Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mission: Why I Heart the Philippines

GK Expo 2006Dearest friends, new and old, here and abroad, Filipinos and foreigners alike:

I’d like to enlist you all in a mini-mission I’ve set up for us to do.

That you’re reading this means you’ve signed up- whether you like it or else hehe

I have a friend from medical school who is due to leave the Philippines in a couple of weeks. The latest entry in his blog as well as the comment he left in my earlier post regarding my Bicol experience, prompted me to set up this mini-mission. (I posted his name and the link to his online journal in an earlier version of this blog entry of mine but he requested anonymity. So late as it may seem, his request is granted.)

My friend is not the first person to feel that the Philippines is going to the dogs. Neither is he alone. From the number of people leaving the country, to the foreigners and locals who bash everything Filipino, to the gory news on primetime TV, to ordinary people who feel that their life here is getting nowhere or worse plummeting ever so rapidly, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that something IS wrong with the country and/or its people. That is a fact. God knows how often I just want to jump-ship and be rid of the maelstrom that is the Philippines.

In His infinite wisdom, though, I find myself constantly reassured that there is still something good in the Philippines and among Filipinos. That we do not live in a God-forsaken place, eternally damned for our collective stupidity. That all is not lost. That there is reason to hope and to stay. I get this from my daily interactions with people, especially in connection with my GK and UP work.

But that's me.

This is where you can come in. Please share any personal experience, a detail, a news item, any tidbit that is worth celebrating as a symbol that the Philippines is still a great country. A friendly crew in a fast food joint, a policeman who refused a bribe, the Christmas attraction previously at the COD now in Greenhills- anything uplifting is worth sharing. Just add a comment to this post please.

Maybe you can even enjoin your friends and family to think about what makes this nation still great, why are you still living here despite opportunities that abound in the US, relate the stories of everyday heroes. Links to online articles are welcome, too.

This mission is not set-up to vilify my friend or the hundreds among us who choose to find greener pastures elsewhere. We have our roles to play; maybe his role is to be a physician who’ll save lives in another place. Let’s just think of this as a mission to sustain us who choose to stay in the country, encourage those who have left to come back, or just to proclaim to everyone that it’s great to be a Filipino and the Philippines is a great country.

‘Nuf said.

Let me begin, at least in the realm I am in. This is by no means complete. Do visit often to see what others see as reasons why hope springs eternal for the Philippines.

**, thanks for the inspiration to do this one =)

I HEART THE PHILIPPINES BECAUSE OF:
1) Gawad Kalinga – bringing Filipinos together to uplift the lives of those who have been marginalized for the longest time
2) The dedicated teachers and staff of the UP and the health professionals and students in the PGH and most other government hospitals, especially in the provinces– their service to the nation is has no monetary value
3) Christmas lights along Ayala Avenue, especially the giant bow atop Rustan’s Makati
4) The MMDA crew whom I saw firsthand work at the height of Milenyo’s fury
5) The MERALCO crew who worked days on end to restore power after Milenyo hit the metro, requiring their wives and family to just bring food and change of clothing over to the MERALCO office in Ortigas, while their own homes are destroyed and/or powerless
6) Jollibee and the others with 24-hour delivery service
7) Manila Bay sunset, Lamon Bay in Quezon, the Banawe Rice Terraces
8) The Apo (Hiking Society) and the Eraserheads
9) Vilma, Sharon, Maricel
10) My Lingkod Manila Action Group + brothers and sisters, my Gawad Kalusugan teammates, my high school and college friends =)
11) My sister and my brother in law and my parents =)

Your turn!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bicol in my mind (2)

That night, the felled trees and toppled power lines and roofless homes were no longer visible. Miracle? No. Black out. Massive cloak of darkness all around you. The only entity with power is- gasp!- the Transco compound.

These towns, Ocampo and Goa, do not get much media attention, if they get any at all, like Albay; consequently, few help trickle in. They experienced the same ferocious weather, sans the mudslide. Truckloads of relief goods pass through their area but they don’t stop.













The good thing about this, though, is that those in their neighboring towns, particularly those involved in Couples For Christ and the Gawad Kalinga work, have taken up the cudgels for these massively disadvantaged residents. With some help from the local government units, the residents of Goa and Ocampo are surviving thanks to their collective resiliency and the brothers and sisters in the CFC community who continue to heed the call to put their faith into action.

The health service delivery activity we did was a mere band-aid solution to their myriad problems. Hopefully the palliative effort directed to the body reached their spirit as well, if only to underscore the point that somebody cares and has not forgotten or has turned a blind eye.

From my readings for my Disaster Management lecture in school and from life experiences in general as made more real by our recent Bicol trip, I have come to realize that, indeed, there is much to be improved on how we deal with volcanic eruptions, typhoons, earthquakes, and other calamities in the Philippines.

We must shift from myopic, reactive planning which commences a week before a storm is due to hit the country (the kind wherein we evacuate people living in the Mayon danger zone just before the first raindrops are about to fall) into a system which really addresses vulnerabilities (the kind where we stop to ask and act on questions like: What ARE we doing about these people living in the fringes of Mayon? WHY ARE THEY THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE?!).

