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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 or

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.

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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.)

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gawad Kalinga Expo 2006

We just concluded the 2006 Gawad Kalinga Global Expo at the SM Mall of Asia. Not even Tropical Storm Milenyo was able to douse despair over some 20,000 volunteers, friends, relatives, partners, and fellow nation-builders who joined in the celebration from October 6-8. With the theme the poWEr of WE, the event aimed to honor the achievement of the GK stakeholders but more important to inspire many other willing and able Filipinos to work for the restoration of dignity among their countrymen, especially the poorest of the poor.

Highlights of the event include:

The different homes showcasing the unity amidst the cultural diversity of our country (as depicted by an embellished GK house as part of the GK Highway of Peace [GK HOPE] from Camp Abu Bakar in Barira, Maguindanao);

Different fora on housing, health, livelihood, etc (shown in the photo is DOH Sec Duque while speaking in our forum on health and VP Noli touring the expo after the shelter congress);

The Parade of Heroes, participated in by thousands of volunteers and partners with the likes of Ateneo and La Salle, PLDT-Smart and Globe marching side by side and shoulder to shoulder with each other, all in the spirit of GK1MB (Gawad Kalinga 1 Milyong Bayani);

And a concert featuring various artists, like the Apo, Jericho and Heart, Sarah Geronimo, Gary V and kids, Bamboo and other bands.

To say that the event was tiring (from the organizers’ point of view) is an understatement. BUT if the expo was able to stir even just a small group of Filipinos into action, or even got them to thinking more of others and less of themselves, it surely is time and money well spent.

As GK always banners: Less for one’s self, More for others, Enough for all.

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[Posted this in my old blog last 07/08/06, a few days after my first day as a faculty member in the UP College of Medicine's Department of Family and Community Medicine - Section of Community Medicine. I've been suffering from a spell of writer's block as of late despite all the updates I should be posting; hence, another rehashed entry hehe Hopefully I'll get over this fugue. But teaching gives a high that I wish I'd never be free of.]

This week I came back to school, no longer as a student, but as a teacher.

I began working a few days ago as a faculty member of one of the departments in the college where I graduated. As the day winded down, I finally got a glimpse of why my teachers then and teachers in general are so passionate with the profession they chose to devote their lives in.

I caught word of the opening a few weeks back. One of my former teachers encouraged me to apply and after much soul searching, I finally did. I wasn’t hopeful about getting the slot because of my still limited experience in the field I am tasked to teach but suffice it to say, due to an interplay of many events and factors, I did get the job.

To say that the day was fraught with much anxiety is a gross understatement. From what to wear to how I smelled; from losing them in the LRT to being unable to protect them from thugs that may harass them as we do our field work; from the danger of obscenities escaping my dirty mouth to saying utterly nonsensical stuff to inadvertently seeding cynicism and despair- I was a wreck.

I did try my best to be inspired and inspiring, answering their questions the smartest way I could. When we sat down for our small group discussion to process our field work, what was supposed to be a short, thirty-minute thing lasted for more than an hour. Of course I won’t get high marks for sticking to time limits but I do give them high marks for being way smarter than I was sitting opposite my own teachers when I myself was still a student.

Much as I hoped they took away more than a nugget of wisdom and inspiration, I believe I got the better part of the deal. I emerged from the experience with a renewed sense of confidence and hope for the country; and if it this group of students represents what the future holds for all of us who came before them, we definitely have nowhere else to go but up and out of the rut we are in now.

I am faaaaaaaaaar from being a master teacher; I don’t even feel I deserve to be called a teacher yet. I feel more like a teacher’s aide or instructor or a sub. I don’t even have my university appointment papers yet so technically I am a non-entity. I catch myself analyzing and replaying in my head things that I said or ought to have said, quietly chastising myself for slip-ups and all the could-have- and should-have-beens.

All I can think of a few days after this milestone in my life is the title of Maya Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I really don’t know what the book is all about but the title feels like a metaphor for teachers- especially those trapped in low-paying, almost inhuman working conditions- who in spite of all the negative vibe surrounding them remain true to their calling, thrive, and inspire others to be free from the bondage of ignorance and inaction…

And ultimately soar.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Being John Lloyd

[Originally posted this in my old blog last 06/19/06. The photo on the left is taken just a few hours before she left for the US last September 5th. Since then the protagonists-lovers in the story- Bambi and Mikey- have been reunited in New York where they are living happily ever after. Oh yes- I really miss you, too, Pong!]

I just got off the phone with one of my bestest friends since college. Her husband of just three weeks left for the United States this morning to begin his residency training in pediatrics at an East Coast hospital. She wasn’t the mess I expected her to be; or at least she didn’t sound like one.

In the course of our conversation, she intimated how, for a millisecond or so, she felt how better off she’d be if she were single or ‘love-less’. At least they- the single and love-less ones- don’t get to experience the pain of pining and separation she has to endure for the next three months or so before she joins him in the US.

Not being in the mood for a fierce argument, but still wanting to take her mind off of her misery, I decided to draw a two-edged sword that may break her heart a little but hopefully make her appreciate her lot more.

I just told her that people spend their lifetimes, with many passing away, without ever experiencing the joy of finding whom she has found, let alone be with them.

That somehow shook her back to the reality of her great fortune in life. Hopefully that eased her pain a bit.

I often catch myself swimming in what-ifs or I-wish-I-weres or I-wish-I-hads.

I’d wake up in the morning, open up my Bible, and wish I were alive in Jesus’ time. Bet I’d be a better Christian if I had.

I’d go get ready for work, walk to the parking lot, see the fancy cars around, and wish any one of those were mine.

As I cruise the mean streets of the city in my beat up nine-year old car, I’d be listening to the radio- RJ 100 specifically. Soon after I’d be wishing I had his talent or business pedigree and/or acumen.

Later on I might switch to the AM band and catch Korina Sanchez or Ted Failon. One can’t help but wish to have their clout or credibility or positive public perception.

Towering around the thoroughfares would be gigantic billboards, several of which feature just one actor- John Lloyd Cruz. My grandmother, bless her soul, always declared that I was his lookalike. That was probably the time that diabetes has damaged her eyes as well. But needless to say, with his string of hit movies, tv shows, and endorsements, I can see myself getting used to being John Lloyd Cruz.

Then, I reach my place of work. The pedicabs vacate the area where I’m supposed to park. About two or three kuyas in the area would guide me as I maneuver my car into the tight parking space. I’d step out of the car and I’d be greeted by an unending series of, “Good morning, Doc.” I swear some of them seemed to even slightly bow their heads. If they wore hats like in Victorian London or rural Philippines, they’d be tipping their hats to me. They are genuinely glad to see me- I can sense it in their smiles.

And those wake me from my stupid reveries. Because the truth of the matter is- I AM already living a dream of a life. I’m engaged in work that I REALLY love doing- something I love so much that I’d gladly do it for free. There’s this tremendous amount of joy in the work that I do so much so that I can’t wait for Monday to arrive, odd as it may sound.

Unless he takes up medicine in twelve years’ time, John Lloyd can only pretend to be a doctor in his movies. But me, I am one.

Humbled by their rockstar treatment, I’ll cheerfully respond, “Good morning po!” and hastily proceed to the clinic to see the first patient of the day, wishing that I won’t ever be taken away from this place.

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