Update from the Philippines – Chris O’Donoghue

All views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of SERVE or our partner organisations.

19 days on and the People of Samar and Leyte are still coming to terms with their new reality. It is really hard to comprehend the destruction of  Typhoon Yolanda as is it called locally.  At first it seems like Yolanda did not discriminate with its power, hitting Bishops Palaces and five star resorts, as well as poor fishing communities huts. However, its only now when you look around almost 3 weeks later that you can see that living in poverty can make all the difference.


Photo: Donald Bryan Angayan (ReCSEC)

 The Local and National government and the  NGO’s in my view are doing the best they can in a very difficult situation, and the response from within the Philippines has been immense. The first few shipments of aid that reached people were mainly from people in the neighbouring islands using the network of ferries that goes between the 7000 + islands. There are specialists in Hygiene, Health and Sanitation, clear up operations, food distribution centres, evacuee centres and a host of other agencies delivering the basic needs to the most affected and it is really making a difference.

I was speaking with a volunteer doctor earlier who took 3 weeks unpaid leave from her job in a private medical centre to come here from Iloilo and she has not seen any evidence of a breakout of any life threatening diseases. All the signs that Filipinos love to put on public display speak of hope and solidarity.


“Roofless, Homeless, but not Hopeless”

Photo: Donald Bryan Angayan (ReCSEC)

This morning, down at the waterfront, just 200 metres from the front door of the Redemptorist church I met a man who was in the middle of all the rubble rebuilding his home on the very spot it had been standing, before the storm struck.  This appears to me to be absolute madness, to rebuild on the same site where a little over two weeks ago Typhoon Yolanda destroyed his home, and during which he also lost members of his immediate family. But what else is he to do?  Where else is he to go? How else will he earn a living to look after the surviving members of his family after the NGO’s pull out of the area and the Government aid gets directed to the next emergency like the Floods that hit Luzon or the ongoing war in Mindanao or the Earthquake in Bohol, which have all happened in the last 12 months in this fragile country.  The sad reality is that natural disasters like the Earthquake in Haiti nearly 4 years ago or the recent ‘Super Typhoon’ in The Philippines do not discriminate, but people, humanity, does, and this discrimination hurts the poor more than anyone else in society.

Understanding poverty is the main item on the agenda of many conferences that happen around the world every year, many of which now do invite a “poor person” there to give their “testimony”.  The best description I read previously, and I use it a lot when I am trying to process some of the stories I have heard from the people here and the things I have witnessed in different parts of the majority world, is that “Poverty strips people of choice”.  It is true for the man I met in Tacloban this morning.   He has no choice but to take the risk of having his life literally turned upside down again by building right where Yolanda hit and take his chances. As long as we continue to live in and build a world based on inequality where the few have much and the many have what’s left over then we will continue to see the poorest people of  the world face the worst consequences of our ever increasing volatile planet.

Local man rebuilds his home

Photo: Donald Bryan Angayan (ReCSEC)

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Solidarity Buzz Newsletter Archive

Solidarity Buzz Newletter:

– May 2013


Solidarity Buzz Archive:


– March 2013

– January 2013


– August 2012

– June 2012

– April 2012

– February 2012


– December 2011

– October 2011

–  June 2011

– May 2011

– February 2011


–  December 2010

– October 2010

–  June 2010

–  May 2010

–  May 2010

–  February 2010


–  December 2009

–  October 2009

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Home & Away: Why I Volunteer

By Deirdre O’Sullivan

When I was growing up my Dad was big into volunteering on a local level with The Society of St Vincent de Paul. From a young age, my siblings and I were encouraged to help out at fundraisers, church gate collections and we often went with Dad to visit elderly people in our community. While there was not much we could do as children, being introduced to the concept of volunteering was a valuable early lesson for me, however I never could have predicted how valuable.

During my time at Dublin City University I got involved in their chapter of The Society of St Vincent de Paul. I sat on the society’s committee coordinating and recruiting volunteers. I also regularly volunteered at a local youth group for disadvantaged children, gave free grinds to local secondary school students who were struggling with exams and helped out with a soup run round the city in the evenings. Fundraising was also an important part of our role as volunteers.

