Explorer of the World Q&A Series – Kakay Oloroso and I AM HIP

What could be better than traveling the world? Well, traveling AND doing good infinitely increases the pleasures and joy of travel. Whether it’s building houses for a community, teaching English, or organizing fund drives, volunteering isn’t just fun, but is also a rewarding, fulfilling, and life-changing experience.

10615640_1470467046544201_2588193995759853385_nPhotograph courtesy of I Am HIP’s Facebook Page

For this installment of Hostelfy.me’s Explorer of the World Series, we are excited to feature 31-year-old Kareen “Kakay” Oloroso, a traveler who has not only journeyed to some of the most exciting places in the world, but through her organization I AM HIP (Helping Islets in the Philippines) has paved the way for people from all over the world to volunteer in the Philippines and share their skills and expertise to communities in need.

2013-11-30 10.06.52Photograph courtesy of Kareen Oloroso

 

Read on to learn more about what drives this inspired—and truly inspiring—traveler, what makes life as a volunteer worthwhile, and what YOU can do to help.

 

Where are you from? What place do you call ‘home’? Questions like “where are you from?” and “where is home?” are in some way confusing for me and for friends. I always say I am from the Philippines. However, at a very young age, I was [already] moving to and living in different places. I have [people I consider as] mom and dads from all-over [the globe]. I can say that my home is the world.

traveller-349963_1280Photograph via Pixabay

How many places have you traveled to? What do you love most about travel? What is your favorite travel destination and why? 

 

I have traveled to 15 countries; most of which have been in Southeast Asia and Europe. I have covered most of the Philippines since I have been—and am still—jumping to and from different islands. I love feeling the breeze on my face while crossing the seas, the sound of the waves, the smiles from children’s faces, the strange yet familiar food, the simplicity that is the islets, the kiss from the sun when you crawl out of your tent in the morning, the silence of the evenings and the blinking lights of the fireflies. My favorite destination is Negros Island. It has been home for almost half my life and most of my good friends are there. It’s so easy to go around the island. I can always find campsites along the coast and up the mountains. It is a one-stop station for adventure. And the food? Simply amazing.

 

Tell us about your organization. What is I Am HIP? And how did the idea come about?

 


HIP or Helping Islets in the Philippines is a private initiative that I started immediately after Typhoon Yolanda.

 

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(Ed’s note: Typhoon Yolanda, also known as ‘Haiyan’, occurred on November 8, 2013 and is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record. The typhoon killed over 6,300 people, left countless people homeless and injured. As of this writing, there are still bodies being found and people considered missing.)

10800156554_c166f9c692_zEffect of Typhoon Yolanda. Photograph by Arlynn Aquino and posted on ECHO Flickr page. Photograph via Flickr Creative Commons. 

 

Before Yolanda, I regularly organized outreach activities with friends and acquaintances. I do it once or twice a year and do them in remote areas (coastal and mountain communities). When the news about Yolanda broke, lots of my friends started calling and asking [me for advice on] what we could do to help. They were willing to share some money. It was a difficult time for me as I myself was in a bit of a shock. I just missed Yolanda by a day. I managed to take the first flight out of Tacloban a day before the typhoon hit land. I initially collected around 600 Euros from friends when I told them I would like to spend Christmas in a community affected by Yolonda. The main purpose was to keep Christmas going inspite of the disaster. With all the focus in Leyte, there was not much news about the other places. A friend of mine told me to check the situation of the local government of Bantayan. With lots of telephone exchanges and validation with the help of the locals and the municipal government, the first site for HIP was identified – the tiny island of Silagon with 300 residents.

1896871_1405679789689594_890337210_nPhotograph via I Am HIP’s Facebook Page

 

From Makati, I organized everything with the help of my friends in Bacolod who are my constant volunteers for all the outreach that I do. And for the slogan, it just came one night when I was brainstorming with another friend. I was so tired and just wrote her, “what do you think about I am HIP = I am Helping Islets in the Philippines? It is a bit kitschy but it is also simple and catchy.” And that was it. I worked on the blog t (www.help-islets.blogspot.com) all night and a designer from Germany volunteered to make the logo. It’s really is so hip, right?!