We must shake-off our collective amnesia which takes hold of us as interest in the typhoon-damaged area wanes and the latter no longer makes good copy or does not offer much political brownie points.

Have we forgotten already the tragedy in St. Bernard, Southern Leyte?

Have we forgotten already the lessons from Milenyo?

Wait- Did we learn anything at all?

We cannot do anything about our 22 or so active volcanoes, our location in the Pacific Ring of Fire, or our being the doormat of typhoons about to hit Asia from the Pacific or about to leave the continent via the South China Sea. What we can improve on is the way we prepare for disasters, from implementation of tougher construction standards to addressing the economic concerns of people pushed to live in disaster-prone areas to putting aside political bickering and doing away with massive graft and corruption.


We must always be mindful that taking care of our people during disasters does not stop after we pluck them out of danger, settle them in evacuation centers, and flood them with relief goods. Our ultimate goals should be to restore their lives as close as possible to the level of safety and comfort they enjoyed prior to the calamity (if not improve them further) and to ensure that number of lives and properties affected will be minimized.

It is a shame that the towns of Ocampo and Goa are suffering needlessly from neglect and apathy. Given our meager resources, if we continue to think less of ourselves and more of others, we will discover that there is enough for all.

(Any and all help is welcome. Please give through Gawad Kalinga and make Christmas- yours and theirs- a merrier one.)

Bicol in my mind (1)

The sight of the coconut trees gave the situation away.

From Quezon onwards, even with just the moon as the source for illumination, the coconut trees have taken on a distinct look: the fronds look as if they’ve been swept to one side, the one-sided hairstyle of convicted Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez.

Still unable to build the imagery?

Think Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost. The pottery-making scene. Yeap, The Pottery-Making Scene. Let’s extrapolate a little further. Imagine that they were actually able to make one, say, foot-high vase. Then they let it stand before baking it in a kiln. The vase is done, albeit still a little soft. Then a Philippine softball team batter hits the still-soft vase with all his might. The disfigured vase isn’t so hard to imagine- is it?

That’s practically what happened in Bicol and the area in the path of Supertyphoon Reming. They were pummeled by some 230+ kph winds for several hours, leaving a disastrous trail of damage to property and death of loved ones.











We had an ocular inspection and health service delivery activity this week in two province, Camarines Sur and Albay. We rode a bus on which it was heartening to discover that the roads were basically free from blocking typhoon-related debris. As the small team was split, I was assigned to visit two Gawad Kalinga sites in Camarines Sur in the towns of Goa and Ocampo.

Both towns are within eighty minutes’ drive from Naga City. During the trip towards the two sites, not one kilometer had a view from the car where destruction was not evident. It was kilometer after kilometer after kilometer of uprooted trees, fallen power lines, roofless homes. Nothing was spared: shacks, softdrink companies’ warehouses, public school buildings, university auditoriums. I stopped counting toppled electric posts and towers when I reached fifty. And that was just on one side of the road. Even bamboos, symbols of quiet and reliable resilience, were ravaged by Reming, with many a grove containing bent-until-they-broke, snapped-into-two bamboo trees.












The most curious thing I saw was a piece of galvanized iron sheet bent like a horseshoe slung on a miraculously still-taut-between-two-upright-transmission-tower high-tension wire. What happened there? Probably the roof flew off, hit the wire, with the wind so powerful it bent the GI sheet into a U-shaped. Imagine that.

I kid you not, choose to point your camera or camcorder on the vista whizzing by and within any 60-second recording time, you would have caught dozens of signs of destruction. After some time, you begin to shake off the temptation to be callous: your eyes and heart can only take so much kilometer after kilometer after kilometer of destruction.











Then we got to the Gawad Kalinga sites. In GK Tagongtong, in the town of Goa, not too far from Naga City, of the 161 houses built, only 17 were not damaged. Many of the houses had their roofs blown away, some even had damage to their concrete walls. The residents huddled in houses which withstood Reming’s fury, multiple families cramped together in a 4x5-meter space. Right-click here to see a short video of the situation in Goa.

I am not a fan of medical missions. I believe these promote mendicancy. I did not want to be an accomplice to the propagation of the dole-out mentality. Hence, I really did not want to sit down and see patients. What I had in mind was that we’d just perform an ocular inspection of the damages in the area, have a general feel of what ails the people; dump the medicines we brought to the nearest local health center where people ought to have themselves checked ultimately, and then leave. To just touch base with the people. The aim really was, when we return to Manila, we can prepare for a more focused and orchestrated and ultimately effective attack on the health problems among the Reming-damaged communities.

On a more practical note, our sub-team only had two doctors. In my mind I was anticipating SO MANY PATIENTS that would be too tiring to handle. I vowed that my role during this trip is this: to be just the official documenter of the visit.

But no. At the sight of the people waiting for us in the multipurpose hall converted into a makeshift mega-clinic, my photographer’s hat was quickly ditched in favor of my doctor’s hat. After all, to give aid to a disaster-stricken population is one of the few allowable reasons to conduct a medical mission.