People often commended me on my efforts towards volunteer work, but the fact was, although I was fully aware of the altruistic nature of the activities I helped with, there was also egoistic motivations behind my involvement. I thoroughly enjoyed going down to the school to teach. I was good at it and the teenagers and I got on well together. I loved seeing them improve. Helping out in the youth club always put me in a good mood. The boys and girls there craved my attention and interest in them. I wouldn’t notice the three hours passing as I did art or homework with them. I could see that every minute of my time that I gave them improved not only their confidence and their sense of importance but improved me personally too. I had a utilitarian approach to the activities in the sense that I could see the bigger picture, and understand the long-term effects of devoting time to those more disadvantaged than me but there is no getting away from the fact that volunteering was helping me gain invaluable skills. It also gave me an escape from everyday stress and I always left feeling positive and motivated.

Not only did volunteering help me gain many employable skills but the networking involved with various volunteer projects has brought me many opportunities I otherwise would not have been presented with. Through the friends I met while volunteering locally I was given the chance to spend a summer in Ethiopia volunteering for an Irish organisation called Youth Release who aim to give street children an education and a chance at having a real childhood. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget.

Christy Moore says in his famous song Lisdoonvarna “Everybody needs a break, climb a mountain, jump in a lake. Some head off to exotic places, others head to the Galway Races’. If you’re struggling to find an activity to help you de-stress, meet people or just something to keep you going through the winter months, I can highly recommend finding a volunteer position in your local community. It’s never too late to get involved. There are roles for all types of people and skills. You never know where it will take you.

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Thomas Doran: Philippines Volunteer Diaries

Four thoughtful and personal diary entries by Thomas Doran, who is currently volunteering in The Philippines.

Diary Entry 1-Day One

“To be a man of excellence is not to sit back and watch as the world and others do things for you, but rather to get down in the dirt with the people and build a foundation from the ground up.”

Okay, so perhaps I’m being idealistic about the epitome of man, thinking that by helping the Badjao I too in some sense will become part of what the Scholar Keller refers to as the process of ‘Enlightenment’ but it cannot be argued that my point is pedantic! Today I met the Badjao people for the first time and I was simply blown away by their sense of hope and prosperity in a place which can only be described as ghastly. Whilst there are no proper washing facilities, limited electrical supplies, virtually no sense of the term “plumbing” and in turn disposal of such deposits, the life and buhi pa (meaning survival) of these people can only be admired.

When I contrast those who live in ‘so called’ poor conditions in Ireland North and South I feel no sympathy where there is simply and unwillingness to learn or an inability created by laziness to get up off one’s backside and try to find work. The Badjao put the no doers to shame.

Having been greeted in the watery slum by a 4 year old who took my hand and smiled, I was immediately moved not only at her hospitality but of her sense of closeness and belonging as throughout the day she refused to let me separate from my group and constantly kept taking me by the hand and putting me with the rest. We referred to her as the ‘Little Matchmaker’ however when considering the description it suddenly dawned on me that she had carried out her actions as a manner of a ‘cognitive system’ not in the sense that she was awaiting receipt of reward but more so in the sense that she had already received her prize, by simply laying eyes on a white person and had a willingness to always do that which was right by us. This seemed to be a growing trend!

When I reverted back to consider the children’s reaction to the ball in my arms their eyes sprang to life a little boy exclaimed “ballo” and smiled yet he never sought to take it out of my hands and keep it for his own, there was no sense of proprietary ownership as with the Badjao they have no sense of exactly what is theirs or of what value it is, yet, they have a tremendous understanding of what is important!

Sr Evelyn told us that on her first encounter with the Chief of the Badjao all they wanted was to prevent their children from being taken from them, to get the sick healed and for the children to be educated. There is obviously much to be admired in such sentiment as with understanding of having little as a child myself all I wanted to do was to be educated in order to attain some kind of future for myself and with a persistent and determined mother any doubts or failings which I had were either washed away or learnt from. However, even with all my education nothing could have prepared me for such an experience and this was only day one.

