“The work required me to travel all over the Philippines and brought me into contact with many different people and organisations.“ 

Gareth Lewis

VSO, 2004

Gareth Lewis

VSO, 2004

In 2003 Gareth Lewis applied for the Youth for Development scheme run by the development charity Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). After passing through their selection process, he was offered a placement lasting from September 2004 to September 2005 with a Non- Governmental Organisation known as SIBAT, based in the Philippines. SIBAT is an organisation involved in, among other things, the design and implementation of community built and operated Renewable Energy schemes, and they acted as his employer during the placement.

At the start of his trip, Gareth has 5 main objectives: to integrate into a foreign work culture; to travel; to get involved in the construction of a renewable energy scheme; to learn a new language; and to have fun.

"My work was very varied, incorporating feasibility studies for Micro Hydro Power schemes, surveys of potable water supplies, helping in the construction of a small wind turbine, and the development of a thorough evaluation of SIBAT’s Renewable Energy activities.

The work required me to travel all over the Philippines to some very remote, mainly mountainous locations, and brought me into contact with many different people and organisations. "

Outside of SIBAT, Gareth was in close contact with other VSO volunteers, most of whom were experienced in their fields and on two year contracts. Their work covered a huge range of disciplines, from agroforestry and small enterprise development to counselling of refugees and women and children in abusive relationships.

He arrived in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, on the 24th of September 2004 and was met by the Programme office of VSO Philippines. The first four weeks of induction began with one week of in-country training during which they were informed of administrative procedures, and discussed the historical background, current security situation, and culture of the Philippines.

“I really enjoyed the way that at SIBAT we were so close to each other. Before SIBAT and my time in the Philippines I had never worked for an organisation where I thought people actually cared about me as a person, rather than just a worker, and it was refreshingly different.”

                                                                    — Gareth Lewis

This training built on previous training on more general development issues given by VSO in the UK. The next week was spent with SIBAT, who introduced him to the staff, conducted their own induction session, and took him to visit a ten-kilowatt SIBAT Micro Hydro Power Scheme in Lon-oy, a small village of around forty households. The final two weeks of in-country training consisted of language training in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, which is spoken in many parts of the Philippines but is one of over forty different officially-recognised languages and dialects.

From that point he moved ahead with his placement: conducting a Pre-feasibility study of four sites for Micro Hydro Power in the Cordillera region in the first few months; carrying out an Evaluation of SIBAT Renewable Energy unit from February to August 2005; Potable water survey in Mindanao in the Spring; and conducting a Pre-feasibility study for Micro Hydro Power in Mindanao for the rest of the Summer.

During his time there, the work culture within SIBAT proved to be very new to Gareth. The Renewable Energy unit was very small, made up of two Mechanical, one Civil, one Electrical and one Agricultural Engineer. Any decisions made were made by consensus, in meetings which would sometimes carry on for days.

“One of the things that I was willing to change about my own working practices was to be more patient with the consensus process. The hierarchical structure I had been previously familiar with allowed decisions to be made quickly, but not only did it fail to take into account people’s personal feelings, but it left little room for new ideas to flourish.”

The motto of VSO is ‘sharing skills, changing lives’ and this exchange of work cultures is at the heart of what volunteering with VSO aims to achieve. Gareth found in trying to understand how different people work and adapting his own work practices to a new environment, He found great enjoyment, reward and experience.

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