First off, I’d like to say that volunteering has become very important to me. Once you witness the positive impact that it makes on others, you can’t help but want to give back again and again. You then continue to give more and start demanding less in your own life. In March 2016, we set out for the Philippines, making it the 4th year for Global Health Force.It is not an easy task getting a group of volunteer doctors together; everyone has different, busy work schedules and families but as long as you are dedicated to the cause you just make it happen. What I really admire about Global Health Force is that the volunteers are financially responsible for their trip and housing on these missions, so the donations that this organization gets really goes to the people we are trying to help.On this trip we were able to bring 12 large packages of medications, glasses and various medical supplies. Our first leg of the trip was in Tacloban. In 2013, super-typhoon Haiyan hit Southeast Asia, with Tacloban being one the cities that was almost completely devastated by the natural disaster. Thousands of lives were lost and people were struggling to have enough food, water and shelter. Once we arrived to the city, you can see that there have been small advancements in rebuilding but still much of the city is in shambles. We set up a clinic for two days where we saw hundreds of patients each day.
When we arrived each morning, we were greeted by patients who have been waiting in line since early dawn. Patients were assigned to our different stations based on their complaints and health concerns: The primary care team was composed of a group of different health care practitioners. We had various providers helping in primary care: Dr. Vivian Yeh MD, Dr. Catherine Chien MD, Dr. Brian Dolan MD, Kenny Trinidad PAC, Nancy Liu NP, Ariel Baria NP, Patricia Gutierrez NP, Marit Gerena RN and Maybelle Ursales MD. These medical volunteers were able to screen patients and prescribe medication for different medical conditions like hypertension and asthma, this type of care that these patients did not have access to or not be able to afford on their own. If you get the chance to meet these volunteers, you will see that these providers are among the nicest, humanistic and caring people who can listen well to people’s needs.
The pharmacy was led by none other than Belen Giron PharmD. This department was among the busiest during all clinic 4 days of our trip since most everyone needed medication. Having to separate medications ready for dispensing and making sure that everything was organized was a strenuous task. Luckily we were able to get lots of help from our wonderful volunteers Timothy Brock, Marshal Kwong and Charlotte Kwong. You definitely had to have a lot of energy to keep the pharmacy under control, and they did a great job! Among our patients who were seen were some who needed more than a health screening, glasses and medications. This was the first year that Global Health Force was able to perform minor surgeries on patients and we even wound up running out of surgical supplies towards the end of the mission. This team was run by Farabi Hussain MD and Brian Baer PAC. Ranging from stitches replacement and mass lesion removal, this was definitely an all-star team that made an impact on some lives.
The most memorable thing for me was seeing a soft tissue removal that warranted biopsy. Again, realizing that these patients would not have otherwise had this care and thus prolong the risk of their health problems, it’s a blessing that Farabi and Brian were able to bring their expertise to the team. Lastly was the optometry team. I was the optometrist that helped glasses dispensing run smoothly and even brought along my friends on this trip: Virgie Mamaradlo and Steven Okimoto. I think the biggest difference you can make in philanthropy is to get those around you involved in such a great cause. This has been my second year volunteering with Global Health Force and definitely not the last. I now live for the moment when I see the patients’ face light up when they can read again. One patient, after putting glasses on her face, ran to the window and was thrilled that she can finally see the leaves on the trees outside after being without glasses for so long. After two days of the mission in Tacloban, the local nun Sister Helen was gracious enough to show us her convent, where she takes in orphans who were either abandoned or lost their parents from the typhoon. We were also able to visit the local elementary school, and see the watering pump that was built to supply the area with fresh drinking water.
This pump was made possible by donations from Global Health Force. We finally set out for Bohol to set up for day 3 and 4 of the mission trip. There, we were able to see several hundred more patients. Towards the end of the mission, you face the realization that a lot of these patients that we help will still need follow-up care. The good thing about this trip is that the clinic that we set up our mission in is able to follow up with the patients. We were able to donate the extra medications and supplies that we had brought along with us on the trip! With any volunteer trip, we made extra time to enjoy the Phillippines. The Phillippines has breathtaking views, from the Chocolate Hills in Bohol to the crystal blue waters with white sand beaches. It puts you in a different perspective to see how beautiful this land can be but you cannot ignore the fact that there are thousands of people who lack the bare necessities. We are all human, and all deserve better access to care, and Global Health Force, though a small organization, puts out its efforts to make as large of an impact as they can.