“Did I make a difference? SHOULD I have made a difference?”

16 May

In regards to my time volunteering in the Philippines I’ve often asked myself the question “did I make a difference?” At times the answer has been “yes” at others “no” and, more recently (and perhaps realistically), “sorta”. I cannot deny that on a small-scale level, my group certainly made a difference in the lives of those we interacted with on a regular basis. Whether it was teaching computer skills, helping with homework or just hanging out, our time with the children at the Bahay Tuluyan (BT) centres was important. In my diary I wrote “I don’t think I’m going to have any lasting effect on any of these boys but that’s fine. I guess teaching C__ and J__ how to do a bird call using their hands is a big enough achievement.”

Recently I’ve been asking myself a similar but, ultimately, very different question: “should I have made a difference?” The answer that I’ve come up with is, once again, “sorta” – but I’ll be able to better rationalise that answer to you after this story.

The main project that my group of volunteers was involved in was organising two identical two-day children’s congresses to be held on two different occasions. Basically, we had to come up with a program that enabled Filipino youth leaders (who we called “the facilitators”) to teach children’s rights to high schoolers. Our core group was divided into 5-6 smaller teams who would then take on one facet of children’s rights to work with (for example, me and my team-mate Amy worked with “Special Protection Measures”).

Some of my volunteer group with the sign for the first congress: photo supplied by Amy Fell

The first of the congresses was held at the BT centre in Victoria. In many ways, it was a frustrating process, though certainly very fun. Amy and I did not have time beforehand to properly familiarise our facilitators with the program and a lot of the congress time was spent explaining activities and discussions and then having that translated to the high schoolers by the facilitators or by senior members of the BT staff. At times, I was unsure whether or not we were making any sense. In the end we (and the other teams) got through it and the event was deemed a success. Everyone of my 10-strong volunteer group was certainly feeling emotional (in a good way) after the first congress and there were smiles (or tears, but in a good way!) all around. I remember feeling pleased and perhaps even a little bit proud, but I cannot deny that I felt that there was something missing…

The second congress was held a week later at the San Antonio BT centre. I will admit that, in a very selfish way, I found this congress slightly less enjoyable than the first one. Amy’s and my role was minimised and that meant that we didn’t get to interact with the high schoolers as much as we did at the first congress. Our facilitators were now fully familiar with the program; they took control and we were designated roles that were focussed around running errands and organising materials for the activities. The facilitators excelled. At times, I felt almost useless. But this was the best feeling in the world! Instead of us trying to put forward a message, it was the facilitators who presented the message. It was Filipino youths teaching Filipino youths: sustainable teaching and learning in its most basic form.

And this is the reason that I answered “sorta” to the question of whether or not I should make a difference. Teaching and informing in a “Third-world” environment should not come from privileged Westerners. Change must come from within. Certainly we played a role in this but, in my opinion, all we did was give the young Filipino facilitators the framework with which they could teach other youths about their rights. The facilitators already had the skills, the potential and, most importantly, the drive. They just needed us for the “menial labour”.

And once again, I’ll say that this was the best feeling in the world.


Disclaimer: whilst I have been using inclusive terms such as “us” and “we” I have to stress that this is entirely my own opinion and I could not (and should not) put forward the idea that I am representing the viewpoints of all of the 10 members of my volunteer group nor even the aforementioned Amy whom I worked very closely with.


2 Responses to ““Did I make a difference? SHOULD I have made a difference?””

  1. john tugano May 16, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    yes you made a difference..

    • scronk May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

      🙂 Thank you. Honestly, sometimes I do question my ability to make a lasting impact but, at the moment, I’m happy enough with my conclusion that I sorta made a difference. I really appreciate your assurrance, though.

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