Many were stricken with ordinary coughs and colds, some were glaring TB cases, some sustained typhoon-related injuries. With drizzle from low-lying gray clouds alternating with softly piercing heat from the midday sun, we eventually saw about 100 patients in GK Tagongtong.

It was difficult having to turn away patients but we had to visit another Gawad Kalinga site, in the town of Ocampo, still in Camarines Sur. It was pure déjà vu: roofless homes, shattered concrete walls, close to three hundred GK site residents lining up to have themselves checked through the heat in the makeshift clinic, amidst the rain that fell through the partially roofless hall, in spite of the language barrier. For a person who is not the least bit fond of medical missions, I had around ten “Last-na-po-kayo-ha. Last-na-po-talaga” patients.











I couldn’t say no to them. It seemed un-Christian, inhuman to do so.

I would have seen more patients if we didn’t have to rush back to Naga to make it to the 9pm bus bound for Manila.

(The Gawad Kalusugan team will be back in Bicol before Christmas to render a more holistic yet focused health care. You, too, can help even if you're not a health professional. Give through Gawad Kalinga and become a hero for health.)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Of friends, freight, and fences

One of the most harrowing and literally life-changing experiences I’ve ever gone through was our lipat-bahay a year ago.

It was a move borne out of necessity rather than whim. It was not easy. Imagine, having to sort through 25 years’ worth of memories and possessions, junk and treasures, choosing what stays and what goes, in that gargantuan struggle to fit them from a four-bedroom house into a two-bedroom condominium unit.

From old greeting cards, to grade school projects. Well-loved and now tattered toys, to yellowing books and magazines numbering in the hundreds. Souvenirs and mementos from travels, jamborees, school programs, and balikbayan friends. Boxes of photos, clothes, plates, kitchen knick-knacks.

It took us at least two weeks to sift through these vessels of reminiscences. There was much fighting and arguing and compromising. You get to keep that, but you have to let these go. Get just two of these and throw the rest away. Nope, no way will you take these to our new place. I don’t care how you will do it but the piano is not to be left behind.

At the end of the grueling fortnight, at least a dozen balikbayan boxes of possessions came with us to our new home.

After 12 months, now that I’m thinking about them, I don’t miss many of the things we left, gave away, or threw to the garbage bins. At the end of the day, it was a cleansing, purging experience. What we brought to our new place are ultimately the items most dear to us. Even now, some balikbayan boxes haven’t been thoroughly sorted. And you know the six-month rule: things not taken out of the boxes they were packed in six months before will tend to stay in that box forever.

What was equally stressful was uprooting out lives from the community we’ve been with since I was 11 months old. Family friends whose love for us has withstood the test of time. From block parties to block rosaries, 7th birthdays to debuts to weddings, money loaned and repaid, cars heaved due to dead batteries, dying neighbor transported to the hospital on a family sedan.

It’s such a cacophony of memories and experiences shared through the years. It’s not as if the relationships were severed totally; I don’t believe they will ever be. Things are not the same again but we do our best to keep in touch...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sale! Sale! Sale! Sale na kayo!



Cebu City and its immediate environs (at least their political leaders) are all agog with the upcoming ASEAN Leaders’ Summit. Sparing no expense, the streets are festooned with welcome banners and all things Pinoy to showcase our (in)famous hospitality. December 2006 is coming down as one of Cebu’s craziest. (The truly unique Lhuillhier Christmas Tree, sitting on Fuente Osmena, is said to cost a million pesos, adding to the glitz of the season.)

Well, December always IS crazy. Unfortunately, something about the ‘Ber months convert people into a frenetic bunch of crazy consumers. Forget the US’s Black Friday: in the Philippines, it’s Black October, November, and December- despite the myriad convulsing colored lights (whose number is enough to create glitz that rival the sun’s).
With business establishments declaring price-offs almost too indecent to repeat here, the country’s practically sold out.

And even I, I am not exempted.

A glimpse into my retail therapy past, as I’ve articulated in my September 7th, 2003 entry in my old blog.



I am the power of advertising personified. In a span of less than two hours, I have succumbed to at least half a dozen promotional gimmicks that allegedly aim to make my life easier, if not happier or more delicious. Consider:

5:52 pm: I purchased original HP ink catridges because I read in an HP paid newspaper supplement that the “compatible” ink catridges, though a whole lot cheaper, cause damage to the printer whose repair will ultimately be costlier. And the red Benetton wallet which I got for free was quite cute. I paid for the ink catridges using a credit card with “really, really low interest rates”;


6:21 pm: At the supermarket, I picked out from amongst the vast array of shampoos the one with “new and improved ZPT formulation” for my stress dandruff. For all I know, that ZPT thingie is causing my scalp to slough off dead skin faster. Yeap, I put to good use my credit card to pay for the ZPT shampoo with other grocery items, including those I stowed into my shopping basket from the rack in front of the cashier as I waited in line;


6:41 pm: I bought a 3-for-fifteen-pesos set of pens. They are so crappy-looking I may need to buy one set a day, if they can last that long. I again used a credit card to pay for the darn pens along with my other bookstore purchases. After all, the credit card’s interest rates are “really, really low”;


7:27 pm: True to form, I bought dinner from Jollibee. But it wasn’t like any other dinner- it was a two-piece burgersteak meal with FREE dessert. The freebie I got from upgrading a previous purchase of value meal plus softdrink into value meal plus iced tea. So it was quite logical for me to upgrade my current two-piece burgersteak meal plus softdrink to a two-piece burgersteak meal plus iced tea so that I have a chance to win another freebie. And another free dessert I did earn! All these purchases, of course, are credited to my Silver Card, which earns for me a point for every peso I spend in Jollibee. These points I can redeem later to get more freebies.


