Our Senior Designer, Ariane, recently travelled to a typhoon-hit part of the Philippines and spent 6 weeks volunteering to rebuild a school that was almost destroyed when a category 5 typhoon made landfall in the region back in 2018. The charity All Hands and Hearts work in areas that have been devestated by natural disasters all over the world. They assemble a team of volunteers in each area who fundraise to help support the project and actually work on the site too. The projects also provide work opportunities for local people and bring money into their economy.
Now that she is back in the UK we caught up with Ariane to find out more about her time in the Philippines, why she chose to volunteer and why she would love to do it all again.
What motivated you to volunteer to the course?
I wanted to give myself a challenge that would not only push myself but meant I could help others too. As I have some experience in building, enjoy getting stuck in and getting my hands dirty, I decided on a construction volunteer programme.
What made you pick this volunteering experience?
In September 2018 in the Philippine province of Cagayan a super typhoon hit the area. It was the third strongest typhoon worldwide in 2018 with sustained wind speeds of more than 125m/h and gusts of nearly 160 m/h.
All Hands and Hearts identified 2 schools within the Cagayan province, which is situated in the North of the Philippines, that sustained destructive impacts from the typhoon and have yet to receive help.
Did you have any experience before going, and did they offer you training before heading out there?
It is not necessary to have any skills or experience in construction to get involved in the All Hands and Hearts programmes as they teach you along the way, which is great!
What did you do while you were there?
I was working to rebuild one of the primary schools which accommodates over 170 students, aged 6 to 12 years old. The project includes rebuilding seven classrooms, the staff room, a canteen and the computer room, as well as refurbishing the four standing classrooms and toilet blocks.
What was the biggest change in the design of the new schools?
The design of the new structures had been developed with local experts to ensure they can withstand any future typhoons and the materials used are easily accessible and replaceable in the event of another disaster.
Did you receive any compensation in return for your work?
All Hands and Hearts is a non-profitable charity. I paid for my flights and volunteered my time; they simply provided a roof over my head and 3 delicious meals a day which was cooked by 4 local ladies.
The funds for this project have been raised through donations which is why sharing volunteers’ stories are so important. I’m hoping by sharing my experience I can encourage more people to donate to this fantastic cause as it helps those in need.
What work did you get involved with and how did you find it?
I joined the programme at the start which meant I was heavily involved in the groundwork preparations. This involved lots of digging and shovelling soil and gravel in 30-degree heat which lead to a lot of blisters and the odd moment of heat exhaustion, but nothing I couldn’t recover quickly from.
Wow sounds like intense work! Did you learn any new skills which you have brought back with you?
Yes! I can confidently say that I can:
- Cut and bend rebar
- Set-up and measure out foundations in a traditional way without using a laser (patience is required!)
- Mix, pour and level out the concrete
- Knockdown walls
I was also part of the team constructing the aluminium prefab frames. This was the first time All Hands and Hearts had used this method on a project. This meant that I got to work closely with the local masons to learn how to put the structure together. Therefore, reducing the length of the project.
This sounds like an enriching but exhausting challenge. How did you find it?
I have to be honest, it was hard work and tough at times living in very basic communal spaces with no home comforts. However, none of that beats the sense of fulfilment you get from working hard within a family of volunteers. It is incomparable and one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve met some truly inspirational people from all walks of life who have added to my volunteering memories and become very good friends too.
How did your volunteering and All Hearts and Hand’s project impact on the community?
We had a huge impact because we were part of a process that is creating a future for their children. All Hearts and Hands employed locals; masons to help on-site, cooks to make our meals, security guards to keep us safe, laundry ladies to keep our clothes fresh and drivers to get us to site. Working with members of the community helps rebuild confidence, skills and job opportunities.
Our base house was located by one of the schools which brought extra trade to the community as, at the end of the every day, we would go to the local shop to buy ice cream and a well-deserved beer!
Were the local community welcoming of you and your fellow volunteers? What was your experience of the locals?
Being in this small village meant we were immersed in the community and culture. Talking to them and hearing their stories first-hand made the project even more rewarding. At the end of each day, we would see the kids leaving the school and they would run up to talk to us, seeing how happy and excited they are just made my heart sing. I am very proud to have been able to help build a part of their future.
Has it changed you and would you do it again?
Undoubtedly, it is one of the best things I have ever done. I feel so fulfilled and proud to have been involved in such an amazing programme and to be part of the All Hands and Hearts family.
I would say it has changed me as it puts a lot of things into perspective. For example, we often take having access to education for granted but it’s the first step into our future.
It has transformed and benefited me in many ways. It gave me the opportunity to meet these wonderful people and learn new skills – not just construction but team-building and social skills too!
Last but not least, what is your favourite thing about the Philippines?
There is a lot to love about this country; it is beautiful, charming and the weather is usually pretty good too. For me though, it is the people and their culture that make this country so special; they are all so welcoming, happy and kind.
Ariane’s project isn’t over just yet. To continue funding their life-changing work, volunteers set up fundraisers to raise money and awareness for their cause. You can donate to Ariane’s fundraiser here.
About All Hands and Hearts “effectively and efficiently addresses the immediate and long-term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters.” They engage volunteers and local communities and they help families recover faster after natural disasters using their Smart Response strategy.