In 2014-2015, I was one of the 35 volunteers of JVP Batch 35, sent to Bukidnon to live with the Sumilao Farmers as a Community Organizer. Now this is one of my favorite topics and people close to me know that whenever I talk about JVP, the story never ends! This is only because it was one of the most colorful years of my life – ups and downs counted just the same.
You may have some questions on what this is all about. You may just be curious or you may also have a “calling” that makes you want to do the same. In any case, I will try to share what I can about the complex idea of volunteerism with you. It’s not for everybody, but if you feel a deep sense of “going where there is greater need” then JVP might just be the next adventure for you :)
JVP stands for Jesuit Volunteers Philippines. It is a foundation, mainly based in Ateneo campuses (Manila, Davao, Naga, CDO, and Zamboanga Local Chapters) that partners with institutions that request for volunteers. These institutions may be public/private schools, cooperatives, NGOs, and parishes. There are 3 main sectors of assignments: education, socio-economic, and socio-pastoral.
Anyone can be a volunteer!:) as long as you meet the simple requirements of being a college graduate, single (i.e. not married), under the age of 35, and with a strong spirit (hehe) you are already qualified! Depending on the needs of the organizations and the applicants’ credentials, JVP will match institutions with volunteers. Some go individually while some go in pairs.
All over the country! There’s a joke that JVP stands for “just visiting the Philippines” because of all the adventures volunteers get to go on. After a while, the country seemed much smaller knowing my batchmates were in different locations at the same time. Some are assigned to far flung areas that have very limited signal and resources, while some are assigned to the busy streets of major cities (e.g. Metro Manila). But of course, a volunteer is assigned to an area that is different from his/her origin. I was assigned to Sumilao, Bukidnon – the most beautiful place ever.
The JVP Volunteer Program starts around May and ends around April, so it is around one year all in all, including the Orientation Seminar and Year End Seminar. The actual assignment in the area is 10 months.
This is the hardest question to answer, because each volunteer has different tasks, routines, and experiences from the other. For me at least, I assisted in the farming cooperative’s activities. Not to worry if you feel you’re not equipped enough to facilitate (or lead discussions, teach, or make lesson plans – that’s what the Orientation and Mid-Year Seminar is for). Aside from the deliverables that I needed to complete together with the cooperative, I did everything they did. (Now this is the fun part!) I got to plant, harvest corn and cassava, ride tractors, eat farm rat, make beaded bracelets, learn Cebuano/Higaonon (Binukid), participate in rituals, eat in fiestas, soil paint, and so much more!! This of course includes doing my business in latrines and experiencing water shortages when the pipes are busted :) I lived with a foster family and it was the funnest! Bukidnon was awesome, especially because of all the mountain ranges (Sumilao is actually 600 MASL) and the fact that there are 7 main indigenous tribes in the province: Bukidnon, Higaonon, Talaandig, Matigsalug, Tigwahanon, Manobo, and Umayamnon.
I think there are 2 main reasons that led to my decision to volunteer.
1. I have always loved nature and the outdoors. During climbs when we needed to pass through cottages and villages, I had always wondered what it felt like to live up a mountain. Roughing it up never bothered me, in fact I think I even like it better than being clean hehe. As a city girl with no province, it ironically made more sense to me to live with nature, where life is simpler and you can find God in all things. I had been putting it off for a few years and one day, I finally went ahead and applied.
2. I had a calling for it. I have always loved the less fortunate and I have always had a strong sense of responsibility for our country. I wanted to immerse myself in something different. I must admit that at that time I had a conflict within myself that nothing could solve – no matter how many mountains I climbed or reefs I dived, there had always been an “empty space.” During those times, I would wake up early everyday to hear mass before going to work. At the end of every prayer, the answer was clear. I was to drop everything and dedicate my life to God.
Since this journey, my life had changed forever. “JVPs: ruined for life.” I wear my JVP cross everyday to literally hold on to; to feel like I have God holding my hand through everything I experience. For strength, for faith, for love. The JVP journey was far from easy; in fact, I think it was the hardest thing I ever had to go through in my life (I even won the Maalaala Mo Kaya award in our batch for crying so much), but it was the most worthwhile. Not only was I able to know myself better and the people I wanted to help the most, I was able to know Jesus Christ – how he suffered, how he forgave, how he had compassion, and how he loved.
Through that year, I had Fr. James Martin’s A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and St. Ignatius to guide me through my journey. His prayer got me in tears each moment it started playing in my iTunes (yes these were the only kinds of songs I had in my playlist):
Panginoon, turuan Mo ako maging bukas-palad
Turuan Mo akong maglingkod sa Iyo
Na magbigay nang ayon sa nararapat
Na walang hinihintay mula sa ‘Yo
Nang makibakang di inaalintana
Mga hirap na dinaranas
Sa tuwina’y magsumikap na hindi humahanap
Ng kapalit na kaginhawaan
Na ‘di naghihintay kundi ang aking mabatid
Na ang loob Mo’y siyang sinusundan
Why did I go to JVP? “To go where there is greater need.” Because it grounds and centers you. Because it puts things into perspective. Because it made sense. Because the world needs more people in God’s team. Because of love. Because there is no other life worth living than a life of service.
Kim Panuncialman ( JVP Batch 35 assigned in Sumilao, Bukidnon, Yr.2014-2015 ).