rice Terraces and achieved a bucket list item for many travelers and adventures by swimming with Whale Sharks in Donsol and scuba diving with Manta Rays.
Everyone on the trip was incredibly appreciative of the incredible hospitality that we received by our Philippine Red Cross hosts and many locals that assisted throughout the week.