I would like to think that I am somehow helping jumpstart the Philippine economy with these small trading activities. I would like to think that I am somehow appreciating the many a sleepless night spent brainstorming to come up with strategies to entice Filipinos to part from their hard-earned pesos. I would like to think that I am somehow recognizing the efforts of the artists and graphics persons and marketing personnel without whom knowledge of the promos and special offers will not be made known to me. These purchases are really for them.


With love, from gullible me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Annie in the sky with diamonds

Dear Anne,

Baby girl! Have you explored your new home? Lolo Andoy and Lola Oreng are excitedly waiting for you- I'm sure. They'll take you on endless journeys aboard Lolo's wonderful train, as you savor the delights of Lola's cooking. Eat! You have so much catching up to do!

Sweet angel! Are you frolicking in your fluffy white dress already? Run, play, dance, sing, soar. Where you are, savor the fresh air you can now easily breathe in. Let peals of laughter emanate from your heart. Let all the bottled in glee escape and ring true.

My pussycat! Are you sleeping soundly? Free from the shackles of pain and illness, rest well, cradled in Your Father's loving embrace. Rest your weary body as you recharge our spirits.

My Annie! Is it really wonderful over there? Is every moment a lump-in-your-throat, makes-your-eyes-water-with-joy event? Is the temperature just right, a perfect balance of envigorating heat and refreshing coolness? Can you really see us from up there?

Don't worry about us. We'll be ok.

Loving you and missing you daily,
Tito Ian

PS-The thought of you waiting for us should we be judged worthy of heaven makes the trials-strewn journey worthwhile.

I can't wait to hug you, look into your eyes, hear your tiny yawn, run my fingers through your hair, hold your stubby fist, feel the ebb and flow of your breathing again...

(A year hence, we haven't forgotten! We love you dearly and miss you all the more...

Posted in my old blog 11/27/05.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A pack-rat's lament

(Posted in my old blog last August 21st, after discovering that the message inbox that came along that blog was empty! All fifty or so valuable messages lost! *sigh* Suddenly feeling sentimental again today after swimming through lengthy emails from classmates sorely missed, I am reminded of this entry and opted to post this again...)

I’ve had more than my fair share of hard disks crashing, PDA’s resetting, phone sms inbox contents accidentally disappearing, or large-scale online system failing taking along with it months or even years’ worth of blogging and memories.

Each event leaves me feeling as if I have been hit head-on by a train traveling at 1000 kph, dragged for a station or two, and left bloody but still conscious, albeit barely. I mustn’t stay on the tracks though, lest I allow another train to ram itself unto my already mangled body. So I pick up my left ear here, my right femur there, bits and pieces of my brain everywhere, as I try to move on and rebuild my life as a trying hard techie.

I try to live in the same vein that my Lord and Savior did: while He saves, I keep back-up copies of everything. Almost everything. Well, about 50% of my creative output. Of the last 3 months or so. Which amounts to about 10% of my life’s work. In the process of which I ran out of CD-RWs. So I was able to make back-up copies of some folders in my computer. FOLDER to be more precise. Alright, alright. I haven’t learned my lesson.

Immediately after realizing that I’ve lost data from my phone, PDA, or computer, my reaction is to unleash an un-Jesus-like litany that would make a detergent company salesman make his quota with the number of soap bars I have to buy to wash my foul-mouth with. And then I’d be in a state of panic, sadness, and grief- lamenting the loss of contact numbers, photos, essays, messages- memories that I treasured the moment they landed on my brain cells. Now gone.

Forever.

Well, not for long. My pack-rat mentality would kick in soon enough and my phone’s inbox ultimately gets filled with jokes or sentimental messages or timely Bible verses. I’d eventually churn out journal entries and they’d be uploaded soon enough to provide evidence for my shameless self-promotion (thanks, f, for that unforgettable line). I’d receive text messages from ‘strangers’ who are kind enough to help me update my phonebook by replying to the uber-annoying query ‘Who is this again please?”. New photo ops will present themselves. In no time at all, what I lost would be replaced. And if they don’t get replaced, they are never missed. Except during attacks of melancholy, when I know that I have this person or that person’s number in my PDA’s address book but now I don’t.

Somehow it provides a ‘cleansing’ mechanism. To ease from my life the ‘clutter’ and ‘white noise’ that pervade without me realizing their presence. Wiped out gigabytes leave room where new memories can be saved. And somehow, that’s what I need every now and then. Tabula rasa.

