The medical outreach team comprised of TIMA medical professionals, Tzu Chi volunteers and businessmen set out for the international free clinic in Davao, Philippines on November 3, 2016. After an hour’s delay, the flight finally departed at 2.20 am.
Team leader, Tai Piang Boon was excited about his first medical mission to the Philippines. Although unfamiliar with the country, he assumed the leading role to deliver love and care to local residents. He remarked, “This medical outreach programme would be an excellent opportunity to assemble overseas volunteers for a good cause.”
In the 2002 medical mission in the Philippines, volunteer Yap May Yin from Seremban was deeply moved by the local volunteers’ selfless devotion. Upon her return to Seremban, she has since then been applying what she had learnt into practice when providing medical care. Fourteen years later, she set foot on the Philippines once again, hoping to learn about the local humanitarian culture.
After another transit from Manila to Davao, the team finally arrived by bus at the actual site around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Despite the long and weary journey, the volunteers sprang into action to begin the necessary preparation. “We got to cherish and seize every opportunity to help”, said volunteer Gwee Soo Kian from Segamat while she was preparing a meal for the volunteers.
A visit to dentist is a luxury
Tzu Chi Philippines held its 215th medical mission in Davao from November 3 to 6, 2016. Ophthalmology and major surgeries were staged at Metro Davao Medical and Research Centre (MDMRC), while minor surgeries, internal medicine, dentistry, paediatrics, TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and others were staged at Davao Chong Hua High School.
A total of 645 medical professionals and Tzu Chi volunteers from Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan joined forces in this 4-day free clinic.
“Our dental mission is manned by 66 professionals, ready to perform 80 dental fillings, 100 scalings and 400 tooth extractions daily.” In recalling her past experience, a Philippines’ TIMA dentist, Cheong Lai Chen said, “A daily income of 300 Pesos is barely sufficient for a family of five; while a tooth extraction or filling would cost around 400 Pesos. A dental visit is undoubtedly a luxury for them. Therefore, we have assembled a large team to serve as many patients as possible.”
Go where help is needed
This was the first overseas TIMA mission for Thoo Lien Yin, a TCM doctor from Melaka. As the locals were struggling to make ends meet, they were malnourished and in dire need of medical help. She shared, “I would go wherever help is needed. Poverty and poor health worldwide are inextricably linked. Therefore, I would try my best to help them.”
“This is my first overseas medical mission. I hope my love and care could reach many impoverished families”, remarked Chen Wei Ren, a TCM doctor from TIMA Taiwan. Aside from acupuncture treatment, he also passed on basic health tips to the patients. He remarked, “Many of them had long been suffering from diseases, as they probably did not have time or opportunity to seek for treatment in hospital or big city.”
“I would go wherever I am needed, as medical care should transcend race or religion,” said Wu Shen, another TCM doctor from TIMA Taiwan and a familiar figure in the Philippines’ medical mission. He was there again to offer his acupuncture services. He added, “The locals could not afford the much-needed medical help. Therefore, we should utilize our professional skills to alleviate their pain.”
A pharmacist from Melaka, Pua June Yee spent her birthday volunteering in a free clinic instead of celebrating with family and friends. She said, “We get to celebrate our birthday every year, but this mission is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To be part of such a meaningful mission has made this birthday memorable.”
Window of hope
The first patient, Milagros arrived on site as early as four in the morning. “I’ve been feeling dizzy, and doctor attributed that to high blood pressure. I couldn’t afford the treatment before. But now that Tzu Chi has prescribed me with medications, I hope to get better!” said Milagros with hands clasped in a grateful posture to thank the volunteers.
“I’ve been suffering from chronic knee pain for the past one year. I can’t stand or walk”, said Belinda, who came limping. Like others, she could not afford to have it treated. She continued, “I am grateful for the acupuncture treatment. It has eased the pain and improved my mobility.” Even though the treatment could not cure her ailment altogether, it had given her hope to recover at the very least.
Forty-seven-year-old Anne Acedo suffered a stroke four years ago, and was left with limited mobility in left arm and leg. Her husband has been caring for her since then. Therefore, this free clinic had given her hope to recover. Miraculously, she could lift her arm and leg after the first acupuncture treatment. She even tried to put on shoes and tie the shoelaces. Seeing her improvement, volunteers gave her their well-wishes; and in return, Anne expressed her gratitude with hugs.
