A first timer's visit to the Philippines
Hello! I’m Joni, the Digital Marketing Coordinator here at Good Return. Usually, I get to edit photos and tell stories that are passed on to me from our program team – the hard-working and talented folks who travel to our partner countries to help in the coordination of Good Return’s programs (microfinance, education, sustainable energy, and our newest program, social performance management). This time though, I’m lucky enough to be in the field myself!
I am currently in the Philippines, based in Iloilo City on Panay Island. It’s approximately in the middle of the Philippines, and is off of the beaten track for tourists. (Boracay, the most popular tourist destination, is actually off the very northern tip of Panay Island.) Iloilo City is where our partner SECDEP is based.
Iloilo City is home to about a million people, and the island itself hosts about 4 million people. (And has the same square kilometre-age as Sydney.) It doesn’t feel crowded, though. Most homes are spread out in small villages in agricultural areas. Each village is really only a few minutes apart, but with so much agriculture in between that it doesn’t feel like people are living on top of each other.
From what I’ve experienced so far, Filipinos are friendly and helpful (especially towards foreigners) and I’ve felt very safe so far. A great feature of travelling here is that pretty much everyone speaks English to some degree – most people fluently. Ilonggo and Tagalog are the other major languages spoken, and much of the time it seems like the three are spoken together all at once!
It has been quite the experience so far, and you can bet that I’ll be writing about it more in detail! Meeting Good Return and SECDEP’s borrowers has been wonderful – I’ve even met a few women who we’ve written case studies on. (Mary Ann Arevalo, for example, whose story is on our home page at the moment! She was thrilled to see her story in our annual report as well.)
We are also very lucky to be here for the Dinagyang festival, which is this weekend, Jan 26-27. The whole city will be packed with parades, dancing, a food festival, and fireworks! People come from all over to be a part of the festivities; most hotels will be booked out. I can’t wait for the fun, and for all the food!
We had a small taste of the fun on our first day in the Philippines – we took a bus up to Kalibo, and joined in the Ati-Atihan festival. Each tribe dressed in costume and danced their way through the crowded main streets, with onlookers wearing headdresses and joining in the parade whenever they felt like it. The noise was tremendous – each tribe had drummers and other musicians, and it felt like your heart beat was keeping double time with them!
I will leave you with a few of my favourite photos so far – there are many more to come!