Volunteerism as a life-changing experience | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Opening up to new experiences outside the classroom brings exciting possibilities and insights.

That’s what student volunteers at the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) in Davao say after spending time at the 8.4- hectare facility at the foothills of Mt. Apo where the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) is located. The volunteers participate in reforestation efforts, educational tours and campaigns, and help spread the word on protecting the 400 remaining pairs of eagles in the country.

“PEF engages the students through volunteerism in a variety of activities which include animal enrichment preparation, animal behavior observation, and even maintenance and office tasks,” says Carla Salvacion, PEF conservation education program team leader who also leads the student volunteer program. “Through this, we hope to produce ambassadors and advocates from their generation and empower them to become stewards of the environment through conservation work while learning about Philippine biodiversity along the way.”


It starts in a number of ways. For Danna Ian Alcantara, 18, it was curiosity.

“My love of animals and the environment sparked my interest in volunteering. Ever since I was young, I was fascinated by how fish swim or birds fly,” says the education major from the University of Southeastern Philippines (USP). “I’ve always had a heart for the environment but I have no idea where to start.”

Danna Ian Alcantara

Alcantara began volunteering last year. “It was a fun-filled Sunday afternoon. My experience taught me that this shouldn’t become a one-time thing, so I returned the next week. And the next. And the next.”

Today, he frequently volunteers at the PEF Center (home to over 30 eagles) or in its reforestation project in a different site.

“I guide visitors or run small errands when at the center. When on the field, I coordinate with new volunteers who plant seedlings,” he says.

Days are never boring because he always learns something new.

“The most valuable lesson I learned is that no matter how big the problem is, if you start now and you have the heart for duty and service, then you can create ripples of change no matter how young or old you are,” he says.

Coexistence and harmony

Francis Lee Bryan Calamba, 21, helps with paperwork, touring the guests at the center and assisting in PEF events.

Francis Lee Bryan Calamba

The geology major from USP says volunteering gives him a deeper understanding of the environment and its relevance to his studies. “Volunteering taught me the importance of coexistence and the many ways to live in harmony with everything around us—that our progress as a society shouldn’t always have to cost the planet. I am reminded of this every time I experience the “Raptors in Flight” where I get to see the eagles fly (on cue!) and be mesmerized by their grace.”

It requires effort to be a volunteer, but smart students like Calamba know how to keep it together.

“Commuting may be costly for a student, but I think it’s a small price to pay knowing that you can make a difference. That’s why I try to catch the PEF carpool whenever possible. I like that I’m in the company of students and people who believe that volunteering is an experience that can help shape character and one’s view on life,” he points out.

Life lessons

Philippine Science High School student Ma. Patricia Marielle Moralde, 17, recounts her experience a little differently. She remembers her visits to PEC as a habit with her dad. Wanting to spend more time with animals, she tried volunteering when she was 12. It didn’t work, so she tried again when she turned 16.

It changed her life.

Her tasks included tour guiding, leading orientations, feeding birds and facilitating film-viewing sessions.

“My fond memory of volunteering happened when I was guiding a family from Ecuador on a tour in 2018. They were so awed by the Philippine eagles and were so engaging. I absolutely enjoyed every second of it. They took the time to listen, and they told me how much they appreciated the hard work the center has done for the birds and other animals. I almost cried,” she recalls.

Ma. Patricia Marielle Moralde

Moralde treasures connecting to people through love for the environment. “It’s rare for me to meet people who completely understand the reason I fell in love with wildlife. I still remember their faces, and I hope to see them again so I can thank them for the kind words that gave me so much hope,” she says.

The life lesson she learned from volunteering? There is hard work and sacrifice needed to fight for the conservation and the environment.

She adds: “Everyone here has a passion for wildlife and the eagles we desperately try to protect. All the staff and the other volunteers here don’t always get the recognition they deserve, so this is my chance to give them a shout-out. They are awesome people and they inspire me so, so much.”


The volunteers have had their share of challenges.

“Unfortunately, it is difficult for many volunteers to stay consistent,” says Moralde. “Distance, transportation, budget, conflicting schedules are some of the challenges we encounter. But we have to push our way through on our own regardless of any obstacle. And, honestly, it’s all worth it. If you have passion, drive and determination to protect and study wildlife, you are welcome to volunteer anytime and in any way you wish to do it.”

Volunteering helped her become a better person. “It gave me a sense of purpose. It kept me motivated in life. It gave me the opportunity and the freedom to explore myself and the environment. Philippine biodiversity is astounding, even at surface level. Our country is teeming with life. Unfortunately, all of it is under threat of permanent loss. As Filipinos, we have to protect our forests—it is our culture, our identity and our home.” —CONTRIBUTED

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.