TCM doctor, Wu Shen shared, “The patient has better chance of recovery if she had received acupuncture treatment earlier. Without any treatment for the past four years, she was left paralyzed on one side of the body. Although one single treatment could not deliver much improvement, it had at least relieved her discomfort.”
A couple brought August Ven Segun, their three-month-old baby with hydrocephalus, to seek treatment. However, the free clinic did not have the relevant expertise in this medical condition. After much discussion between Dr Silvia Arregio from Cebu, Paediatrician Rizalina Maria Karis Magpantan-Mata from Davao and Dr Li Zhi Ren from Taiwan, they reached out to experts in Davao Doctors Hospital.
Through Tzu Chi’s application, the neurosurgeon agreed to operate on the child for free, and promised to seek for a waiver on other fees. This arrangement was a window of hope for baby August.
Spread the seeds of kindness
Sixty-eight-year-old Castillo Gerivielina developed cataracts ten years ago. However, a cataract operation costing 200,000 Pesos was way beyond her means. One morning, she woke up with total vision loss. Luckily, a Christian organization stepped in to subsidize the surgical cost for one eye.
When she heard of a free cataract operation offered by Tzu Chi on radio, her son could hardly believe it but she decided to give it a try. Her wish finally came true when she received the much-needed surgery for another eye. After the operation, she even visited other clinics on site.
Castillo was very charitable before contracting eye disease. Once she donated 3,000 Pesos when her neighbour’s house was burnt down. Indebted to Tzu Chi, she decided to adopt a bamboo bank to help the needy, hoping to inspire her neighbours to give within their means as well.
Sixty-six-year-old retiree, Diego M Buenaventura runs a small business outside Davao Chong Hua High School to make a living. Four years ago, a cataract surgery for his left eye had exhausted all his savings and retirement fund totalling 25,000 Pesos. Last year, his right eye began experiencing blurry vision, and was later diagnosed by doctor in Manila Hospital as cataract. However, he could not afford another surgery this time around.
With Tzu Chi’s help, his right eye was finally rid of cataract. He said gratefully, “I am thankful for Tzu Chi’s help. Hopefully in the near future, I could join the rank of Tzu Chi to help my countrymen. This is my way to reciprocate Tzu Chi.”
Husband of Aunie J Demoral is another recipient of Tzu Chi’s love. In January, he had a sudden neck artery tear at work that required immediate operation costing approximately 800,000 Pesos. A Tzu Chi volunteer, Huang Shu Ren forked out 30,000 Pesos to help them.
So, when Aunie learnt about the medical mission, she immediately brought along her two children and nephew to help out. Despite knowing little of Tzu Chi, she had seized the opportunity to offer her help. She said, “Although monetary contribution is beyond my means, I can offer my assistance to those in need.”
As many as 6,440 patients received consultations and treatments at the free clinic over the course of four days. Yang Guo Ying, CEO of Tzu Chi Philippines was thankful to every volunteer for reaching out to the needy and spreading the seedlings of love, making the 215th free clinic a successful mission. At the end of the day, a patient’s big smile is the greatest reward for volunteers and medical professionals, as it makes all their hard work worthwhile.
Tai Piang Boon from Tzu Chi Melaka led a delegation of volunteers to serve in this medical mission. [Photograph by Siow Yau Chu]
A pharmacist from Melaka, Pua June Yee (right) spent her birthday volunteering in Philippines instead of celebrating with family and friends. [Photograph by Siow Yau Chu]
Tzu Chi Philippines held its 215th medical mission in Davao from November 3 to 6, 2016. The locals queued patiently while awaiting their turns. [Photograph by Siow Yau Chu]
Patients waiting for cataract removal operation gestured their thumbs-up. [Photograph by Siow Yau Chu]
After the first acupuncture treatment, Anne Acedo could lift her left arm and leg. She even tried to put on shoes and tie the shoelaces herself. [Photograph by Pan Qiu Hua]
After living with cataract for the past ten years, Castillo Gerivielina came for the free cataract surgery at Tzu Chi free clinic after hearing about it on radio. [Photograph by Pan Qiu Hua]
Minor surgery was offered in free clinic as well. [Photograph by Pan Qiu Hua]