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 Neal in Philippines

My first 2 months in Iloilo, Philippines, have been amazing. I really feel I have settled into my community and work placement and have enjoyed every day since arriving in this alien place. I feel so lucky to be able to spend a year in this beautiful but very hot country and it still feels like I'm dreaming.

I have experienced so much Filipino culture at this point it is hard to take it all in and I still feel I am in my honeymoon phase... but that could last a year, fingers crossed. From my daily commute in a jeepney scrunched up with my knees by my shoulders, socialising with teachers and the Community of Reconciliation (who I live with) to singing my heart out at karaoke I'm trying to say YES! to everything.

One of my many favourite moments so far was meeting the other AMA volunteers during their mid-year evaluation week. We travelled to Antique from all over the Philippines to share our experiences so far and get to know each other better. This was my first time meeting the majority of the volunteers who had already spent time together and although I was a bit nervous before arriving, I felt very welcomed and relaxed with them. It was nice to meet 18 other young volunteers from Belgium, Mexico, America and the Philippines who are going through exactly the same experience as me and share the same feelings and thoughts but most importantly I was able to make amazing friends I can visit and talk to throughout the year and beyond.

My proudest moment of this journey so far is being able to watch the progress of my 8 year old, low functioning autistic student at Kids Nook Integrated School. He is the only student I tutor without the assistance of any other teacher and is one of, if not the most challenging child in the school which makes even the slightest improvement like sitting down on a chair for more than 30 seconds even more rewarding for me. Even today at work he blew bubbles for the first time ever which might not seem major for a child but controlling his breath and mouth shape and improving his oral motor skills is the start of a long, long road to speech.

Spending the last 2 months working at Kids Nook Integrated school has been eye opening and extremely rewarding for me. Although some days I'm so exhausted I fall asleep at lunchtime or in the jeep on the way home, I enjoy every minute at work and hope to carry that on over the next 8 months.