I’ve become the pupil in a world that is so different than that of my own and I’m left with the comforting feeling that this world can’t be learnt from a book.


Diary Entry 2- Rats and the Remedial Quagmire

Only a week into this voluntary programme and my mind continues to be transported from the basic perception of how the people in Cebu live to a world beyond the image of slum where friendship, love and an ever-growing community ethos are forever present.

Having experienced one incident with my now rodent friends (i.e. rats) I found myself praying to God for 8 hours asking for strength and help, however after the horrifying experience I began to understand the Cebuano people better! Whilst we ignorant Westerners look into the crazy world of countries such as that of the Philippines we find ourselves thinking how terrible it must be for these people with vermin, inadequate water supplies and cramped living conditions being part of people’s everyday lives, yet we never stop to consider from the Easterners point of view. As the novel lawyer Atticus Finch once stated “you cannot truly know someone until you’ve stepped into their skin and walked around in it.”

Having walked in Filipino skin for over a week now I’ve begun to see things rather differently, whilst they may have laughed at my rat phobia and the remedial extreme of moving my houses (a point I still find rather unfunny) I was becoming one of them and more importantly I was accepted unequivocally by the community. The Cebuanos were very similar to ourselves, just because they were poor and lived in cramped conditions did not mean that they never felt the emotion of happiness and thus they were far removed from the Zombie like state as portrayed by often seen Charity TV commercials. It cannot be said that these people have not fallen into immediate hardship upon birth however they are all so willing to do their absolute utmost to succeed in life with  the only truly saddening note being that in order to succeed they must be educated and in order to be educated they must have money! Therefore, the universal concept of the phrase it all “boils down to money” becomes a persistently accurate matter of fact. This was a point reiterated when I witnessed a young boy standing in the slum with a crisp uniform and a dream glistening in his eye to become an accountant! It was then and only then I felt the beginning of an eternal guilt that would not quench by simply “doing” but by “being” a concept which SERVE is all too familiar with! However, the young man’s story is yet to be written as he plunders through the discriminatory mess and strives at the top of his class and one could only pray that he’d make it, but JohnJohn being 1 of 36 Badjao students in a High School Population of 4,000 leaves many questions to be answered and doors to be kicked open!

This truly is a developing country. 


Diary Entry 3- The little girl outside the box!

In a quaint little place called “Atticall” lived a boy who, raised amongst the rushes and the bushes, had a dream. This boy’s dream was to bring aid to a foreign land where the children’s bellies were bloated from malnutrition and starvation, where crime and corruption were rife and it was always at the back of his mind that by carrying out such an act that it would change him and give him a grasp of what exactly he wanted to do in life.

Two years into a three year Law degree and this young man was presented with such an opportunity and whilst it is obvious that this young man is me, it does not feel correct to speak about the past in any other manner than 3rd person as by working with the Badjao during the day and living with the Cebuanos at night, my eyes have been opened to new dimensions and I am not the same person I once was. I was changed… with one incident involving a child with special needs touching my soul and leaving a lasting impression.

Arjene is a 15 year old girl who has been unofficially diagnosed with Autism by her teachers. Her parents are unable to pay for either medical examination or the correct treatment. On Saturday I was presented with the opportunity to take Arjene for a tutorial, however with little knowledge of how to approach such a task I thought perhaps by getting her to draw it would help stimulate her mind. On requesting her to do so she began to draw. Firstly objects like apples, oranges and a house yet she did not have the ability to reason why she drew them. However, before she lost her concentration I asked her to draw on another piece of paper and it was these illustrations which I did not have the heart to photograph as the irony of her art had the ability to break any man’s heart.

Arjene drew a box and beside that box she drew a little girl which she said was her, whilst she maybe had no intention to create such an atmospheric moment of sadness it could almost be seen that in her expression she felt separated and detached from the rest of the world and before her eyes could glaze over I asked her to draw one more thing… I asked her to draw me! Arjene drew a star on the page and her mind was suddenly gone and distracted but my mind was firmly fixed and I could feel the tears building in my eyes and it has been this incident which has kept me up at night, not the longing for home or the “unexpected visitors” but the thought that this child with her little wisdom or reason could affect a soul so easily and leave a person feeling so useless! I was not specially trained to teach her nor were any of the other staff, nor would there ever be any resources to do so and there was simply nothing we could do to help! In a country where most families can hardly afford to eat, there was no chance Arjene’s parents could afford to send her to a special school, the cost being so great as to rival that of a university degree!

