When I left Australia for Iloilo, I was ready for a unique learning opportunity and a taste of a new culture.
I couldn’t have known at that point that it would be the most fun, adventurous, rewarding experience of my 22 years on this earth.
I arrived at Iloilo airport, a little dumbstruck at how I got to be there – I was supposed to be beginning a placement in Kandy, Sri Lanka! It was a hectic month or two of last-minute changes after the unfortunate incidents in Sri Lanka that resulted in my placement being moved to Iloilo instead.
And that’s when I met the first friendly face. A team member from the Work the World house was there at the airport to pick me up, waving a sign for me above his head and wearing a massive grin on his face.
I would soon come to realize that this initial experience was the perfect snapshot of the Filipino culture; warm, welcoming, enthusiastic, positive.
I would come to see this again and again whether I was in the Work the World house, at the hospital, or anywhere in between.
I was met at the house with a warm dinner and given the grand tour.
The house was large, beautiful, and full of memories of students who’d come and gone. Even on that first day, it had the feel of being a special place – of being a home.
Easily the best part of the house was the Work the World team. From the security guard at the gate to the chefs in the kitchen, you were guaranteed a smile and a chat.
If it was a Thursday evening, otherwise known as BBQ and karaoke night, you could also be guaranteed a show of a lifetime by the team members!
If it wasn’t a Thursday evening, there was never a shortage of things to do.
I spent a lot of my time walking along the nearby esplanade, shopping and exploring the local area, and relaxing and hanging out around the house with my new group of friends hailing from all corners of the planet.
I still keep in touch with many of these friends and plan to see them in the future.
The bond I made with these friends was one of the most impactful parts of my journey. It was the most unique and special experience to meet people with similar passions and interests as myself, from Belgium, England, USA, Ireland and who knows where else!
This single experience alone makes it impossible to regret choosing Work the World, or similarly ending up in The Philippines instead of Sri Lanka.
In amongst all this fun, we did in fact spend our weekdays at the local public hospital.
The hospital was understaffed and under-resourced, but you cannot truly appreciate what that means until you’ve experienced it for yourself.
At the hospital, patients were placed wherever there was space – be it the hallway, sharing a bed or a bench with other patients, or in extreme cases, on the floor.
Resources were used sparingly, such that scans and bloodwork were obtainable in only very particular circumstances. What that meant for the doctors was that they were forced to rely so much more on their understanding of medicine and clinical presentations than we have to in our countries.
the Filipino doctors had to be very thorough and confident in their knowledge and abilities.
Where we have become ‘lazy’ in the knowledge that we can send off for a test and have a diagnosis confirmed to guide our treatment, the Filipino doctors had to be very thorough and confident in their knowledge and abilities.
Despite their financial limitations, the quality of care was excellent and delivered with the same Filipino attitude of friendliness, hospitality and positivity that I came to find in every aspect of the Filipino culture.
I had all sorts of unique opportunities at this hospital that I wouldn’t have had in my home country.
From witnessing the aftermath of significant trauma in the emergency department to labour and births in the delivery ward, my experiences were rounded and completely new to me at that stage of my education.
One particularly unique rotation I did was in the ‘Family Medicine’ department. With this team, I was able to go out into the community into a small rural town about 1.5 hours away from the hospital.
There, we educated the local children and families about topics including dengue fever, and how/when to wash your hands. We would then assist at a clinic for patients to have health matters seen to, and finally, do home visits to patients.
To me, this was the most valuable experience of my placement. It was my opportunity to see into real Filipino communities and homes, outside of the major cities. I got to experience a real sense of community, and come to better understand and appreciate the struggles and triumphs of such a beautiful rural town.
It certainly would not do this recount justice if I didn’t mention our weekend adventures around The Philippines.
As a well-seasoned traveller, I do not say this lightly; I have never witnessed such awe-inspiring natural beauty as in The Philippines.
Setting off with a group of friends from the Work the World house, each weekend was a new action-packed (typically water-based) adventure!
We chased waterfalls and went river tubing in Tibiao, Antique. We lazed about on a resort and partied on the beach in Boracay. I saw the striking sights of Isla de Gigantes while island hopping, and kayaked into hidden caves in El Nido, Palawan. I spent the morning swimming with sea turtles and whale sharks, only to spend the afternoon canyoneering and cliff jumping in Cebu. How can you say it was anything other than the ride of a lifetime?
I wouldn’t have changed a single thing
I could never have planned on this placement turning into the greatest adventure of my life. I wouldn’t have changed a single thing and I recommend it to anybody looking for a well-rounded, completely unique and unforgettable experience.