 

 

How does I am Hip work? Why do you think it stands apart from all the other volunteer organizations out there? HIP gets its funds from friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers. One hundred percent of all the funds go to the communities that we help. As for the overhead, I get it from selling shirts and bags… and my savings. HIP supports the local economy, too, so even in December, even when the markets in Bantayan are not yet back 100%, we managed to get almost 50% of all our needs for the Christmas Party there.

 

1012420_1405685499689023_2024312486_nPhotograph via I Am HIP’s Facebook Page

Volunteering with HIP is not complicated. I do the screening of the volunteers and the community have the final say if they want them. I only send volunteers to the area when there is work to be done.

 

How many volunteers do you usually have? What countries do they usually come from? What’s their age range?  

The biggest group was 20 during the Christmas break but I had volunteers who stayed by themselves on the islets. There are also now homestays where the volunteers live with the foster family, share meals with them and help with some household chores before they head to work. It makes things easier for me and for all and I am really happy that there were no complaints about the volunteers. In my estimate, 50% or more of the volunteers are Germans. Some are interns here in the country, some are doing volunteer work for other organizations, most are my acquaintances and friends. The youngest volunteer would be my 17-year-old nephew (better to start them off early, right?) and the eldest would be a woodwork expert from Germany (50+) who stayed for almost three weeks on Panitugan Islet and helped a lot with the repairs of the elementary school there. The average would be around 25 years old.

16084_1472579972999575_3075805952273209680_nPhotograph via I Am Hip’s Facebook page

Why do you think so many people have participated in your program? 

They believe in volunteerism and that they can do something to uplift the community’s spirit. The mere presence of volunteers in these remote areas sends a message that the people of the community have not been forgotten; having volunteers around reminds them that they are not alone. The volunteers, I believe, don’t feel intimidated since they are welcomed as they are. When I first called for volunteers, I asked them to write me about what they can possibly contribute to the community and they have lots of talents and skills to offer. The community accepted them with open arms—volunteers feel like a part of the family immediately upon setting foot on the islets.

10522154_925214427494388_5120150527368652308_nPhotograph by Yo Pastrana and courtesy of Kareen Oloroso

What areas / regions does I AM HIP cover?  At the moment, we are working with these three islets that belong to Bantayan Town in Cebu Province. We are now on the weaning out phase. We have help repair a daycare center (Silagon Islet), build one (Panitugan Islet) and also help in the repair of the elementary school in Moamboc Islet. The only projects there now are on building up the libraries. So, I am still collecting books.

There is a new site that I am working on at the moment, which is an indigenous people’s community in the south of Palawan.

11581_1405636889693884_1949915571_nPhotograph via I Am HIP’s Facebook page

How does your organization merge travel and volunteer work? Why did you decide to incorporate travel into your organization? 

It is more like the traveling off the beaten track. The experience the volunteers gain from it is extremely different from what other travelers experience. You live with the community, so you also have to deal with the same “limitations” or obstacles that the locals face: no electricity, no water source, and waiting for the tide each day so that you can move to the next islet or the main land. But this is something that can keep you in the present moment: there’s no internet, no phone service, and you also learn to become more patient as you wait for the tide to come. I guess this is one of the best ways to understand how living in an archipelago works and it is something most of our tourists won’t be able to experience. I am not saying, though, that I am necessarily promoting voluntourism. I am just more for volunteerism and the organization welcomes tourists who would like to help. 1524267_1409835839273989_59336933_oPhotograph via I Am HIP’s Facebook Page

 

All my free time and vacation leave from work since Yolanda has been devoted to HIP. However, even before Yolanda hit, I had already been devoting most of my free time to the communities. I don’t see it as work, rather as a homecoming. And I believe it was the same to the people in the barangay and the community who are continuing to assist me even during holidays or weekends.

 

Why do you think travel is so important? Do you think it has the power to change lives? How so?

 

Traveling is one way to be wise. As Jostien Gaarder puts it: “There are two ways of becoming wise. One is to travel out into the world and to see as much as possible of God’s creation. The other is to put down roots in one spot and to study everything that happens there in as much detail as you can. The trouble is that it’s impossible to do both at the same time.” 