A clean slate.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Arnel, 27

As what is wont to happen, I hardly derive any inspiration to write from positive or happy developments in my life- hence the delay in writing about the passing of my friend, Arnel.

Lest I be accused of being utterly inhuman and devoid of normal grieving patterns, I take comfort in the knowledge and belief in my heart of hearts that he is in a place 999,999,999,999 googol times better than where the happiest person on earth is.

Truth be told, I envy him- having finished his mission on earth at the age of 27. Free from the toil and misery of the daily grind here, he’s probably enjoying endless videoke sessions in heaven, with harps and lyres and a cohort of magnificent angels and cherubims as back up vocals to boot. Performance level, I’m sure. And a constant score of 101%!

Do I miss him? Hell yeah.

But I’d rather lose him than have him here but he's deep in the muck of illness and misery.

True to form, Arnel was ever the entertainer, even at his own wake. It was arguably the most animated and lively wake I’ve ever been to. A handful of high school friends were able to visit him and our constant recollection of Arnel’s antics, witty one-liners, and fondess for imitating people’s mannerisms had us all doubling in laughter, albeit suppressed with supreme effort in deference to the event we were in.

And what a joy it is viewing over and over again that one video of Arnel I was blessed enough to capture through my phone. It was taken March 31st of last year, at Jen’s birthday party, one of our high school friends. Vintage Arnel- singing, nay, performing as if on stage, with eyes shut at the right part of the song, arms flailing about, thoroughly working us, his audience, like putty on his hands.

While we were viewing the video at Arnel’s wake, we couldn’t remember what he was singing much less hear the melody and lyrics from the video since the audience- as captured in the video as well as those viewing it- were laughing so hard, enthralled by this performance. Fearing that I might lose the video in one way or another, e.g. my phone gets stolen, it conks out, etc, I shared the video to two other friends. Fortunately, the boyfriend of one of these girls had better hearing than all of Arnel’s friends combined. He was able to discover what Arnel was singing- Irene Cara’s Out Here On My Own from the Oscar-winning 70’s flick FAME .

Rather than post the, um, somber lyrics of Out Here On My Own, I believe what is more "Arnel" is the movie’s theme Fame.

Baby look at me
And tell me what you see.
You ain't seen the best of me yet
Give me time, I'll make you forget the rest.
I got a story, and you can set it free
I can catch the moon in my hand
Don't you know who I am?


Remember my name (Fame)
I'm gonna live forever
I'm gonna learn how to fly (High)
I feel it coming together
People will see me and die (Fame)
I'm gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame (Fame)
I'm gonna live forever
Baby, remember my name
Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember,
Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember

Baby hold me tight
And you can make it right.
You can shoot me straight to the top
Give me love and take all I got.
Baby I'm in love
Too much is not enough
I surround your heart to embrace
You know I got what it takes.



Indeed, you will live forever, Arnel. You won’t be forgetten.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Weather we liked it or not


A long-delayed blogcast

With all the media hype billowing around it, and the obvious impact it was beginning to impress on anything and everyone that it touches, it was one of the worst times to be out on the streets without a camera.

It was one of the worst times to be out on the streets, period.

It was a scene straight out of the movie Day After Tomorrow, minus the snow. (Day After Tomorrow is the film where Dennis Quaid [I believe] overcame horrendous weather to get to his son Jake Gyllenhaal who along with some friends were trapped in New York City.)

Classes were suspended the day before the bad weather came because according to PAGASA, Tropical Storm Milenyo will skim the borders of the metro. There was initial rejoicing since I didn’t have to go to class and deliver my lecture on- irony of ironies- Disaster Management to 3rd year med students. However, my teammates from GK said that an emergency meeting is being called for the GK Global Expo scheduled for next week.

And so despite the warnings a-blaring on radio and tv and the obvious foul weather which greeted me the instant I woke up, I headed to our GK office that faithful Thursday, September 28th. When we got to the office, electricity was already cut off. Not the ones to give up easily, we scouted the fastfood joints along Ortigas Avenue and lo and behold- Jollibee was open and it had electricity. We proceeded with our meeting which ended a little before 11am, the time the tropical storm was expected to pass through Metro Manila.

Great.

By the time our meeting ended and all other subsequent side trips were dispensed with, the winds had already began showing off. So many branches of trees have fallen and the streets were litter-strewn. Mind you, when I say the branches, they were anywhere from finger- to torso-thick logs and the mess flailing around were a mixture of detached business signages and a host of loose construction materials like galvanized iron sheets.

The flooded streets- in some parts reaching at least half my tires- were no help either.

As we are programmed to do in occasions such as these, my sister and I decided that we should go home together. Yes, we BOTH reported for work. After arguably the scariest road trip I have taken in my entire life, I got to Glorietta and we drove home.

Trees within Ayala Center were uprooted. The stretch of McKinley was practically devoid of the darling shade provided by the decades-old acacias living parallel to the road. Lamp posts along C5 fell like dominoes. Traffic crawled at a pace that would even make a snail loose its cool with the sheer slowness of it all.

We get to our house, which had no electricity, water supply, nor phone line. With cell phone batteries barely able to send and receive messages- due to lack of battery power and the cell site system thrashed by the tropical storm.

