As I was approaching the end of my four-year occupational therapy degree in Australia, I began to consider my options post-graduation. My options were to look for work straight away, travel, or fulfil my long-term dream of volunteering abroad – and looking back, I can say I definitely made the right decision. Projects Abroad appealed to me because they offered discipline specific volunteer opportunities that enabled me to use my unique set of occupational therapy (OT) skills to help people who can not afford such specialist services.
My arrival and host family
When I arrived at Cebu Airport, I was greeted with a beautiful necklace and a warm welcome by a Projects Abroad staff member. Due to the delay in my flight, he escorted me to a nearby hotel with beautiful views of Cebu City and a rooftop swimming pool, where I stayed the night. The following day, the Projects Abroad driver drove me three hours north to my host family in San Remigio. I was very fortunate to stay with a lovely family of five. My family truly went above and beyond and treated me like their own daughter. I was also very fortunate to stay with a family who lived in a beautiful location, only a few minutes walk from the beach. My host family also had a fried chicken business and owned a carinderia right next door, which is a small eatery that sells home-cooked food – so I was spoilt for choice when it came to meal times!
My weekends were spent with my host family and I was fortunate that my host siblings were similar in age and got along really well. I was lucky enough to witness the famous Sinulog, which is a huge cultural festival held in Cebu City. On this day I experienced my first taste of lechon, attended a beautiful religious ceremony, sung my heart out a karaoke bar, purchased a white t-shirt and danced down the streets chanting 'Pit Senyor!” whilst a rainbow of coloured paint was thrown at me from all angles.
My host family, their employees, friends and I also enjoyed many other adventures including road trips, visiting Oslob, Kawasana Falls, Aguinid Falls, singing karaoke, BBQs on the beach, attending birthday celebrations and taking a countless number of selfies. I will miss my host family and I am grateful for all they did for me. It’s true what they say – Filipinos are very happy, welcoming people and sure love to laugh! I hope to meet with my host family and friends again one day to enjoy more laughs and create more special memories.
My Occupational Therapy Project
My first day volunteering, I was provided with an induction at the Projects Abroad office in Bogo City. Following this, my wonderful volunteer coordinator gave me a tour around Bogo City and we enjoyed a delicious lunch together at Capitancillo Café. On the second day of volunteering, my volunteer coordinator and I met eight physiotherapy interns at the rehabilitation centre in San Remigio. The rehab centre is a non-government organisation that treats predominately stroke and cerebral palsy patients either in the rehab centre or at the patients’ homes.
I was firstly shocked at how small the centre was and how limited their resources were. Being the first OT in San Remigio, it was my duty to research and implement appropriate OT assessments and interventions, which I must say was a daunting task at first. Projects Abroad generously approved my material requests for ADL (activities of daily living) equipment for the rehab centre and paid for a local carpenter to construct a mirror box, which is a tool used for neurological therapy, and a modified chopping board for a client who has difficulty preparing food with his hemiplegic (weak) arm. Over the three weeks I was there, I administered OT assessments at the rehab centre and at-home visits to determine the patient’s occupational issues. For many of the stroke patients, I used mirror therapy or constraint induced movement therapy to target their affected upper limb. For many of the young children with cerebral palsy, I used play therapy to develop their upper limb and fine motor skills.
Not only was I sad to say goodbye to some of the beautiful patients I had treated but also to my colleagues, who I had the pleasure of working with everyday. I will miss having lunch with them at the carinderia, taking sneaky daytime naps in between seeing clients, going for night swims and singing at the karaoke bar after work hours.