 

 

1900080_1405638733027033_1645872382_nPhotograph via I Am HIP’s Facebook page

And I am still on the first way and I still am planning to see more of the world before putting down roots. Growing up, I never have thought that I would be able to explore the Philippines or even other countries. Looking back, it was the best thing that has happened to me. Traveling widened my understanding of the world and of people. And it made me gain so many friends and families all over the world. I always send postcards to my nephews and nieces and they are loving it. Every time I visit them, they would ask me about the things I saw and experience in the place that I’ve been and they would start planning their own trips. These are kids who around 6 to 11 year old, and I can’t wait to bring them on their first camping trip.

 

10448214_925213920827772_8064070367703364811_nPhotograph by Yo Pastrana and courtesy of Kareen Oloroso

Want to know more about Kakay and her organization I Am HIP? Check out the official I AM HIP blog or their Facebook page. Interested in becoming a volunteer? Contact Kakay through the I Am HIP Facebook page or send her an email at kareen.oloroso@gmail.com.

 

We’re scouring the globe in search of intrepid travelers to feature on the Hostelfy.me blog! If you love to travel, have a ton of stories, experiences, and advice to share just send us an email at lola@hostelfy.me with “Traveler Q&A” on the subject line. 

City Profile: Istanbul, Turkey – Part I

Want a chance to be in Europe AND Asia? Well, Turkey is one country where you’ll be able to explore these two continents. Learn more about this fascinating country by reading the first part of Hostelfy.me’s City Profile series!

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Photograph by Moyan Brenn via Flickr Commons

Turkey is culturally, historically, and geographically the cradle of civilization. It has been the fountainhead for the three most powerful societies in history: the Hitite, the Byzantine, and the Ottoman Empire. Situated between the continents of Europe and Asia, the country is a fusion of the East and West. It is considered as the link between cultures, as eight countries borders this transcontinental land: Greece on the west, Iran to the east, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to the northeast, Bulgaria to the Northwest, and Iraq and Syria to the southeast. It is surrounded by the Black Sea to the north, the Aegean Sea to the West, and the Mediterranean Sea to the South.

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The Bosphorus Bridge by night, as seen from the Ortaköy mosque. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto via Wikimedia Commons

Although Ankara is the state’s capital, Istanbul, being the country’s most populous city, has steadily grown to be the financial and cultural center. This developing metropolis, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, is one of Europe’s most exciting and alluring cities. Encompassing 25 districts, this vibrant city stretches towards the European (Thrace) and Asian (Anatolia) side of the Bosphorus Strait. Thus, making it the only city in the world whose home belongs to two continents. The sights, smells, and sounds will intoxicate the senses–with its inspiring architecture, savory selection of street food, and sound of prayer–makes this city a truly physical and spiritual experience.

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Photograph by Moyan Brenn via Flickr Commons

Istanbul is not only caught between two continents, but also by two world views–the traditional and the modern. Despite this, most of the population live in harmony with one another. It is one of the few cities in the Muslim World that embraces both the cosmopolitan way of life and religious conservatism.

The city’s biggest draws? Its plethora of cool events!

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Photograph of the Istanbul Jazz Festival by GriZine via Flickr Commons

The abundance of events in Istanbul lead to an exotic and exciting trip. The Holy Month of Ramadan would have most of the people fasting from sunrise to sunset (at the exact times), therefore be polite and save your feast for sunset when they break their fast. If you really cant help yourself, there are a few restaurants and cafes open for the rare individuals choosing not to participate and for the non-Muslims.  The end of Ramazan, the festival of  Şeker Bayramı, is the feast of all feast. It turns into a massive party full of food, dancing, and mingling. Its also a massive cavity-fest, wherein the most tempting and delicious sweets are distributed. This three-day national holiday is when the city is truly alive with businesses closing and public transport being heartily championed.

Turkey’s most important religious celebration is the Kurban Bayrami. This four-day event is the commemoration of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. The celebration results in the city sky being filled with fireworks and sheep being sacrificed and distributed to the poor. Thus, if you would like to participate in the festivities, early planning is essential, since hotels are often fully booked and public transport tends to be packed like sardines.

Turkey, being predominantly Muslim, follow the lunar year of Hejira which is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian year. Thus, every year Muslim events occur 11 days earlier.

Another interesting times to visit this thriving city is in April for the Istanbul Film Festival, where the brightest stars of Turkey come to walk the red carpet. Other great events include the Conquest of Constantinople ceremony in May, the International Istanbul Music Festival and International Istanbul Jazz Festival in June and July, the International Istanbul Biennal in September and October.