To add to my anxiety, I was to leave for a GK workshop and surgical mission in Borongan, Eastern Samar at 5:10 am the following day. I nearly didn’t go. But all systems were back on track according to the Cebu Pacific personnel I interrogated over the phone at around 11pm. And more importantly, our bosses said the trip was a go. So, go we did.

Boy- am I glad that I DID go. Else, I would have missed these:




Milenyo practically spared the Samar provinces en route to whooping through Metro Manila hence the excellent weather there and the negligible amount of damage to property and disruption of lives.

Faiths were a bit shaken but we were steered to where we ought to be.

(In the photos: the hardly-visible Makati Shangri-La and a fellow straggler in the form of a cab, caught in Milenyo, caught by my phone's camera because my digicam's batt went dead and i left my Woca at home; sumptuous feasts wherever we were in Samar; my first real view of San Juanico Bridge; a fantastic beach along Borongan; San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish in Balanggiga town, whose bells were stolen as booty by Americans in 1901; the fine hotel we stayed in in Borongan; scenes from the surgical mission and GK workshop we conducted).

Sunday, October 29, 2006

How Health Professionals Can Help In Gawad Kalinga

On Heroes and Healers

I began working with Gawad Kalusugan (GKal), the Health Program of Gawad Kalinga (GK), exactly 34 weeks today. It’s been a tremendously exciting ride since day one, replete with ups and downs- mostly ups, mind you.

Whenever I talk about my work in GKal, I always punctuate it with my realization that this is The Somewhere I’d choose to be in any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Everything that I’ve been doing with GKal has been blessed by the Lord, a constant affirmation of my decision to stay in the Philippines and work with the poorest of the poor until they all- we all- graduate from that state.

Gawad Kalusugan is a response to the challenges of the Philippine health situation. GKal is anchored on the principles of Primary Health Care as espoused in the Declaration of Alma-Ata. The impetus for its immediate implementation is provided for as well by the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. But over and above all the documents and jargon, what drives the program and the people behind it is this is an extension, a manifestation if you may, of Christ’s mission of healing and salvation. In our own small way, Gawad Kalusugan workers are continuing His mission of looking after the sick and the unwell while as astutely helping them gain ownership of their health- Health in the hands of the people.

Gawad Kalusugan has a three-pronged approach to improving the health of residents in GK sites: capacity enhancement, health service delivery, and health systems development. The work at hand is pretty voluminous so I will try to distill our manual into this entry so the latter will contain what is most essential.

Capacity enhancement

Admittedly, while we are full-time workers in GKal, we are not in the area all the time. Thus, it is important to have an empowered community that can take care of minor health concerns that may strike in the wee hours of the morning.

How do we go about this? We train healthcare volunteers or HCVs to be our partners in health in the GK site. They are residents of the site who are there practically 24/7. We will teach them health skills and information and, alongside, hopefully, develop the accompanying attitude and orientation to make the best use of these skills and know-how. We are not out to make them little doctors. We will equip them with the information on how to manage patients with fever, coughs, cold, diarrhea, first-aid, hypertension, sanitation, among other conditions, how to take vital signs, etc PLUS the all-important aspect of when to refer.

This is truly a very concrete step on the way to bringing health in the hands of the people.

Health service delivery

Cognizant of the myriad problems our healthcare delivery system faces, Gawad Kalusugan has chosen to focus on seven thrusts which are true public health concerns that have burdened society, especially the poor, for so long. These thrusts are known via the acronym TWIN-RPD.

T: Fight TB program.
Despite much success in the fight to wipe out TB in the country, it is still a top killer, claiming the life of 75 Filipinos a day or one Filipino every twenty minutes. Daily. The bittersweet thing about it is that TB drugs for adults are free, available, and effective- yet they are not being utilized maximally. The Fight TB Program complements the anti-tuberculosis program for children and adults of the Department of Health. Using WHO-approved methods, GKal diagnoses and targets children infected with TB and will extend the care to their affected parents with the assistance of the local government. This approach is aimed at addressing the TB problem directly through clear and effective public-private partnerships.

W: Eliminate water-borne diseases.
At least one million Filipinos seek hospital consult and/or admission because of complications due to poor water supply and sanitation. This program aims to decrease the incidence of gastrointestinal and skin diseases through the provision of safe water supply and proper waste disposal systems in GK sites.

I: Complement the government’s immunization program.
The Department of Health aims for all children to have complete immunization by their first birthday. This program seeks to enhance the government’s immunization program by improving the immunization rate among children in GK sites through increased access to timely and appropriate vaccination and booster shots.


N: Promote proper nutrition.
Recent Food and Nutrition Research Institute surveys note that at least one-third of all Filipino children are underweight and/or suffering from Vitamin A, iodine, and iron deficiency. This program aims to promote proper nutrition through adequate training for mothers and supplemental feeding of children. Nutrition experts from various institutions will be giving lectures on how to prepare nutritionally balanced food on a shoestring budget. Children aged 2-6 years old identified to be malnourished will be enrolled in a feeding program where they will be fed nutritious food daily five times a week for six months.

