Pumping it up

Our epExpert Brian talks about his experiences during his four months in the Philippines for the empowering people. Network

More than 10.000 kilometres away from home, Brian Finnerty, a passionate tech guru and epExpert from the empowering people. Network is talking about his experiences with the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation (AIDFI) in the Philippines. During his four months abroad, Brian volunteered his IT-skills to support community development. In this interview Brian talks about his experiences and impressions during his time on the Philippines. He talks about, how he participated in the epExpert program and what experiences he made, being out of his comfort zone.

What inspired you to take the leap and become an epExpert?

I work in IT, so I am a big fan of technology – phones that pinpoint your exact location on the earth, key-rings you can call to find your lost keys, cars that can drive themselves to the moon and whatnot. I’m also ashamed that with all these magnificent applications of genius, we still can’t figure out how to alleviate problems like hunger, poverty, etc. Too much time and effort in technology is fixated on making billions of dollars or inventing solutions to problems that don’t exist. In Ireland I looked for a more socially focused job, but most of the positions in Dublin are in industries like banking, advertising, customer service. So, I decided to seek an opportunity elsewhere…

What were you doing before going Experteering?

I was contracting for a large multinational company on a multi-platform application to deliver TV content to end-users across a range of devices. Essentially, it was the type of service that allows you to pause your favourite Kardashian show on your TV at home and un-pause it on your iPad later in the day.

What did you do on your Experteering trip?

I built a public-facing website and an internal database system for the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc. AIDFI is an NGO based in the Philippines that specializes in using simple technological solutions to help alleviate poverty in rural communities. Their flagship product is a mechanical ram-pump, which brings running water to communities without it. You can visit the website at https://www.aidfi.org/.

What was the highlight of your epExpert trip?

The highlight was when the website went live. There was a bit of disconnect for the first few weeks between myself and some of the other staff, while they were busy working on real problems and I was banging away at a laptop in the corner. But when the website went live and they could see the pictures of their work and read the stories about themselves, there was a big swell of enthusiasm for the project.

What was one thing you wish you knew before you went volunteering overseas?

How to ask questions! Filipinos will only answer the exact question that you give them to the best of their knowledge. For example, when I was in the wrong terminal in Manila airport I asked an attendant how to get to terminal 4. He told me there was a shuttle that went from downstairs. He didn’t tell me that downstairs was down several winding stairs or that the shuttle wouldn’t arrive for an hour, minutes before my flight. This sort of miscommunication happened pretty much every time I had to find something out for the first 2 months. Eventually I learned to ask about everything. Afterwards I spent 2 months travelling the country on my own, so I think I managed to crack it.

What advice do you have for people thinking about becoming an epExpert too?

Learn the local language. They speak a regional dialect called Illonggo in Bacolod where I was based, a dialect that is not widely spoken elsewhere in the country. As most people have a basic understanding of English, I thought it wouldn’t be worth my while to spend time learning it. But I found that a lot of people were shy about speaking English to me. As a result it was sometimes difficult to socialise with and get to know people. I think if I spoke even poor Illonggo, people would have been quicker to open up and speak with me. Even if you’re terrible at it, you always have a conversation starter to break the ice with.

What other experiences did you have?

Well, getting out of your comfort zone seems easy at first but it can be rather challenging There are always tough days when you are adapting to a new culture whether it’s no running water, ants in your laptop, or mistakenly ordering a plate of deep-fried chicken feet. Overcoming those challenges is just as rewarding as any part of the trip, and is a great way to get a fresh perspective on life.