The little girl outside the box will be forever instilled in my thoughts and will not soon be forgotten!


Diary Entry 4

Such beautiful music, by such wonderful children, their lives have been tortured till now, what heinous crimes, what terrible Sins!

In a world that is not our own there are two types of character, the abuser and the victim. As the abuser pulls the strings like the master puppeteer, the victim dances through the hoops and rarely has time to pause for the soliloquy of dreams to cascade their world and give them an eternal hope of their own. However where such hope can be found there is often something truly unique and beautiful which emanated from such a victim. Such musical voice was found today when the rest of the volunteers and I visited a centre for abused children all of which were girls.

Their hope and prosperity of having a future for themselves was something to be completely admired having faced hardships of the ultimate extreme coupled with alcohol, smoking and sometimes drug addictions and all at the early age of 12! These girls could only be described as life soldiers. They had battled the ultimate elements of destruction and had come out the other side with fantastically unique personalities and a love for music and life. However nothing quite prepared me for the emotional turmoil these girls had truly faced with some having been beaten, threatened and bribed to stay silent about the level of abuse that was inflicted upon them and when they opened their voices to sing with such joy and enthusiasm for new found life, waterfalls of emotion came over me as I fought to hold back the tears. One could not imagine having to stand in their shoes and fight for a normal life with no abuse. As their voices rang out and the volume increased their strength escalated, even with no beginnings these incredible little girl soldiers were going to succeed.

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India Volunteer Diaries: Week Two

Flashback to Week Two in India!

Summannahali: Sarah and Laura 

Our week got off to a great start with a trip to visit Bangalore Palace, Lalbagh Gardens and the Bull Temple on our day off on Sunday. We had nice sunny weather and took lots of photos, however our white skin seemed to make us more of an attraction than the tourist sites themselves; with several passers –by taking some ‘shneaky pics’ of the group.

We took a class of 6-7 year olds on Monday and attempted to do some arts and crafts. However the children got so excited on our arrival that the colouring book session turned out to be a bit chaotic!! Clinics this week have been a bit hectic also, with the arrival of 15 local 1st year nursing students. This new influx hasn’t eased our workload however with many of the students happy to watch and learn from our whole one week experience! J

We were apprehensive about our biology classes this week but unnecessarily so as our class of twenty 15 year olds were really enthusiastic to learn and well behaved throughout classes. We were surprised by the high level of science that they are studying at such a young age as we ourselves hadn’t come across some of the material until university. We really are inspired by the  attitude towards education here in India; with ‘reading’ or ‘studying’ being reported as a favourite pastime by the majority of students, while School is what they look forward to most in their daily routine. The students were more than happy for us to give them lots of homework also.

On Wednesday morning the entire school gathered to watch an educational video on HIV and TB, both very prominent issues in India currently.

On Friday morning we travelled by ambulance to the Summanahalli free clinic, 20 km from our site. It was great to see the service they were providing for those who can’t afford medication. The clinic hasn’t been available for the last 3 months, but with a new doctor it is now back up and running and sure to draw a massive crowd from the area. Friday afternoon brought us back to St. Josephs school for a face painting session with the nursery children. Although it was crazy and we got  covered in facepaint each child got a design of their choice from the expert facepainters we are :p. The smiles on the childrens faces were priceless and there was no better way to end the week at Summanahalli!

Jyothi Seva: Clár and Aoife

This week has been much quieter than last due to the children sitting their monthly tests. So far we have learned a lot as neither of us had come into contact with blind and visually impaired children in the school environment prior to this. Our first few lessons were a learning curve because of the language barrier as well as a lack of experience in teaching children with visual impairments. Both of us had to reassess and adapt our teaching methods in order for the children to gain the most from our lessons. We have also found that no matter where you teach there is always a class clown.