R: Responsible parenthood through natural family planning.
With the current population growing at a rate of 200 Filipinos every minute, couples are educated on the value of having a family, raising them well, and the proven techniques in natural family planning.

P: Universal health insurance through PhilHealth.
Through this program, private partners are encouraged to provide health insurance for an indigent family for one year. The family is then trained to save to continue their insurance for the second and subsequent years. GKal, in coordination with local government units, and PhilHealth will conduct seminars on the value of contributing to a national health insurance system.

D: Dental health promotion.
Dental caries is one of the top ten reasons why children consult doctors. This program aims to advance dental health as an important component of human wellness through regular preventive dental education lectures and dental missions.

Local health systems development
True to the values of bayanihan and sustainability that Gawad Kalinga promotes, Gawad Kalusugan empowers community leaders to manage their health needs through capability enhancement. GKal focuses on training local leaders (neighborhood and government) in health programs and practices that will benefit the whole community such as proper nutrition, sanitation, disease prevention and first aid. The leaders are also partnered with medical schools and associations to provide basic medical and dental services such as free consultation, immunization, minor surgical procedures and nutrition programs. Referral systems are being set up to improve the access and quality of medical care when the need arises.

How can you help?
Like in all aspects of Gawad Kalinga work, Gawad Kalusugan does not discriminate with regard to who can help and what they can do to whichever GK site they want to be involved with. However, we are highly encouraging health professionals and those in their immediate spheres of interest to spearhead and jumpstart the health program of GK.

Help can be as simple as holding clinic in a GK site for two hours once a month. See patients, look at their illnesses, take care of their concerns, give medical advise, dispense medicine. Two hours a month already mean a lot to the residents.

Collect your samples and donate them to GK site clinics.

Or better yet, encourage colleagues and friends in your drug collection drive and/or clinic hours in Gawad Kalinga sites nearest you. The more, the merrier.

Tie-up with GK and GKal people to conduct public health lectures on preventive and curative aspect of diseases and medical conditions. Knowledge is power.

Or if you can’t physically go to a GK site because you are in the United States, let’s put your dollars and cents to good use.

PHP 1,200.00 or US$24.00 is enough to pay for a whole family’s PhilHealth or social insurance premium for one year.

PHP 2,000.00 or US$40.00 can already feed a malnourished child one hot meal a day, five days a week, for 24 weeks.

PHP6,000.00 or US$120.00 can take care of the 6-month anti-TB treatment of a child stricken with tuberculosis.

PHP7,000.00 or US$140 can help finance the 6-month anti-TB treatment of an adult sick with tuberculosis.

PHP100,000.00 or US$2,000.00 can help put in place a water purification facility that ensure clean water supply for 50 families.

PHP240,000.00 or US$4,800.00 can pay for a year’s compensation of a full-time doctor who will oversee the implementation of Gawad Kalusugan programs in a particular GK site or cluster of adjacent GK sites.

For more information, please message me through spiff2005@yahoo.com or cfgomezmd@gmail.com.

The list above is but a sample of how anybody and everybody can be a healer and a hero for health. The task of building healthy communities towards building a healthy nation is daunting but not impossible. As we assess our individual as well as collective strength and resources, it becomes very clear that the possibilities for helping the poorest of the poor and being a blessing to them are endless.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

What is Gawad Kalinga?

Thank you to everyone who has been emailing me about my GK work. I thought about putting together a short FAQ list based on what I have come to learn in the past eight months about the organization and the work that we do. So here it goes:

What is Gawad Kalinga? Is it related to ABS-CBN?

Gawad Kalinga is an integrated area development program spearheaded by the Couples For Christ Catholic charismatic community. Formally launched in October 2003, it aims to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in 7 years. To date, there are about 20,000 homes in some 900 communities in about 300 towns and cities all over the Philippines, plus GK sites in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.

It basically sprang from the CFC community’s aim of bringing glad tidings to the poor. As the community was expanding, they saw the need to make more tangible the love of God for all His creation. They experienced that it is hard to preach His love to people whose stomachs are grumbling or who have no roof over their heads. From then on, it has hurtled from a “mere” act of charity- one house at a time built from monies out of the members’ pockets- to a true endeavor towards community development and nation-building.

No, it is not an ABS-CBN project. But ABS-CBN has sponsored a village near Fairview in Quezon City.

How different is Gawad Kalinga from other foundations which also build houses for the poor?

GK did not reinvent the wheel, in a manner of speaking. But what it did- does- is make everyone realize how important that wheel is and how anybody and everybody can AND should participate in its creation.

It aims for empowerment rather than dole-outs. It works for sustainability rather than one-shot photo-ops. The poor have been made dependent on external help for so long so much so that have been rendered helpless and inarticulate with regard to their needs and wants. It’s high time we help them restore dignity back to their lives.

It is a unifier rather a polarizer. Regardless of your position in the political spectrum, your affiliation or religious denomination- anyone is welcome to be a GK partner or volunteer. Today, Cory Aquino maybe the guest in a GK site. Tomorrow, Gloria might be there. Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer working side by side in one GK site? Yes they are. Proctor and Gamble and Unilever, too. Smart and Globe even. Add Shell and Petron as well.

