Hellen the Public Servant
I am a nurse by profession who enjoys public service and working with people. As a nurse, I work on emergency cases, and volunteered for school system in Maine and family violence projects.
I have always been vocal about my aspirations to volunteer for medical missions outside the US. When my colleagues learned about the medical mission in the Philippines organized by HAND-Philippines, they immediately recommended my services to Lance Lanoy, one the founders of the non-profit organization.
In preparation for my volunteer work in the Philippines, I saved some funds to cover my air ticket, food, local transportation, and accommodation in the Philippines. I was fortunate enough to have three weeks of vacation time. Since it was my first time to travel outside of the US, I applied for a passport, and received vaccinations for typhoid and hepatitis A.
I traveled with the rest of the volunteers from Maine to Cebu, an island southwest of the Philippines. Once on Philippine soil, the group traveled through all modes of transportation, air, ground, and water. The most memorable was the tricycle ride, a motorcycle with a side car that seats two but you will find yourself sharing the ride with 7 other passengers.
The mission areas were all relatively poor communities. Even before the earthquake and the super typhoon, the communities lack the basic services, and both calamities made their situation even more dire. The houses were close to each other and crowded. In Inabanga, the earthquake changed the geography of the area in such a way that the village became more exposed to high tide. During high tide, the trash that was previously washed away, would flow back to the villages, lingering with the flood water, and exposing the residents to more illness and disease. Despite this situation, the people remained positive and were very appreciative of our service.
During the mission, we treated all sorts of conditions. I assisted a local doctor in draining boils and abcesses and excising lumps and cysts, that took a couple of hours. I also conducted circumcision, and physical exams, treated chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and checked for blood sugar, and blood pressure. For most of the villagers, and possibly true for all, the medical mission was a rare opportunity to receive medical treatment because of the lack of a well equipped medical facility that was accessible, or affordable for the villagers. The clients were of all ages, children, adults and the elderly who suffered from conditions that could easily be treated with simple medical care. Some of the most striking conditions was blindness due to cataracts, glaucoma which were observed in both children and adults. Children were mostly undernourished, lethargic, and had tooth decay. I encourage donations of dental care supplies, tooth brushes, and tooth pastes.
The mission was hard work and exhausting. The weather was hot and humid and there were times when we didn’t have drinking water, which was only available after the day's end. However, it was as an amazing experience, and fulfilling! If anyone is given the opportunity, and has the capacity to volunteer for medical missions, they should grab that chance to devote their time, money and help those in need because it will enrich ones life.
The fun side of the mission was the natural beauty of the villages. We also had the chance to see the smallest monkey in the world, the tarsier, and lots of karoke! It was a weird combination of the fun and work. Given more time, I would have wanted to learn more about the people, to talk to them about how daily life was like, and learn more about their health situation. The language barrier limited my personal interaction because most of the villagers did not speak English. I still think alot about this first trip even if it's been almost a year since my volunteer work.