For goodness' sake

Volunteering with poverty-stricken children in the Philippines changed Megan Freitas' life.

Giving up all the comforts of home — including readily available hot water— couldn't be easy. But that's exactly what Megan Freitas did.

Leaving her job as a senior staff accountant at Deloitte, Toronto-based Freitas travelled to the Philippines in 2012 as a volunteer with VIDES Canada, a not-for-profit organization with offices in many countries that encourages professionals to volunteer internationally.

"We'd take a van out to the squatter areas — the poor parts of Manila where people basically live in shacks," says 26-year-old Freitas, who lived at the Salesian Sisters convent in Santa Mesa, Manila, during her stay.

Freitas and other volunteers travelled five days a week to six areas in metro Manila, providing children who were living in poverty with the opportunity to receive supplementary education through talks and activities.

Freitas also taught English in the Alternative Learning System, a program initiated by the government for children who have been deprived of schooling due to poverty, abuse, neglect or the need to work.

Spending time with the children was the best part of her experience. "They're just so innocent and full of joy," she says. But one child stood out — Angel Ann. For some reason the four-year-old did not talk, says Freitas, who thinks there may have been a medical problem. "She had no friends and her clothes were always filthy; you [could] tell she was neglected." Freitas spent as much time as possible with her, and the little girl left a lasting impression. She still thinks about Angel Ann daily.

As a result of her experience abroad, Freitas, now a financial analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, is a board member of VIDES Canada, using her skills to advise on best accounting practices.

She also helps run fundraising events to help the organization send money and volunteers abroad. "We had a fundraiser for South Sudan" a few months ago, she says, adding that they raised approximately $1,000 through a multicultural potluck.

In addition to her work at VIDES, Freitas volunteers at St. Bernard's Residence, a retirement home in Toronto. "I love it," she says. "Seeing them every week is more like visiting friends."

When she's not volunteering, she spends her spare time kickboxing. There are three levels at the kickboxing school she attends, "and I'm at level 2. Not sure if I want to go to level 3 just yet. I want to perfect my technique and continue to build my stamina."