We had the pleasure of catching up with Will Slater, the Chief Prospector of Our Connection – a company working to help under-privileged communities in the Philippines by facilitating young people and businesses to pledge their time and skills to help build villages in the area.
If your business is looking to do something different and challenging, speak to Flight Centre today about our Corporate Travel experiences and our partnership with Our Connection. Scroll down for contact details.
Be the change! Read our interview below with Will to hear more about Our Connection in the Philippines...
When and why did you decide to start up Our Connection? (Had you and the team been on a trip? If so, where did you go?)
Our Connection started when one of the founding members, Daniel Kuzeff, set out on a fundraising campaign in 2011. He donated his entire income for 12 months and also ran multiple events including a walk from Melbourne to Albury, which gathered a number of sponsors and participants. Following this effort, Daniel set out to build an entire village in the small community known as Malbago, located on Bantayan Island just off the northern tip of Cebu. After a number of trips to the Philippines and Indonesia, we all felt there was a huge opportunity to bring young people over to the village and have a massive impact on their lives – something we all wish we had done during our high school years. In 2013, the Australian Schools Program was created and we have been working ever since to create a world-class educational experience.
The program is currently geared towards students and teachers? But I hear you have plans for expanding to corporate excursions too?
We currently have one program (Australian Schools Program) which is a personal development immersion geared towards young Australian teenagers. We work closely with High Schools to incorporate our program into their curriculum with fundraising booklets contributing toward their Year 11 VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) assessments. Prior to travelling, students raise $4000, which builds an entire home in the village. Students then assist in the construction of this home whilst on the trip and meet the beneficiaries that will eventually move into the home.
We are in the process of developing a corporate immersion to assist in the development of an educational center in the local community of Malbago. We will be taking executive and management groups on a team building trip to help build the center and also increase productivity and personal growth within their workplace. We are working closely with Heather Yelland, Director of Yelland Enterprises, who currently runs high end business coaching. She is Australia’s leading female personal development coach and we look forward to the exciting program that will be available in the near future.
So far, what kinds of groups have you had go along?
We are very excited for our very first Australian Schools Program, which is commencing on 16 January 2015. We have been working with Catholic College Bendigo for the past 12 months to pilot the immersion. There are 13 students travelling who are jumping out of their skin to get over there.
Prior to this trip we took two teachers from Catholic College Bendigo on a risk analysis trip in July 2014 and a volunteer group in June 2014. The team has been on a number of operational trips over the last few years and is almost like family in the local area.
Who can volunteer?
Over the next 12 months we plan to have three programs up and running where organised volunteer groups will be able to travel. The Australian Schools Program, Creative Classrooms (corporate immersion) and the Our Connection Skill Share. The Skill Share has been developed to bring together facilitators from youth camps around the world and create an opportunity to up-skill and share best practice. Organisations such as Green Supercamp and Captains Camp have shown interest in the first trip, which will be conducted in May 2015.
We also have opportunities for volunteers to join the team and travel on every one of our trips as a crewmember. As a crewmember you are able to join in on the activities of the immersion however also have the extra responsibility of assisting facilitators and ensuring the trip goes to plan. This is a very exciting opportunity for other people to get involved and contribute to the overall success of the immersion.
How long do the trips last for?
Depending on the program most trips last from 8-10 days. We aim to have a minimum of eight days on the ground to ensure you fully immerse within the culture and feel like you are living with the community, not just visiting as a tourist.
What kind of accommodation and meals are provided? (i.e. do the participants eat local food and live the way the villagers do?)
We work very closely with an organization called ANCOP who are responsible for village construction and management. Within the village we are building for local beneficiaries there is also an accommodation centre that has been purposely built for our programs. These homes are very similar in structure to the homes that local families live in however have a few westernised features such as air-conditioning, lockers and showers. Whilst on the program, participants enjoy local cuisine, which is prepared daily by beneficiaries. This creates employment opportunities for the locals and allows participants to live and eat the same way they do.
What sort of jobs do the volunteers do while on the trip? (Building etc.)
Trips are broken into three components: village activities, personal development workshops and cultural activities.
The village activities consist of clearing land, painting, digging trenches, building piggeries, laying foundations for homes and assisting beneficiaries in the creation of social enterprises. Participants will also meet the family that will be moving into the home they have funded.
Can you tell us about any unique stories or experiences you have had?
