By Chenee Otarra

Extremely loud, upbeat music. Happy, laughing people. Some dancing here and there. Food shared by all. You would probably think that this was a party, but this is actually how I remember the GK Bayani Challenge in Bantayan Island when we first arrived. Yep, I went there to volunteer, ready to do a lot of challenging manual labour and get exhausted, but I got so much more! It was probably one of the most exciting "work" I've done so far. I could say that in some way, the Bayani Challenge last April 12-14, 2014 is a party!

Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Jolly and Friendly Volunteers
As volunteers pass pieces of broken concrete, rocks, or blocks of cement from one end to another in an assembly line, laughter could be heard from everywhere. People were smiling and sharing stories most of the time. 

I got to make a lot of friends. One of the local men I worked with kept calling me "Kangaroo" since I came from Australia. I also got to bond with some of the guys from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command and volunteers from Ateneo de Manila University. There were also two international volunteers from Australia who came to the Bantayan after they had visited Davao just so they could help out the victims of typhoon Haiyan.

The volunteers and locals would share snacks and lunch. The food was always good and I particularly enjoyed the seafood, such as crabs and wasay-wasay, which the locals cooked. 

2. Lively Music the Whole Day
Filipinos do love their music! While working, everyone was treated to a playlist of happy songs that you couldn't help but dance to.

In fact, the routine to start and end the day was a Solidarity Dance. On my first afternoon, I was wondering why the volunteers all had to gather after the build. I thought they were only going to give us instructions about the next day. To my surprise, we all had to do a Solidarity Dance, which made me nervous because I have two left feet! But as the volunteers started to dance to the happy Bayani Challenge song, I couldn't help but join in as well! 

3. Varied Activities
The Bayani Challenge had several activities for volunteers which included mangrove planting, coastal clean-up, school clean-ups, school painting, and more GK village builds. Sometimes, these activities happened simultaneously so we had a lot of options as to what we could do.

I got to shovel pieces of broken concrete into sacks and pales, which the volunteers then passed on. There was also a time when I was to assist in the framing of the houses by hammering nails into coconut lumber. There were instances when the wood was of very old age, which made the wood exceptionally hard, so the nails would bend even before going in.

I was also able to plant some mangroves. I honestly had no idea how a mangrove seedling looked like or how to plant it, so I was very curious. When we reached the planting site, we were led to the seashore and were given mangrove seedlings, which I had seen for the first time! The locals demonstrated to us how to plant the seedlings and taught us how far the seedlings should be from each other. 

And of course, the Bayani Challenge would not end without a party. On the last day, there was a short closing program ay and an awesome boodle lunch for the volunteers, locals, and the beneficiaries of the new GK houses. 

Tables were set together and banana leaves were used as giant "plates" for the rice and "ulam" prepared for the group. We ate rice and chicken using only our hands. 

Before we knew it, we were exchanging souvenirs with the locals and volunteers and saying our goodbyes. Indeed, it felt like a four-day party! And like a great party, it was very difficult to leave and you couldn't help but wish there was a next one. Good thing Bayani Challenge happens every year! 

By Cheenee Otarra - 2014 Bayani challenge participant for Team Southern Cross


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