Local Student Empowered by IsraAID Experience in Philippines

by Emmy Roday
Special for SNH

This past summer, as a Humanitarian Fellow, I interned with IsraAID -- an international, non-governmental organization that provides emergency relief and long-term development to populations affected by disaster.

In 47 countries, IsraAID has provided millions with the vital support to move from destruction to reconstruction, and eventually, to sustainable living. The IsraAID Humanitarian Fellowship offers college students an unparalleled summer field-work experience in one of IsraAID’s international projects. These projects range from supporting Syrian refugees in Greece, to helping victims of Hurricane Maria in Dominica, or working on water sanitation and hygiene programs in Puerto Rico.

As a fellow, I worked with IsraAID Philippines. During my first days, I felt the immense reality of the next two months set in--I would be one of the few Westerners in a small city in the middle of the Philippines. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to navigate the streets of revving motorcycles, connect withthe local community, or create a meaningful impact through IsraAID’s projects. But all it took was one week for that fear to dissipate. I discovered that my summer would be colored by two worlds at once. I would be deeply immersing myself in the Filipino culture and traditions, while also gaining a first-hand exposure to NGO work.

The local IsraAID staff members were my steadfast guides. Grace, Leda, Emon, and Maricris taught me the functions of log frames and basic budgetary principles, alongside lively meals of home-cooked chicken adobo and rice.

Every day we grew closer, unraveling stories of our families and hometowns. In the office, we laughed constantly, snacked on “Happy Nuts,” and sang our favorite English and Tagalog songs. When my American friends asked about my summer, I frequently responded that my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. As an IsraAID team we were also united by our shared mission. Together, we worked on the Anti-Human Trafficking and Gender-Based Violence awareness campaign, which we administered in public secondary schools. We created interactive stations aimed at teaching students to appropriately evaluate and respond to situations of Human Trafficking and Gender-Based Violence, by identifying threats and referring to available support systems.

My team trusted me to implement my own ideas too. To supplement this educational programming, I created and led reflection poetry workshops for 200 students. As a creative writer and editor, I crafted an Erasure Poetry prompt which successfully transcended language differences. This expressive outlet enabled the students to recognize their voice and agency in the face of violence and abuse in their daily lives. Reading their poems, I was floored. Through images of violence and powerful declarations of hope and gratitude, the students’ writing demonstrated a deep understanding of our educational activities.

I also participated in kickstarting ‘HoneyAID,’ one of IsraAID’s worldwide programs, in the Philippines. By teaching women to manage bees, produce honey, and market their products, HoneyAID is designed to economically empower low-income women. This summer, our IsraAID Philippines team conducted intensive beekeeping training for a cooperative of 20 women. To supplement the beekeeping training, I designed and facilitated women’s empowerment workshops. I learned to adapt my concept of Western feminism to the realities of rural Filipino life.

With the help of my co-worker, Grace, I led a combination of activities that allowed the women to reflect on their daily lives as low-income, working mothers. We later engaged in discussions about the application and relevance of feminist principles. Throughout the workshop, I was relieved to hear sighs and laughter of recognition. Together, the women expressed their excitement in becoming beekeepers as a means of gaining more financial and social autonomy.

Now back in America, I am still empowered by the way IsraAID encouraged me to harness what I love and create impacts I could never imagine. I will always remember my exchanges with the beekeeping women and the young student who told me he’d like to be a poet, just like me, when he’s older. Every day, I continue to watch how the IsraAID Humanitarian Fellowship enriches my life. I frequently call upon images of rice fields, pineapple, and palm trees as I walk through my own campus in rural Ohio. And often, I can still hear my Filipino friends laughing.

Apply Now To Become An IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow!
GO TO: israaid.org/projects/usa/israaid-humanitarian-fellows
APPLICATION DEADLINE: JAN. 31