When I was invited by Dr. Jose “JoGon” Gonzales, now the feisty Director of the Philippine General Hospital, to be part of the UP College of Medicine Regionalization Program (RP) and to assist and guide our medical students in their summer immersion here in Capiz, little did I know that I will see in them, who I was 25 years ago when I went on my own summer immersion (then it was called “voluntary rural service” of the Department of Health) in the NPA-infested mountainous community in Balbalan, Western Kalinga.
That was in 2004 when I first interviewed about 25 hopeful applicants from the Western Visayas Region (Region 6) to the University of the Philippines College of Medicine who wanted to enter the college as regionalization students – pre-selected students from Region 6 who will return here after their five year medical studies to render “return” service to the community for the education they got from UPCM, quality education largely subsidized by the Filipino people.
Four made the cut – Jenus Sarabia from Kalibo, Joan Balgos from Roxas City, Lorenz Gonzales & Drew Camposano from Iloilo City, and entered the UP College of Medicine in 2005. They were my “babies” – the first batch that I would nurture every summer until they graduated in 2010.
They chose Sitio Cambuyayao in the coastal baranggay of Pa-wa in Pan-ay, Capiz as the community they will adopt. I don’t remember now how they chose this place, except perhaps that Joan Balgos knew someone from that place. But as fate would have it, the people of Pa-wa welcomed them with open arms. And in April 2006, their love-affair with Baranggay Pa-wa started.
I was not able to actively supervise them in 2007, as I underwent an emergency gallbladder surgery a week before their summer immersion started. But still, they did their work on their own and only reported to me before they left the place.
But from 2008 until yesterday, I have witnessed the hard work these students put into their community work every summer. It was pure joy seeing how the community embraced them – loved them, would be the better term. I saw the excitement in the faces of the children of the community, in the faces of the baranggay health workers. I also saw the happiness in the faces of my students.
By 2008, the students already have a good grasp of the health problems of the community of Pa-wa and they were ready to implement their health program. That year, their group was joined by Jacqui Momville (from Iloilo) and Chris Reynaldo (originally from Region 4 but with roots from Aklan) of Class 2011 and from Class 2012, Rhoda dela Cruz (Iloilo), Kenneth Lasafin (Iloilo) and Jab Jayawon (Negros Occidental). Their battlecry was “IKAAYO: Imo Kaayuhan Aton Alagaan. YES sa Organisadong Pangkalusugan”. Whoever thought of that theme (a recurrent annual theme that reflected the work they did for the community), I have yet to commend. Indeed they set out to change the community one step at a time. It was all their hard work and I was just there to support them.
Their most ambitious health program for that year was a medical-surgical mission for the people of Pa-wa. They successfully pulled it off – and the community rewarded them with more love and appreciation. I will never forget the happiness of the students when they performed their first circumcision. Everyone was tired but everyone was happy. And that is what service is all about.
In 2009, the group returned to Pa-wa with a new member, Wendel Marcelo (Iloilo) who invited two volunteers (non-RP classmates from Class 2013) also from Iloilo, Marianne Naria and Rommel Gonzales. They would be the last members added to the team as the succeeding students would opt to work in a community in Leganes, Iloilo.
Their work in the community continued … and the fruits of their dedication and hard work paid off. The community is now served by trained baranggay health workers armed with basic health skills taught to them by these medical students. These BHWs qualify as front-liners in helping the community in their health needs.
But after seven years, it is time to say goodbye to the community. We leave Pa-wa confident that we made a difference. I cannot thank them enough, the people of Pa-wa who have taught us so many things. And I cannot thank my students enough, for rekindling in me the love of community service which started in 1986 in Kalinga.
Now I know the reason why God placed me here in Capiz. I am happy.
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