Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Philippines
- 1 Communications
- 2 Telephones
- 3 Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
- 4 Housing and Site Location
- 5 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 6 Food and Diet
- 7 Transportation
- 8 Geography and Climate
- 9 Social Activities
- 10 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 11 Personal Safety
- 12 Rewards and Frustrations
Letters, which usually take one to two weeks to arrive, should be sent to:
“Your Name,” PCT or “Your Name,” PCT
U.S. Peace Corps c/o the Peace Corps Office
P.O. Box 7013 6/F PNB Financial Center
Airmail Distribution Center Macapagal Avenue
N.A.I.A. 1300 Pasay City, Philippines 1308
Pasay City, Philippines
A Peace Corps staff member picks up the mail from the airport post office box and sends it to Volunteer sites by special delivery (known in-country as the Peace Corps pouch) or through the Philippine mail system.
When the Peace Corps receives a package for you, it will notify you and ask you whether you want to pick up the package at the office in Manila or have it sent to you by regular Philippine mail. If a package is forwarded, you will be responsible for the cost. After training, many Volunteers choose to have packages and letters mailed directly to their site.
Peace Corps Volunteers use the Philippine postal system to send mail to friends and family. Postage for letters sent within the Philippines is very inexpensive (15 cents per 20 grams). An airmail letter weighing 20 grams or less to the United States costs 26 pesos (51 cents), a letter weighing 21 to 100 grams costs $2.10.
Peace Corps/Philippines advises you not to have packages sent directly to your site by surface mail. Even if the freight charges are prepaid in the United States, there will be numerous charges in the Philippines for customs, brokerage, storage, clearing, etc.
The Philippines has several phone companies, and household telephone service in rural areas is becoming more available. People without phones usually go to a local telephone office and wait while a call is placed. Because this system often ties up all the available lines, it can be very difficult to receive a call in rural areas. You can sometimes arrange to receive calls on someone’s private phone. Volunteers generally find it most convenient to place calls to the United States when they are in Manila.
Cellphones are very common. Volunteers who have brought cellphones find them to be helpful in calling and receiving calls from the United States. Calls home cost about 40 cents per minute. Volunteers sometimes call home collect, but if the call will be for more than a few minutes, we suggest that you call to give the number at which you can be reached and have the person call you back. Direct-dial calls to the Philippines are much cheaper than calls to the United States from the Philippines. Friends and relatives can call their local phone company for information on the best rates. To call Manila directly, precede the seven-digit number with 011 (the long distance code), 63 (the country code for the Philippines), and 2 (the city code for Manila).
Calls to the Peace Corps office after hours are answered by the security guard and relayed to the duty officer. Since it can take hours or even days for a Volunteer to return a call, the duty officer relays calls to Volunteers at their sites only in emergencies. In emergencies, it is best for your family to call Peace Corps/Washington at 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, they can call 202.638.2574.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The Philippines is part of the global community, and many cities now have Internet cafés. Thus, you will have access to e-mail, if not at your site, at least in a neighboring city. Though the Peace Corps discourages you from bringing a personal computer, some Volunteers have brought laptops and have found them useful. If you decide to bring a laptop, please be aware that many assignments are in rural areas with no electricity. Plan for humidity, a fluctuating current, and the risk of theft. Be certain to insure any expensive electronic equipment for loss before you come to the Philippines. *UPDATE* As of Batch 272 (2013), the Peace Corps essentially assumes everyone has a computer, and even provides most training materials on a USB. Trainees find computers indispensable when preparing materials during training. Humidity, etc., is a concern, but electronics stores in the Philippines do sell surge protectors, which can hep with the fluctuating current.
Housing and Site Location
Your housing and site location will depend upon your assignment. For Volunteers assigned to rural areas or to small islands, housing is typically composed of hollow concrete blocks, wood, or bamboo. Education Volunteers are often assigned to towns or cities, where housing is better than in rural areas. Most houses in both rural and urban areas have running water (some with toilets that flush and others with toilets that require flushing with a pail of water) and 24-hour electricity.
