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A french employee on a humanitarian mission with the Foundation

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it” Gandhi.

Maud Descamps, Accor employee, went to Manila in the NGO Virlanie for 5 months of humanitarian mission.

“When you have a love of travelling, a passion for people and a desire to serve others for a while, you are ready for international volunteering. But when you are in a position in a large company, and you have certain “responsibilities”, career ambitions and also rent to pay, it is difficult for you to consider dropping everything, even temporarily, for this precarious dream.

Unless you obtain your employer’s approval to go on international volunteer leave with a foreign NGO for 1 to 6 months!

I therefore solicited the Accor Foundation which has 83 projects in 28 different countries. By steering me to the NGO Virlanie which is based in Manila in the Philippines, it allowed me to achieve this personal objective which was to develop another relationship with time and people.

On paper, I was informed of the mission and the life that was waiting for me in Manila; but on the paper (or rather e-mail) that you receive when you’re in France, comfortably installed in your easy life, it doesn’t sound like anything truly distressing. And yet from the very first days, I asked myself questions about the meaning of this decision that I’d made from my cosy Parisian cocoon and was vaguely anxious that I “wouldn’t succeed”.

Since adaptation is the surest ally, I understood that I needed to allot plenty of time to it, and this time ended up soothing my agonies and let me experience things beyond my expectations. For nearly 5 months, I worked in one of Virlanie’s homes, the “mother and child” home, organising three half-days a week of cooking classes, Scrabble games and massage/relaxation workshops. One afternoon a week, I turned the playroom into a massage “parlour” to make it a little bubble of well-being where the moms each got to learn massage basics and enjoy a moment of rest without their children. But to my great surprise, what delighted the moms the most were the Scrabble games, genuine intellectual exercises that created ties and were sources of linguistic and mental progress. Little by little, outside of the planned Scrabble-playing times, the moms and the home’s staff members started playing – all by themselves – endless games, thereby improving their English vocabulary and temporarily leaving behind their exclusive roles as breastfeeding moms and housewives.

The rest of my time was divided between mornings at the RAC (the local prison) leading manual activities for detained children and time in the Virlanie office in the sponsorship-communication team executing tasks as diverse as: creating a solid photo library, conducting interviews to be posted on the website and especially visiting new sponsors. With my varied and ideal schedule, I was able to be at the forefront of the NGO’s issues and its field realities.

In the end, I think that the “humanitarian” engagement remains a paradoxically generous experience. So little self-giving for so much learning and personal growth: the pleasure of discovery, the value of encounters, exchanges with men, women and children who are often so different, and yet so close in their humanity. A smile, a conversation, a silence…the joy of being there. Feeling, listening, learning. And especially the delightful sensation of feeling useful and at the same time fulfilled.”