One of the highlights so far is seeing the joy the children get from producing something in craft class. Whether it be a rocket or a face mask, having something to show is important to them. You can really get a grasp of this when you hear a child has slept beside the rocket they made in craft the previous day as they were so proud of it.

Despite the children finding humour in our accents and pronunciations, English class has also been very enjoyable, we have also been sharing some Irish folk tales which the children find hilarious.

After school finishes at 2:30pm we have been taking children on a one-to-one basis for low vision classes, these classes are for children who still obtain some sight of varying degrees. These children are eager to learn and do as much as they can fit into their forty minute stint. During this time we work with them on colour recognition, shape and letter formation, moving on to work on word and sentence formation as well and a number of them large print English books or using the magnifier to bring the word up on the TV screen and reading that way.

Sister Anitha has also shown us how to type up English books, both stories and textbooks, in order to print them out in Braille. The most obvious difference between typing for us to read and typing for a Braille book is the use of hyphens instead of spaces. This typing will fill any spare time we have. We are thoroughly enjoying getting to know these amazing children and having them recognise us by our voices, as well as what watch or bracelets we are wearing and being greeted by hugs and high fives.

Thank God our time here has enabled us to now know most children by name no matter how complicated! We cannot believe we have reached the halfway point so soon, but we are very much looking forward to the rest of our time here in Jyothi Seva.

Morning Star: Laura C & Sarah D

Another fantastic week her eat Morning Star- we received a great welcome back when we arrived back on Monday and it was as if we’d never left. It’s been both a busy and productive week with lots of singing, paintin, dancing and most importantly bonding. We began the week by creating a ‘welcome to our room’ poster with the young children with disabilities. This poster includes their names, handprints and pictures. We’ve noticed how much the kids love seeing their own photos so we thought this would be a perfect addition to the room. Great fun was had by all and the kids particularly loved getting their hands messy with paint.

The boys were eager to practice their Irish songs in preparation for John’s (current leader and volunteer last year at Morning Star) arrival on Wednesday. The kids were absolutely delighted to see him – there was such a buzz about the place and it was great to see what an impact he had obviously made. We started the mural (painting) and it was so great; everyone got involved much more than we’d expected so we used this activity as an opportunity to get to know some of the older guys. Pictures to follow of the masterpiece!! On the topic of bonding ; we’ve become football pros! Football (soccer) has been a great way to bond with school kids in particular the older ones who are often busy with their studies when we are playng /singing with younger kids at night. Sarah even managed to score 2 goals this week.

We made some progress this week with the cheelchairs. We made some adjustments with help from the older boys who dismantled and reassembled the chairs and we are planning a trip to APD on Monday morning to fix some of the safety features and then we should be good to go with them.

Overall we are getting on so incredibly well and have no complaints at all. Its impossible not to appreciate all we’re seeing and fall in love with the kids and this place. They make our work here so easy and enjoyable. We are getting very used to the early starts (6am) and they really lengthen our day and the time we have with the kids which is great. Food is still absolutely amazing, they put in such an effort to make us feel welcome and its become like a home away from home for us.

This really is such a unique place, filled with very special people. We loved finding out more about the history of the place and it turns out that John (the founder) met Mother Theresa in Calcutta 25 years ago and it was her who urged and inspired him to create a place where many kids can and continue to call ‘home’ and can live dafely happily with their new found family. We are so excited about the weeks to come and can’t believe we’re now halfway through.

APD: Meghan and Niamh 

Our 2nd week in APD has flown by. We are finding our feet and are slotting into the structure and routine of things. Both of us are trying to carry out as many assessments as we can on the children in order to implement a management plan with them in conjunction with the staff at APD. This is proving quite challenging due to the limited assessment resources and of course the language barrier. We also provided some tips and advice for the teachers about the importance of appropriate seating for those in wheelchairs and the alteration of communication habits to ensure that each child has an equal chance of accessing the curriculum, whatever their ability. As meals are provided in the school for each child, we discussed correct and safe eating habits, particularly for those that have a high risk of a swallowing difficulty.  This is particularly important as we have noticed that some of the children are fed lying down and this is extremely dangerous and can place the child at risk of choking.