Trainees are required to live with a host family during pre-service training, and Volunteers are required to live with host families during their first three months at their assigned site (the families usually are identified by the local agency the Volunteer is assigned to). After this period, you may choose to continue living with your host family or move into your own dwelling. Living with a Filipino family can help you integrate into your community, provide you with a deeper understanding of the local culture, and help you become comfortable with the local language.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency sufficient to live at the level of the people they serve. The allowance is based on an annual survey and is intended to cover food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses such as reading material. Like Peace Corps Volunteer are Philippines that are expected to live at a level commensurate with that of their Filipino co-workers.
Peace Corps/Philippines will open an ATM savings account for you at the Philippine National Bank (PNB) during the initial orientation. This ATM savings account will be used to deposit your living allowance, travel allowance for all training events and Peace Corps reimbursements for items such as medicine, work-related books, and payments to language tutors.
ATMs are available in most major cities, but if you bring credit cards, you need to guard them carefully against theft. As in other countries, credit card scams exist in the Philippines. Some Volunteers choose to bring cash (in small denominations such as $20 bills) for vacation travel, buying gifts, and similar personal expenses.
Food and Diet
Rice is the staple food for most Filipinos who live in the lowlands, while corn, potatoes, and tubers are the staple foods of people who live in inland areas. Rice is often eaten with fish, pork, or chicken. Bread and noodles, mung beans, a variety of vegetables, and bananas and some other fruits are available in most towns. Food is often cooked in lard or coconut oil. Given Filipinos’ dietary preference for fish and meat (and sweets) over vegetables, maintaining a strict vegetarian diet can be difficult. Vegetarians need to spend extra time and energy to ensure that they maintain a healthy diet.
In cities or municipalities, the most common means of transportation are buses, minibuses, “jeepneys” (colorfully decorated converted World War II jeeps), vans, motorized tricycles, and pedicabs, depending upon the distance. Travel among islands occurs via airplanes, ships, or small motorboats. Peace Corps/Philippines requires that Volunteers use public transportation and prohibits them from owning, operating, and riding on a motorcycle.
Geography and Climate
The Philippines has typical tropical weather—hot and humid year-round. Although the weather pattern is fairly complex, it can roughly be divided into a dry season (January to June) and a wet season (July to December). January is usually the coolest month; May, the hottest. Higher elevations in northern Luzon can get cold at night or in windy, cloudy conditions.
Volunteers often are invited to birthday parties, baptisms, weddings, blessings of new buildings or landmarks, and programs to celebrate holidays and important school or local events. Volunteers are encouraged to attend as many of these events as possible in order to get to know the people of their community as well as to learn Filipino customs and traditions.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Despite considerable Western influences, Philippine culture can be conservative, especially outside large cities. Filipinos put a high priority on a neat appearance, and Volunteers, whether urban or rural based, are expected to wear neat and clean clothing, especially when in public or at the office. Sleeveless shirts are rarely acceptable on women; similarly, women generally wear a t-shirt and shorts to swim, even in swimming pools. A poor public appearance can deter Filipinos from getting to know you or accepting you, thereby limiting your effectiveness. Remember that you are a professional, not a backpacker or a world traveler.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Philippine Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in the Philippines. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
In a country that is still predominantly agricultural, daily life revolves more around the seasons, planting, and harvesting than around making money. The result can be a lack of concern for punctuality. For Filipinos, there is always time, while for Westerners, there may never be enough. Because appointments do not necessarily happen as scheduled, patience is one virtue that Volunteers develop while working in the Philippines.
Traditional Filipino kinship customs contribute to a lax attitude toward helping oneself to family members’ personal possessions. Sharing is common and not doing so is considered stingy. If you do not want something of yours to be touched in a Filipino home, you have to put it away in a locked place.
Since the closing of the American military bases in 1991, relations between the United States and the Philippines have improved. Many Filipinos are grateful to Americans for liberating them from Spain and for introducing modern standards of education and democracy. In general, there is a feeling of goodwill toward Americans, especially in the countryside.