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An Irish football fan Volunteers at Preda

July 19, 2016 · 

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An Irish football fan Volunteers at Preda
Richie Casey

I decided to branch out with my trip and did not regret it. Infact it has left me wondering why more in similar situations don’t follow suit. Three weeks in the Philippines to include two weeks of volunteering at Preda- an incredible organisation based in Olongapo (2 hours outside Manila) setup by Fr. Shay Cullen, a member of the Columban Brothers who hails from Glasthule in Dublin but has been a resident in the Philippines since 1969.

Preda offers visiting volunteers plenty to keep them occupied such are the operations of the organisation. A quick review of the website will inform you further but below is a taste of what I managed to fit in during my two weeks. It is a testament to the organisation that they are flexible with volunteers arriving and can cater to their interests and strengths in as far as is practicable:

Numerous days spent in the boys and girls homes where you can help out with lessons, assist with activities and get to know the children (generally aged 7-17). Their backgrounds can shock even the most hardened of observers as they range from lives on the streets/in the slums, in the sex trade, domestic and sexual abuse or from prisons where they have been locked up awaiting trial for petty crimes with dangerous criminals. These are children who crave care and attention but can also provide a huge amount of laughs. I was mocked on a daily basis for showing my trepidation when they announced that a snake had been located in the shrubbery- that served to diminish their initial impression of me as a tough basketball player (I was only known as such due to my height…they couldn’t understand my preference for football).

A couple of trips to assist the Preda Fair Trade team provide coffee plants to and assist the indigenous Aeta farmers in the mountains surrounding Olongapo. This was the bit of manual labour I craved but my stamina was tested to the max by the heat. I battled through in order to impress the incredibly pleasant locals who were eagerly awaiting me to show weakness in order to playfully have a dig and show off their superior workrate. This is despite many of them dwarfing me in stature. To meet these local people and to see how they live their lives was an incredible experience and will make me reconsider my next hissy fit when I can’t get good WiFi or 4G access. Having said that, the trend of selfies has managed to reach these remote parts and curious locals were keen to get photos; I was only too happy to oblige.

An intense, harrowing yet worthwhile prison visit to Manila with the Preda legal team and social workers. To walk alongside the cramped and crowded cells where the children are holed up in shocking conditions is a memory etched in my mind. The Preda slogan of “Childhood for Children” rings through when you consider what these children are dealing with. On this particular visit, we managed to rescue three children and bring them back to be integrated into the children’s homes. I was tasked with keeping the children occupied whilst the legal team worked out the formalities with the prison services. Their initial reluctance to engage diminished quickly as excitement overcame them as they realised they would not be returning to the cells. It strikes you how young they really are and how unnatural it is to see them in conditions more akin to those seen on TV in “Banged up Abroad”.

For the duration of my 2 weeks with Preda, I stayed and generally ate in the more than comfortable volunteer lodgings at the Preda Main Centre which overlooks Subic Bay. The cost of board here is very reasonable and the general atmosphere is great. You get to meet and to know many of the 58 local Filipinos working for Preda in addition to any other volunteers who may be staying at the time. There really is a great vibe around the place. I got to interact, share a drink and go on weekend adventures with other volunteers (of varying lengths of service) from Germany, Netherlands, Japan, Australia and the UK. Whilst not a premier holiday location in itself, high quality surfing, diving and island hopping are all closeby in addition to some nice beaches and terrific rainforest hikes.

On top of the memories and experience of working in an amazing organisation such as Preda, I got to take away a friendship with Fr. Shay who I was in awe of. He was not present for the first few days of my arrival as he was attending a workshop with the Pope in the Vatican to discuss the plight of street children and try to formulate ways in which the Catholic Church could assist. This was an event he had been handpicked to attend along with only a small number of worldwide figures. I felt this was a decent excuse not to be present at my welcome party.

Whilst I call myself a Catholic, I would be on the more passive side in that I am not a regular mass-goer and I am certainly not a Catholic in the strict sense of the word. This did not impact my relationship with Fr Shay who has a huge amount of wisdom, humour and advice to share and he does so in a way that is not preaching. We even stressed through the Ireland France Rugby World Cup match together…after which I promised I would watch every important sports match with a priest. The luck/holy intervention seemed to run out however as we had to console each other after we both witnessed Ireland lose to Argentina.

Having spent a rewarding, activity filled yet still emotionally taxing two weeks with Preda, I said my goodbyes and spent a week split between the luxurious and idyllic beach paradises that are Boracay and Palawan. It was here where I got to lounge on the beach, go diving, snorkelling and kayaking, enjoy some beach party nightlife and essentially chill. If you need any idea of how beautiful these places are just google them!

I left the Philippines to return home refreshed, tanned (ever so slightly) and not to pinched in the wallet but also feeling that I had made a valued contribution to something very important. I feel it is a holiday that has it all and would urge anyone else to follow suit.

Richie Casey

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