Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers serve across the globe continent in countries as different from one another as Alaska is from Florida. As part of my blogging goals for 2015, I hope to bring you volunteer interviews from Peace Corps countries from all around the world! This month, I am excited to introduce to you a volunteer from The Philippines.
Rachel Jones – Age 26
Where are you from?
I’m from Kentucky.
I’m from Kentucky.
What country and program do you serve in?
I am serving in the Philippines with the Children, Youth, and Families sector. I work for an NGO called My Refuge House which is a shelter for girls who have been rescued from abuse and commercial sexual exploitation. The shelter is amazing because they provide holistic care for the girls such as education, counselling, spirituality, livelihood training, etc. I love my work and the people I work with here. My primary responsibilities include teaching high school courses as part of our educational program (as needed), program development with the management team, and building relationships with the girls and helping them practice their English skills. It’s really about getting to know the organization and the people I work with in order to know how I can best serve them in various ways. My work is definitely not confined to the three areas I listed above, but involves many other day-to-day tasks such as leadership trainings, book club meetings, and court hearings. It is constantly changing and I love it!
What is your housing like? What amenities do/n’t you have? What are some of the biggest challenges of your lifestyle?
Most shelters (and volunteers) working with this population of girls are located in cities and urban area, and this is the same for me. I live about an hour outside of the second largest city in the Philippines, so my situation looks much different than many other volunteers. I live with a great family and have access to most conveniences I would back home; I have electricity, running water, and decent wifi. I don’t have air conditioning or hot water though, so don’t be too mad at me. I eat breakfast and dinner with my host family and lunch at the shelter. My meals always consist of rice and usually include fish and a vegetable such as squash, a leafy green, or a root crop. I am a vegetarian, but before coming to the Philippines I knew I would have to adjust this lifestyle and this has been the case. I now eat fish and chicken (vegetarians here eat both of these), but everyone has been great about me not eating beef or pork. It’s all about being flexible and making compromises.
What are Filipinos like?
Filipinos are incredible people. They are kind, funny, jovial, curious, and amazingly resilient. Filipinos love to laugh and joke around, but they would never do so to hurt your feelings. Part of their culture is to “save face” so they would never make fun/criticize someone if they thought it would humiliate them in front of others. They are community based and operate on a very personal/familiar base with those around them, which also allows them to make friends very quickly. Filipinos love to share, even if they do not have much, and it has been a good characteristic for me to work on personally. There are really so many great aspects about the people here; I could go on forever…
What are some of the most rewarding parts of your service? What have been some of your greatest challenges? Has Peace Corps service met/surpassed/trampled on your expectations of what service would be like?
I truly love my work here and find most of it rewarding on different levels. For the past six years I have had the desire to work with young women who have been rescued from trafficking and exploitation and I have made every education and job choice on this desire. By being placed in such an organization the Peace Corps has far surpassed my expectations. It is the perfect placement for me and I feel very blessed.
However, even with the best of placement, challenges always arise. One of my main challenges has been integrating into my community when I work at a shelter hidden from public knowledge. It is a closed facility, meaning that I do not meet many people outside my place of work. This has been a difficult adjustment because I have had to accept that the shelter where I work is my community, and getting to know anything/anyone outside of this has to be my own initiative (which can be tricky in a new place). I have now been at my permanent site since September 2014 and this challenge has gotten easier, but it is still a work in progress.
Male and female volunteers have different “guideline for life” here in the Philippines. The men don’t have nearly as many guidelines and most involve romantic and/or sexual relations with Filipinos. For the women we have a standard of dress that needs to be observed, we have to be wary about walking alone with a man, we have to be cautious about walking alone at night (this is a guideline no matter where you live actually), we are discouraged from drinking in public, etc. The Philippines is predominately a Catholic country so many women tend to be conservative in public (especially in the more rural locations). Because I live in a city, the guidelines are looser, except for safety concerns which may be heightened.
Why did you join Peace Corps?
I joined Peace Corps because I wanted to work in international development and I knew this would be a great way to test the waters and make sure it was a good fit for me. I have a passion for people and a commitment to making sure every individual is given the same rights and resources. I see many positive and negative aspects of development work with this same commitment, and I wanted to see what it looks like on the ground with a respected organization. These reasons still apply today and they help me keep going. I learn and grow everyday while having the chance to be a resource for someone else. It is a pretty sweet gig.
Do you feel like Peace Corps is still a worthwhile program for the U.S. Government?
Absolutely. I think it is a great program with benefits for multiple parties.
If you had to give a piece of advice to someone thinking about applying to Peace Corps or getting ready for staging, what would you say?
I would advise a potential volunteer to really question why they want to serve, to look at their motivations, and to think about what they want to gain from the experience. I would also encourage them to think of the skills they have and if these skills could be helpful around the world. Peace Corps is a great way to see the world and experience other cultures, but it is not a volunteer vacation (there are other organizations for those). If your heart is not truly dedicated to the mission, then it will be difficult stay through the many challenges. Peace Corps is not for everyone and that is perfectly okay, volunteering in the U.S. is much needed, but if you feel as though this was made for you then get ready to jump in and let go of all expectations.
Any plans for post-Peace Corps?
After Peace Corps I am planning to apply for every single job I am qualified for and would pay above minimum wage (though this is negotiable). More specifically, I am hoping to take advantage of federal employment opportunities in the sector of international development, while also looking at NGOs who do similar work.
Want to read more about Rachel’s service? Check out her awesome blog!