As the weeks go by we are coming to realise that our role here in APD and Ulsoor is primarily that of an educational one. We are here to share the knowledge we have with those who see these children every day and who will continue to see them long after we leave- they are the teachers, staff and parents. They have been receptive to our advice and eager to keep learning new techniques of developing their skill sets.

We are also finding out a lot about Indian culture with Caroline (a speech and language therapist in training placed at APD) explaining arranged marriages and marriages within the family to us. Marrying close within the family poses significant difficulties, with inbreeding often resulting in a child with multiple or severe disabilities due to an expression of non-dominant genes. It seemed to us a simple solution would be to stop marrying within the family. Caroline explained however, when a daughter is to marry she has to be given a dowry of property, money or land. The parting of such valuable assets does not bode well for the family, particularly the less well off. To avoid the loss of assets to another family, women often marry within their own.

On Wednesday, there was an integration day held in Ulsoor school. This involved children with and without disabilities in order to promote unity within all abilities. It was a day filled with fun activities e.g. the school children helped those with disabilities to complete a painting. Balloon making and face painting also proved very popular! This integration day was a fantastic initiative and was ultimately a great success among the children.

From our time spent working within APD, the parents seem to be the ‘missing link’ within their structure. We therefore feel that parental education and training is key to enhance sustainability and continuity of care.

Next week we plan to hold a training morning with the parents to strengthen this link. As we are now halfway through our time at APD we feel that we have a lot of work done and plenty more yet to do and we certainly have a busy 2 weeks ahead!

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Mozambique Diary: Week Three

By Aoife Mc Grath  

25th July 2013

Week three started  wet and overcast, which gave us the opportunity to work on our video for Glendalough and organise our weekly picture collection, as a group. After the lunch the weather cleared and we went to Dondo. At Dondo the group was split in two. One group was trained to weave dried coconut leaves, which would be used as a shelter for growing crops. The second group prepared the structure for the shelter using wooden poles, upon which the coconut leaves will rest.  Luckily the weather for the remainder of the week picked up, allowing us to continue constructing the shelter.

                This week we also finished the art project with the hostel girls. The girls got great enjoyment completing the project, as did all the volunteers. During the week we also started to plan for the very first sports festival  at YA Agri-tech in Dondo. We are all looking forward to the day and hope that it is a  great success. 






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Mozambique Diary: Sports Festival

By Conor McGuigan and Philipp Ziegler

Young Africa, Manga, Saturday 20th July 2013

After the sorrow of the down pours on Friday, we awoke with delight and relief that all of our hard work and preparation would not be vain for the sports day. We made our final preparations on Saturday morning by marking out the football pitch. At this point the teams started to arrive and the Young Africa campus became a hive of activity. The group was divided with three jobs in mind; face painters, balloon modellers and referees, although the referees quickly realised that their job was much more serious than a Saturday morning kick about!

As the morning progressed the football matches commenced and the atmosphere exploded as each blow of the whistle was subject to applause on one side and scrutiny on the other. The first games were continued in an orderly fashion until there was a “nil – nil” draw. No one could have prepared the referees for a Mozambique-style penalty shoot-out; spectators flooded the pitch and crowded around the goal, with the referee pushing the crowd back for the penalties to commence.

At the same time the face painters and balloon modellers emerged trying to form the kids into orderly lines which, due to the kids’ excitement, proved impossible. The face painters were also in huge demand which resulted in the them becoming the canvases themselves. As part of the sports day, lunch was organised for each of the participating team members which was a challenge but a great achievement due to the large turnout. As the quarter and semi-finals commenced, the Young Africa hostel girls took control of the DJ booth and a dance off began with a huge level of talent on show which added to the atmosphere even more.

The final finished just as the sun started to fall below the trees and the trophy presentation was made for the runner up and winning teams. As we retreated for our dinner there was a great sense of achievement throughout the group as the event brought a great deal of joy to the community groups involved and to ourselves.


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