Philippines: Helping After Haiyan

Schoolchildren in the Philippines with a Projects Abroad volunteer.Schoolchildren in the Philippines with a Projects Abroad volunteer.

Volunteering in the Philippines

Projects Abroad Helps Rebuild After Typhoon Haiyan

Sometimes it takes times of tragedy for people to travel to far off places wanting to help. In the Philippines in 2013, it took a typhoon, the largest in recorded history.

Typhoon Haiyan, which made landfall in November, had the strongest winds of any typhoon ever recorded. At its height, the storm’s winds reached 195 mph and devastated a large swath of Southeast Asia including parts of China and Vietnam. The storm claimed the lives of over 6,200 people, and bodies still lie untouched in the Philippines.

Projects Abroad, a global organizer for volunteer placements, estimates that 1779 people are still missing, and nearly 10 million people were left homeless due to the storm. Despite relief efforts, the island nation continues to suffer Haiyan’s wrath and the $5 billion worth of damage that it left behind.

The organization has been sending volunteers to the Philippines since last April, but after the storm hit, the need for relief was crushing and the volunteering requests began flooding in.

“The response has skyrocketed since the typhoon a couple of months ago, a lot of the response has been due to the typhoon and people wanting to help” said Rachel McMillan, a program advisor for Projects Abroad.

The Program

According to McMillan, about 100 to 150 volunteers have traveled to the Philippines so far. Volunteers help with relief efforts and provide basic services like teaching English in public schools, assisting medical staff in hospitals, and helping with childcare in orphanages and day care centers.

“The disaster relief that our volunteers help with involves a lot of physical labor and helping people get back on track,” said McMillan.

Some of the damage from Typhoon HaiyanSome of the damage from Typhoon Haiyan But besides providing hands and strength to help rebuild infrastructure and maintain stability in schools and hospitals, the volunteers are also on the ground for a much simpler purpose.

“A big part of our volunteers’ jobs is to help take their minds off things,” said McMillan, referring to the typhoon survivors. “This is especially important with the children.”

In a video on the organization’s website, three volunteers observed that since volunteers have arrived to aid in disaster relief, attendance rates at local schools is now at 98% of what it once was. Numbers were close to zero in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

About 40 volunteers are on the ground at a time and Project Abroad’s relief efforts are based in Cebu City, which is the second most populous city in the Philippines after Manila.

McMillan said that there are future plans to expand volunteering opportunities to other cities in the Philippines based on demand and that wherever volunteers go the goal is to re-strengthen community spirit that existed before the storm hit.

“A sense of community is very important to us in all of our programs that we organize,” said McMillan. Volunteers help rebuild a school in the Philippines

The Experience

When they’re not restoring schools or helping survivors get the medical care that they need, volunteers have time to enjoy each other’s company and experience the Philippines as a place that has always been worth traveling to, a place where disaster seems far away.

Leisure activities at night allow volunteers time to bond and share and compare experiences with others. And through it all, they’re still getting to take in the Philippines in one of its most vibrant cities.

“Even before the typhoon, the Philippines was a popular destination. It’s a very exotic-sounding place that’s very stable, has a lot of promise, but is still developing,” said McMillan.

Volunteers rebuilding a school in the Philippines

Projects Abroad

The Philippines is Project Abroad’s 28th destination. The organization was founded in 1992 and is one of the largest in the world, with nearly 10,000 volunteers joining projects across the globe each year.

With the Philippines program, the minimum commitment is one month, and volunteers can choose to start anytime and choose how long their service experience lasts. Full time support staff are always on hand to coordinate projects and offer 24-hour backup to the volunteers.

The organization was originally founded as a program for students to travel and work while on break from full-time study. It began in post-USSR Romania, where students had the opportunity to teach conversation English. The organization then fanned out across Eastern Europe and eventually the entire world, with programs in 28 countries as well as over 15 recruitment offices worldwide.

To date, 60,000 volunteers have taken part in volunteer opportunities through Projects Abroad and there are over 600 trained staff at recruitment offices around the world. The average age of volunteers is between 16 and 75, and the fastest growing demographic of volunteers are retirees and those transitioning between careers, according to the organization’s website.

If you would like to volunteer to help with disaster relief in the Philippines with Projects Abroad or learn more, visit or call (888) 839-3535.


Dan Peltier

Dan Peltier is a freelance writer from Billerica, MA who first traveled internationally at the age of 17 to Australia and New Zealand and he hasn't stopped traveling since. He studied abroad in Rome, Italy during his junior year of college and fell in love with the Eternal City along the way. Follow him on Twitter @djpeltier and visit his blog to read more of his work.

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