Our life trajectories are shaped by many internal and external factors, working for Make A Difference (MAD) Travel here in the Philippines has been an experience that will impact my life forever.
MAD Travel is a social tourism company that works for and with marginalised and indigenous communities; this is done by creating meaningful travel experiences, such as the one I talk about below.
MAD company culture can be described using Norah’s three ps, yes I am now a theorist, of people, performance and play. We value each other, getting things done and having fun while doing it. In regards to performance, we all have an extremely profound reason as to why we do what we do because our performance will always lead back to impacting our communities.
When my outcomes aren’t just about capital gain but they have a name, a family, a story, it is a disservice to myself and to the communities to give any less than my absolute best.
This sentiment is held by every employee at MAD and creates a powerful level of unison. On any given working day this unity could be co-working with a group of people in our shared space, going out for lunch and then making music videos together afterwards.
In this context, my manager is also my friend and fellow foodie, as well as my dance-battle-extraordinaire opponent. I come from a highly collectivist culture and therefore feel as though I have found my fit both professionally and personally.
The beauty of social tourism is that it shifts the focus of travel away from immersion in landscapes towards immersion in people and culture.
In my experience, the most stunning aspect of the Filipino culture is that it is relationally and emotionally oriented – something that resonates deeply with my own values. This permeates every aspect of life here from the way the language is constructed to the way advertising is done and the way meals are created at restaurants. This in turn has been the most impactful aspect of my internship here in the Philippines.
My favourite example of this relational and emotional inclination was when a friend of mine from New Zealand came to visit and we met at Starbucks where I had gotten acquainted with the baristas, Mix and Marvin.
I had told them to surprise me with whatever caffeinated beverage they saw fit for my personality, while engaging in a short yet meaningful conversation about what makes them them.
My friend had arrived, and as I hugged her I cried, she cried, her mom cried, and I looked up to see Mix and Marvin crying too. It was a beautiful reunion as well as the perfect display of what Filipino culture and people are like. For many Filipino’s, their friendship is readily given and their hospitality knows no bounds; it is a privilege to be on the receiving end of such kindness.
In the space of three months, I have made life-long friends, danced to country music in the middle of the mountain provinces, sung Taylor Swift songs in the back of a jeepney, rock climbed, got lost in malls, swum, hiked the rice terraces, laughed and cried.
I have been heart broken at the reality of my privilege, and have been reminded by those who don’t have it that I can use it to improve the lives others.
Of the many learnings from this internship, one of my key takeaways is the importance of giving the unknown a shot. When was the last time you did something for the first time?
I used to cringe at cliches but a cliche is an overused term for a reason; it’s a phrase that holds some degree of truth. I’ve found that the ambiguity provides more certainty about what I value and am capable of than if I were to have remained comfortable.
I have grown in leaps and bounds in such a short space of time, through venturing into the unknown I trust that you can too.
Menorah's internship was supported by Māori and Pasifika internship programme TupuToa and funding from the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
This internship was arranged by Rafael Dionisio, co-founder of Philippines travel company Make A Difference (MAD) Travel, who visited New Zealand through the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders’ Initiative in 2018.