My personal story is from my very first visit to a developing country. I visited Jakarta, Indonesia and met with a local family who run Gerakan Kepdulian (GK), which is a holistic development model that aims to eradicate poverty by rebuilding poor communities into sustainable ones.
They took me around to visit a few of the villages they were developing. At this stage of my life I was working in a bank and knew there was something greater out there for me but didn’t know what it was. I visited a small community known as Mustika Sari, which was currently in the socialisation stage. This is where GK works with community leaders and local families to transform the mindset to ensure sustainability once the village has been rebuilt.
The village is located on a river bank, as most of them are because this is government land which means they don’t pay rent however it is illegal to live there so the families risk the chance of being evacuated at any time. Whilst walking through it was obvious that flash flooding had been through only a few months prior and had devastated the community. Entire homes had been washed away as well as livestock and farming patches, which were the only source of income for some families. The only homes that remained had been badly damaged and sometimes up to 10 people were living in the same room no bigger than a standard bathroom.
As we walked through I noticed a little girl sitting over near the water on her own. When I got closer I realised this little girl was only two or three years old and was sitting in the mud playing with debris that had been washed up. I took out my phone to record her, as I had never seen anything like this before. She sat there for a while staring down at her hands which were shoveling mud with a dirty plastic spoon into a cup. After a few moments she looked up at me, dirt all over her face and clothes then gave me a huge smile and giggled uncontrollably. Her bright white teeth shone through the muddy backdrop and my heart just sank. It was one of the happiest and saddest moments of my life. It truly made me question what my life was all about as I had a young girl sitting in front of me with absolutely nothing and was as happy as could be. From that moment on I decided to reconsider what success and happiness meant and design a life that I wanted to live.
Do the volunteers have the opportunity to keep in touch with the people in the villages they meet? (Pen pals etc)
Every participant has the opportunity to keep in touch with beneficiaries either through letters or Facebook. Surprisingly, just about all of the kids on the island have a mobile phone and Facebook and love to keep in touch with their Aussie mates.
We have also developed partnerships with the local university and you can fund a scholarship for as little as $50 a month. You keep in touch with the scholar regularly to see how they are travelling with their studies and also have the opportunity to travel back and attend their graduation. This provides educational opportunities to the young people in the area, which we believe is the key to ending poverty.
What can someone expect to learn and experience on a trip with Our Connection?
Participants will learn a range of different things both about themselves and the world around them. We facilitate the personal growth and allow them to discover more of who they are and what drives them. The six key outcomes that participants will learn on one of our programs are:
- Awareness – Empowering them to be ‘awake’ and aware of endless possibilities they are capable of achieving. We show them how to be ‘present’ and make the most of every opportunity.
- Leadership – We call it ‘SO what’, meaning leadership of self and leadership of others. This includes techniques to identify your own emotions and how you are feeling about yourself. We also teach the techniques you can use to help influence others in a positive way.
- Trust – We teach the YBU of trust. The ability to trust yourself, trust your buddy and trust the universe.
- Values – We help participants discover their top values that drive every decision they make.
- Confidence – We want participants to leave our camp with the confidence to believe anything is possible and start breaking down barriers that have held them back up until now.
- Action – Although learning all these cool new things about yourself is great, they aren’t much good if you don’t put them into action. We help participants put into place clear steps that will help them achieve their goals and use daily reminders to keep them focused.
Although personal growth is a huge focus of the program, participants will also get a greater cultural understanding and new perspectives on their own life after visiting such an incredible community.
What companies are you looking to have come on board for adult/corporate trips in the future?
We are looking for companies that are dedicated to their employee’s personal growth. We also want to work with companies that are passionate about social justice and have a genuine interest in helping others.
What does a typical day in the life of an Our Connection volunteer look like?
A typical day on one of Our Connection’s trips looks a bit like this:
7:00am – Wake up
7:30am – Morning game
8:00am – Breakfast
9:00am – Village activities
11:30am – Lunch & siesta
1:30pm – Personal development workshop
2:30pm – Cultural activities
5:30pm – Dinner
6:30pm – Free time
7:30pm – Personal development workshop
9:30pm – Daily debrief, journaling, sharing
10:00pm – Wrap up, lights out
Our Connection is a non-for-profit organisation. Flight Centre is a partner of Our Connection, assisting with flights, on ground transport and accommodation for Our Connection volunteers. If your organisation is interested in finding out more, please contact Andrew Jones at Flight Centre Group Travel (03 9032 2777) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.