Yes, GK is unique in many aspects: from being “steered” by a religious organization (a virtual no-no in community development work) to the manner by its site houses are designed and constructed. A group of MIT students who visited GK BASECO in Tondo complained to their teacher that based on their engineering computations, the houses ought to be NOT standing. They accused their teacher of teaching them wrong information. To this the professor could only shrug his shoulders and believe what their eyes are seeing before them.

I would like to summarize all that is happening with the fact that we are shifting from DO-GOOD-ISM to HEROISM. It sounds so romanticized and surreal and idealized, but that is practically what I personally breathe and experience in GK. People leaving their 6-figure-salary jobs to work full-time with GK. People putting their personal lives “on-hold” to volunteer in GK activities. Companies making all their resources available for GK. Housing beneficiaries going the extra mile to care for their homes, their communities, and their fellow residents. Muslims and Christians, Mormons and Catholics working together.

Nope, GK did not reinvent the wheel. GK just attached it to people’s hearts, minds, and feet to get us all moving, with the utmost sense of urgency, to help bring dignity back to the lives of the poorest of the poor.

Why is it an integrated area development program?

As an integrated area development program, GK builds communities, not just houses. While the houses are being built and soon after the houses are built and beyond the house building phase, simultaneous activities are being undertaken to make each site a functioning and truly liveable community.



Its main components are:


TATAG and ENVIRONMENT: the house-building component. This one is responsible for the paving of the road, the engineering and architecture needs, the drainage system, etc. The residents or housing unit beneficiaries are the ones who will build the houses themselves. They put in what is termed as ‘sweat equity’ meaning, the houses are not given to them for free. They work for something like 200 hours, building NOT their own homes but their neighbors’. The land their houses sit on are not usually free too. Depending on the agreement with the previous owner of the land, they can pay as little as PHP300 a month

KAPITBAHAYAN and VALUES FORMATION: actually, before any house is built, the residents of, say, a squatters area that will be converted into a GK site, will undergo a multi-week values-formation program where they will be taught, challenged, and molded to become better stewards of God’s blessings. A general re-orientation for some, a reinforcement for many.

The Kapitbahayan serves as the residents’ organization. One KB is usually made up of 50 homes. It is the body that leads in the tackling of major issues that need action or decision from the residents. A set of officers are elected to at set intervals to give guidance to the entire community.

LIVELIHOOD: There are various livelihood initiatives per GK site depending on the province or city it is located in, the skills/ know-how of the residents, the partner organizations/ corporations, among others. But in many sites now there’s a program called Bayan-Anihan, an agricultural productivity cum food security thrust.


EDUCATION and YOUTH DEVELOPMENT: There is a “standard” education and youth development program per GK site.

The SIBOL program, for kids aged 3-5, delivers quality pre-school education to GK site kids at par with most private institutions. Many of the teachers involved in this program are either volunteers or have agreed to take on the task of teaching at fees lower than what many mainstream schools offer.

The SAGIP and SIGA programs cater to grade school kids and teenagers, respectively. They usually contain after-school activities which enhance their lives like music, theater arts, academic tutorials, sports, etc.

HEALTH: This is the component of GK I work with and will be discussed extensively in the next post.

On top of the situation, so to speak, is a CARETAKER TEAM from the CFC community which acts as the project management team. Each site has a caretaker team composed of project managers for each component or pillar of GK in that community, e.g. a Sibol project manager, Tatag project manager, etc. The GK site residents are not left on their own to fend for themselves right away. Site leaders are constantly guided and given the skills and knowledge to take care of their own communities in preparation for the day that they will takeover from the “old” caretaker team who are initially made up of non-GK site residents.

I’m afraid it all sounds so academic but my blog can hardly contain all that is GK. Best is to visit the GK site nearest you.

So how can we help in GK?
The entry point of many companies and individuals to GK is through The Build. Corporations, organizations, alumni classes, Filipino expatriates, families, and other groups have put together their resources to build homes or create villages altogether. Each house currently costs PHP 60,000- a sturdy enough shelter to protect a family from the elements and afford to them the dignity they deserve.

As I have mentioned, there are other pillars or components of GK. So there is practically an avenue for anyone and everyone to be part of GK and be a hero for our country- from tutoring kids, to teaching them livelihood skills and financial stewardship to helping them take care of their own health. Speaking of health…


(In the photos, from the top: GK logo; the GK Brookside Visitor Center highlighting what GK stands for- Bagong Bahay, Bagong Bagong Buhay, Bagong Bayan; GK 1MB aims to raise an army of a million volunteers to do GK work; the marker in front of GK Blue Eagle Village in Payatas 13, QC where I work; a row of houses in GK Blue Eagle; Kuya Roldan, Kapitbahayan VP in GK Brookside where I also work; GK Brookside's Cooperative Store where about 60% of residents are members; the SIBOL kids and SIBOL school in Blue Eagle; Papic of UP Med and exchange medical student Venla from Finland help during the Independence Day Build in Brookside.)